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Jul 25, 2001 03:15 PM


  • c

Well, me and the ex tried to eat at LaC last night. We arrived at exactly 6.45. There was no one in the joint and the owner (?) informed us that they "weren't open yet" because he had just gotten back from the market. (I was warned that the service was slow, but this is ridiculous.) Seeing as how there were no customers, i believed him. Then we were told that it would be another half hour till they were ready. I've been around somewhat, so we figured it would be at least an hour. Plus, there was no air conditioning and it was fairly hot last night, and we were starving, so we split. Yeah the decor was kind of quaint, but it will be a long time before we venture to try his peculiar brand of hospitality again. Isn't the main function of a restaurant to serve food?

On a somewhat better note, we ended up at Caro Mio (1827 W. Wilson) and had a pretty good Italian meal(Chix Vesuvio, a great greenbean and marinated mozz salad and osso bucco). Since we had already come equpped with a bottle of cheap red (LaC is also BYO) we had a pretty good time. Most importantly, the bermuda short clad owner introduced himself and chatted about food for awhile. A much different level of professionalism than our earlier experience. It's great to be emotionally attached to the idea of feeding people, but, after all, a restaurant is a business and if the owner can't meet that basic requirement, he should seek another line of work

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  1. I can see your point, Cliff, and you had every right to head out to a different restaurant. I guess I look at things a little differently. While I've never experienced anything like that at La Cumbamba, I feel like those little eccentricities are part of it all. There's a certain charm to the cheaper, mom-and-pop type restaurants--the service is rarely polished. But in a lot of ways, it's warmer, more personal. I don't expect the kind of professionalism there that I might expect elsewhere. What I expect is a good, cheap meal in a low-key atmosphere.

    Last time we ate at La Cumbamba, we talked to the owner about why he seemed to be doing everything, from the seating to the order taking to the cooking. He said he loved it, and he'd rather not run a restaurant if he couldn't do it all. So maybe that explains why he was at the market when he should've been serving dinner? Hard if not impossible for one man to do it all. And while that may be aggravating at times, I do respect that kind of passion. I suspect he probably has a small core of regulars who dig his brand of hospitality, and that's good enough for him.


    2 Replies
    1. re: Kathleen

      Thanks for your reply. I disagree, but thanks. I'll probably eat there some time. If i've had a big lunch first.

      1. re: Cliff

        i sympathize with cliff's bad experience. i once brought a group of 30 for a preplanned dinner. william, the owner, claims he was supposed to have 2 kitchen assistants lined up that night, but he did it all alone. it was hotter than hell so we moved to the very attractive backyard. and we waited and waited. the food was good, eventually and there was lots of it. i had eaten there before so knew to expect a leisurely dinner, but i was pretty embarrassed. on the positive side, william feeds the homeless, the prices are cheap (in fact sometimes we are charged different prices on different visits for the same meal), and he's always friendly. the arepas(corn pancakes) are great. i say, go when you have time to kill.

    2. NPR just had a great piece on La Cumbamba and its owner. Unfortunately, he said that he's planning on selling it, so better go fast.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Pam

        Which program on NPR? It'd be great to hear online...

        1. re: Seth

          Link to:
          Columbian Spice: Richard Steele visits restaurateur William Restrepo to talk about his life in Chicago and his restaurant La Cumbaba in Wicker Park.

      2. The original comment has been removed