Amateur Night (long)
So last night Mr. CG and I went out to celebrate Valentine's Day. Now I know that, next to NYE, V-D is probably the worst of all possible nights to go out.
And to make matters worse, Mr. CG didn't get around to making reservations until 3:30 pm on the day-of. He found something at Green Dolphin Street at 7:30 and since we live in the neighborhood and had never tried it, it seemed like a good idea.
GDS greeted us, had our reservation and a long-stemmed red rose for me. So far so good. We got escorted to our table and discovered, not surprisingly, that they had a "special" menu for V-D.
We were served slightly stale cold rolls with wrapped pats of butter a-la Mitchells for breakfast.
The menu included a spinach salad with fruit or a spinach salad Cesar (that's what it said); a sorbet intermezzo; entree choices were salmon or fillet or a veggie plate.
They took our drink orders (no onions for Mr. CG's gibson so he had a martini) and a rather sweet cosmo for me and immediately took our dinner orders. Ok, not much to read; not much to choose from. We both chose the spinach Cesar and the filet.
Salads came immediately. Not spinach at all, but, (appropriately) romaine -- with olives(?). A nice touch was a toast point topped with a fresh anchovy instead of croutons.
Bus persons very eager to pull the plates away when we paused and then, before we had finished the salads, delivered two asian-style spoons filled with huge scoops of sweet strawberry sorbet. No way to taste the "intermezzo" without making a mess, so I requested spoons.
Quickly on the heels of the sorbet -- they were eager to turn those tables -- came the entree and then the waiter wanting to know if we wanted wine. Not for me, a little too late.The filet was cooked as ordered and topped with dry blue cheese. Asparagus spears and a tomato bruchetta also on the plate.
Dessert plates followed with a dry chocolate cake, two de rigeur chocolate-covered strawberries, an ice cream profiterole and a waver filled with sponge cake topped with sliced strawberries, mango and starfruit.
Now here's what I want to know.
1) Who else had a restaurant V-D experience worth talking about? Either a great one or a total disappointment.
2) Was our experience at Green Dolphin Street a typical, albeit exaggerated example of what to expect there or should we try it again on a quieter night?
I've never been to GDS, but I can answer question #2 already. Vtines day is NOT the day to judge a restaurant. You never have to ask yourself that question again. Ever. The restaurants can't really be blamed. They are overrun with customers, and make do the best they can, and probably make a whole buncha money. They can't be blamed, really, because it's the same every year. The demand is there. They want you in and out because there are more reservations for your table, and probably a few walk ins as well.
NYE and Vtines day are nights that I stay in, and avoid the "special priced" mediocrity. Tonight, however, we have a dinner party with four other couples at one of our fave places. We planned out the courses with the chef last week, and it should be relaxed, and fantastic.
If it's amateur night, don't be a part of it. Just say no.
Answer to question one:
As always, I had a great Vtines experience. Stayed home, and had gyoza, spring rolls, maki, and mochi for desert.
P.s. Your wording is probably causing a few snickers (tee-hee!!)
"1) Who else had a restaurant V-D experience worth talking about? Either a great one or a total disappointment."
#1 We do not like to go out on Valentines Day, much like New Years Eve we feel it is amateurs night out, and stay home. On the rare occasion we have gone out the menu prices seemed to be jacked up, and the service, and food was poor. Last night I didnt want to cook, so we went to a chinese buffet(low key, and alot of crab legs & I was happy). Valentines Dinner will be this weekend at home.
#2 We have been to GDS a few times, and do not have much positive to say about our visits. The food was below average for what a perosn can get elsewhere in Chicago, and we thought the service was lacking as well. I can only imagine how bad it was on Valentines Day for dinner
BF and I went to Trattoria Roma on Wells for V-Day and I was pleasantly surprised. Trattoria Roma is a decent, middle of the road restaurant, with the advantage of being very close to home. Their service is always friendly, but often hit or miss (some nights they are great and bring you free limoncello, other nights they forget you are there for half an hour before they've even taken your order).
Last night, they had put up sweet, cheesy V-Day decorations. They had our table right on time, and were serving their regular menu at regular prices. They didn't rush us at all. The service still wasn't perfect (they brought our entrees while I was still working on my salad), but we had a lovely evening out. That's the whole point, right?
We hadn't planned on going out until we realized the cleaning lady was coming that day - so of course you can't cook in a clean kitchen. So, off we went, foolishly thinking we'd just "get in" somewhere. Silly us. Thus our journey of the Naperville area within a 5 mile radius of our home began...
How about our new favorite family-owned Italian joint in the strip mall - Capri? They can ALWAYS fit us in after a short wait. Surely, a weeknight will be no different. Au contraire. It was like a college basement keg party in there. Wall to wall people. I got through one throng of them, but I was still far from the host stand, and couldn't spot the actual host anywhere, so dejectedly, we continued on.
Plans B & C were nearby Indian and Thai/Vietnamese places. Those places are always half-dead. Surely, one of them will have a spot for us, our naivete having not worn off yet. Indian Garden had about 25 people milling about in the doorway, and all tables were full. No need to get out of car. On to Boraans.
Looking back now, the site at Boraans was quite humorous. At 7:50p, not so much. I thought Gordan Ramsay would show up any second to start filming the next episode of "Kitchen Nightmares". We stood in the doorway, behind one other couple for 10 min. Almost every patron there had a distressed look on their face saying "Where's my food/waitress/bill/takeout order?!!" Upon overhearing a woman at a table inquire if her food was even cooking yet after ordering it 45 min. prior, and the waitress telling her no, it hadn't, and the woman angrily storming out, we followed right behind.
So, at this point, it's 8pm, and we're pretty grumpy/hungry. Husband suggests Go Roma, a decent local chain with pizza/pasta and beer/wine, but set up like a Panera. Now, I know I can't be picky at this point, but I at least want to go somewhere where someone waits on me. I suggest one of the 'cheesy chains near Cantera' [the movie theater]. Yes, it had gotten that desperate. We venture into Stir Crazy. With only a 15 min. wait, we were sold. They have the mongolian bbq-type set up, but thankfully, menu items, so I'm not required to schlepp food all around the restaurant. The food was edible, although over-salted and underspiced, and the wine was drinkable. Husband made me swear I would never ask to come back.
Of course, we enjoyed re-hashing it all and making jokes about it, so it will certainly be memorable.
The moral of the story is when it comes to Valentines Day- make reservations way in advance, cook at home or order pizza.
Regarding question 2 - my wife and I wanted to do something a little different, so we went to GDS a few weeks ago (I think it was the week before V-Day). The service was pretty attentive, if a bit overly formal. Knowledgeable and experienced. Good wine selection too. However, for the money, there are many, many better selections in the city. We found it overpriced for good, but unremarkable food.
CAVEAT - it's not overpriced if you want to hear the live music in the performance room. Cover is usually 12-20 per person so but is comp'd for diners. So, it can be a decent value if you're going to the performance, insofar as you could theoretically subtract the cover amount from the tab. Otherwise, I'd pick somewhere else.