The Other Critics: The Wine Shines at City Winery, Everything But the Boeuf is King at Bavette's
The highly anticipated City Winery opened to much fanfare last month, only to be vilified and lambasted by Time Out Chicago's Julia Kramer. As restaurant reviewers do, she went in to dine a bit over a month after its opening, when it should have gotten its sea legs. But from the time she was seated until the time she left, she wondered, "how much longer are we supposed to wait for this New York import to get its act together?" It seems that wine, appropriately enough, was the only thing City Winery had going for itself: "On the plus side, the wine list is terrific." But let's start with her assessment of the service: "I was successfully seated by a friendly hostess...but...the service...was borderline hopeless. It took a half hour just to get a glass of wine, and I suspect it's nearly impossible to have a full meal here in anywhere less than two-and-a-half hours..."
She wasn't too keen on the food. "On my visits, I avoided the many menu items whose mere descriptions sound like dares (paella balls; something called "seawater tofu steak") sticking with foods that are downright challenging to mess up." The bianchi flatbread was "safe and solid," but the "bitter chimichurri sauce on a dry flank steak" and "spiced walnuts that taste the way paint smells" were not easily digestible in the eyes (or stomach) of Kramer. Even simple items such as a "housemade" bagel "tastes no better than a Lender's." Another thing that we've come to learn about Julia Kramer is that she's very tough on dessert. Not everyone can prepare a sweet treat to eat, and her molten lava cake at City Winery was evidence to that: "...it's perfectly chill to have a molten lava cake on your menu...but when I sliced into that cake with the side of my fork and discovered the cake was cooked all the way through, not even a smidgen of runny chocolate to be found, it was not chill." She even goes on to suggest that she may be able to "make a better molten chocolate cake from a Trader Joe's box..." Ouch. [TOC]
In a review entitled Steak Superfluity at Bavette's Bar & Boeuf, Mike Sula of The Chicago Reader relishes practically every non-beef item on the menu. He suggests that beef, or steak more accurately, actually only plays a supporting, ancillary role to other menu items. The spell of Bavette's Bar & Boeuf strongly took hold of him: "...I struggle to communicate how powerless I am to stop eating...I'm powerless to resist their [food] call..." But he's talking about everything except the steak. He loves the beef tongue because it's "so tender it falls apart if you wink at it." He goes on to say "this is served along with braised carrots and celery sticks bathed in a slick demi-glace that competes with the finest pot roast I've ever encountered. Just try to eat some steak after that." Even the pasta dishes are of note to Sula: "Take the "meatballs and pasta": long tendrils of toothy rectangular noodles nesting a softball-sized pork meatball...this dish stands out despite the immovable boulder of ground meat that occupies all sight lines and will quickly have you regretting any red meat you might be partaking of later." He roots for the complimentary bread program, and "...can't think of any that's better than the thick slices of hearty sourdough batards..." And he praises Jeff Pikus (formerly of Sodikoff's Gilt Bar and Maude's Liquor Bar) for his well-executed food, stating that "he can do little wrong in this town." Sula feels that if you must have steak, though, and you have to have it at Bavette's, "the signature 24-ounce prime dry-aged rib eye is certainly a respectable piece of meat," but it's "as if the steak is provided for the pickiest, most conservative eater who might wander into a Sodikoff restaurant." [The Chicago Reader]