Corner House -- Winterlicious
The gf and I decided to take part in winterlicious this year and knock another restaurant off our to-try list at Corner House. We had an 8:45 reservation, made through OpenTable.com last Friday (Feb 1). CH is one of the $35 dinner locations and is apparently extending this menu through the end of February.
Things started off a little hectically: we had to wait ten minutes for our table on the stairs by the front door and a couple on their way out as we were arriving seemed to be complaining that they had been rushed to leave. After that little hiccup we settled into a very pleasant experience. Our server took our order promptly, bread was delivered (and refilled), wine was topped-up, and each course arrived at an appropriate (though by no means stately) pace.
For starters I had the warm duck confit and french bean salad while the gf chose the roasted beet salad. Hers was excellent with perfectly-cooked beets and a well-matched dressing that accented instead of overpowering. My beans were also ideally cooked with a good dressing but the fact that the confit was shy of "warm" kept the dish from truly shining.
For our main courses we had the juniper venison stew with herbed spaetzle (me) and the whole-roasted beef strip loin with the usual (her). I have to say that I was really impressed with my main dish. The serving size was very generous and both the venison and juniper flavours came through in spades. The slight (and, in my view, positive) gaminess of the venison was made especially apparent by comparing it to the beef--also expertly executed.
To cap things off our desserts were the belgian chocolate torte and the warm vanilla risotto with plum compote. Apparently, the torte was a good rendition of the common flour-less chocolate cake but I really don't remember because of how enthralled I was by the risotto. It was creamy, but with a slight, sweet crunchiness (not of under-cooked rice, more of a welcome carmelization near the end of cooking), and the compote was perfect.
Wine list had a good variety; both in terms of price and country of origin.
I have in past been a 'licious-skeptic but I really think I'm coming around. I guess the key is to remember that you are trading a less-expensive price tag for the extra effort of selecting carefully; making a late reservation; and not needing super-attentive service.
Funny, I was there for an 8:15 reservation with my boyfriend also on Friday. We were seated closer to 8:40, and were waiting by the door for quite some time. The servers kept asking us to shift around, which was understandable given the tight space, but definitely detracted from the experience. Also, was a tad annoyed because they were shifting around people to make room for all the folks waiting. While they did check our names when we arrived, they seemed to be verifying that we had a reservation, and then did first come first serve for tables as they opened up. However, with all the shifting they ended up seating a couple that had just arrived before us, despite us having waiting for 20+ minutes. We said something and they sat us within the next few minutes... But I guess that's part of the 'licious experience.
The food was great. We had virtually the same dishes that you did - with the exception of my starter which was the mushroom soup. It was wonderful and not cream based which was a nice change.
Found the service delightful, and we felt able to take our time and no pressure to leave. I suppose that's the benefit to having a later reservation.
The shifting and imperfect seating process was what I generally lumped under the "little hectically" description. While we were waiting on the stairs I was asked, quite curtly, by a waiter to stand flat against the wall. When things had calmed down at the end of the night the hostess was much friendlier and more helpful.
I forgot to mention that apparently the octopus salad starter is supposed to be very good (heard this from a friend who was also there Friday night.)
Corner House still hasn't addressed this repeating issue of not getting the reservations seated on time? Geez. My girlfriend and I did CH last summerlicious and went through this issue. There was a HUGE backup of people, none happy at all. At least it was summer and the weather was nice. I refuse to go there for either 'licious or even for a regular dinner anymore.
We also went to Corner House on Friday evening, our reservations were for 6 PM. However, due to the snowstorm, our office closed at 4 PM and not having any place to go, we arrived at the restaurant at 4:35 PM. The owner greeted us warmly and said that it was no problem for us to stay, she took us upstairs and because they had just opened, she encouraged us to walk around and take a look at the different rooms since we hadn't been there before. We ordered drinks and the waiter was kind enough to bring us bread (and refills) while we waited for our third guest to arrive for 6 PM. Occasionally someone would stop by to make sure we were okay or just to chat since it was very quiet.
We loved the meal and the service was very attentive throughout. I did order the octopus appetizer and it was just delicious- very, very tender. It was served with mixed greens and green and black olives, which added a nice tang. We all ordered the steak, cooked perfectly to medium rare with a mound of smooth and creamy mashed potatoes and grilled beans. I finished off with the warm vanilla risotto with plum compote, again, just delicious.
I think this restaurant has a lot of charm, and it looks like we'll be returning given that they are having Winterlicious through February due to high demand.
As for your seating/ reservation issues, while we waited and chatted with the owner, she mentioned that they had 70 cancellations that evening, due to the weather, but took on another 90 reservations which meant she had 290 reservations for Friday night. Later on, I wondered if it was possible to have 290 reservations in one evening, or if I misunderstood and she meant 290 people that evening.
My SO and I have always had pleasant experiences at the Corner House foodwise - invariably the wait has been the issue, even on non summerlicious visits. They do a great Cornish Hen, and that's worth the wait in the end, but I'm always surprised they can't sort themselves out in the seating department.