Chicago Yacht Club Needs to Focus on Sailing and Leave Making Food to Others

Dinner at the Chicago Yacht Club on the shores of my beloved Great Lakes – specifically Lake Michigan.  Seems like a recipe for a relaxing, exquisite meal served with impeccable attention to the diners.  Think again.

First, the decor is old school yacht club.  Which of course can be a really cool look if done right but, here it is old school yacht club not because it is trying for a cool look but because it has not been updated oh…maybe in decades.

Second, try to get there from the city – its a bit of a cab ride.  Try to get home at the end of the night – its not only a bit of a cab ride but its a wait for taxis and for ubers to get down to the club.

Third, both times I have walked in for a dinner, at the hostess stand, there were two or three staff folks, drapping themselves over the hostess stand as they chit chatted with the hostess.  When I asked for my party, the hostess just pointed to a room.

Fourth, both times I was there, other than my party, there were not too many folks around.

Fifth, the tables are large so you sit far from your dinner guests.  And, they don’t seem to have a good technique for groups of about 7 – 10 diners.  For example, during my last visit they pushed a round table next to a square table to fit all of us.  The construct was incredibly strange and did not make for easy socializing given the distance between the guests.

Sixth, the service is not good.  We sat and waited and waited and waited for them to take our orders.  Then, we sat and waited and waited for them to bring the food.  Then strangely, they brought out food for all the guests, about 9 people, but for one meal which they did not bring out.  Rather than informing that diner or frankly any of us that it was on the way, every single waiter vanished.  It took some time until someone appeared and when we asked about the meal, they reported it was coming.  It finally arrived.

Seventh, the food – is unimaginative and cannot decide if its upscale dining or a bar.  So, you can get a burger and fries but also branzino.  The salad choices are limited to a iceberg wedge, beets with burrata and something else, and shaved “baby” vegetables.

I went with the shaved baby vegetables.  The radishes in that salad were not babies at all – the were salty old grandpappies that needed to be put to rest – they were bitter, hard and gigantic.  The other veggies were baby but, any delicacy to their flavor was drowned literally by the water on the plate that the whole pile of veggies were swimming in.

A fellow diner’s skirt steak looked like shoe leather – the bottom part of the shoe, not even the side.

I found nothing inspiring enough to eat on the main menu – basic fish, some eggplant dish that did not make much sense to me, a burger, a nondescript pasta.  So, I went with the tuna carpaccio appetizer and the mushroom tart appetizer.

The tart I must say was fabulous.  The crust was buttery, flaky and substantial.  The mushrooms were tasty, sautéed enough not to be raw but not mush and it all paired well with the greens and the goat cheese.

The tuna carpaccio was a little warmer than room temperature which is really gross for raw tuna.  Plus, the carpaccio was smothered, to the point you could almost not see for all the hard boiled egg crumbles and a wasabi mayo on top.  It had some capers but I  so wished for more capers.  Now, I love my wasabi mayo with my carpaccio but this was taken to a new level.  Essentially, I had a bit of carpaccio with my order of wasabi mayo and hard boiled eggs.

So – the yacht club in Chi-town may be old, it may be prestigious but, it is not a good place to eat.  They need to stick with their core competency – sailing and leave the restaurantuering to those in the know.

Back in Love with Kimpton By Way of Hotel Monaco Chicago

I first stayed at a Kimpton several years ago and fell in love.  I loved how hip the decor was and how comfortable the beds and bedding were.  I loved the clean, a bit fruity room scent that was not over powering.  I loved how welcoming the staff always was and all the efforts they made to make you comfortable.  I loved the happy hour – great for business travelers to get a bit of free wine and chit chat with others in town for business. I loved the free speedy wi-fi and the “raid the mini-bar” credit you get when a member.

It was just a big lovefest….. UNTIL….

My assistant booked a non-refundable fee for a three night stay that I had to cancel.  I called the Kimpton manager for the hotel, and asked if he could just apply those nights to a future stay that I would for sure be doing in the near future.  He dug in his heels – absolutely not.  Dude would not budge an inch.  He did not care that my trip was cancelled because of an unexpected health situation that prevented traveling; he did not care that I was a frequent Kimpton user and Kimpton club member; he did not care that I talked up the hotel to everyone and encouraged all to stay at Kimptons – he just shut me down.  He stated you bought non-refundable, you are now cancelling – you do not get your money back nor do you get a credit.  BOOM – he was done with me.  I was out about $1000.

I WAS FURIOUS!  I broke up with Kimpton.

I was so sad because I did not want to dump them but being treated like this did not outweigh all the stuff I loved.  Plus, it made me feel that all the loving Kimpton gave its guests was a mirage and in the end, sadly they really did not care:  when they so warmly welcomed me, helped me get good dinner reservations, give me wine and chocolates the time I was their guest of the day during a stay – did not really mean anything because, when things got rough – they tossed me out.  Rather, then telling me that although they were upset that I bought a non-refundable stay and now wanted a refund; they understood and would give me at least one night stay in the future.  Something – anything.  I got nothing except a cold, rudeness from the manager.

So… I went on in my life without staying at Kimptons, I quit going to Kimpton restaurants and bars in my hometown, and I started telling friends not to stay at the Kimpton.

Until…

I was booking the trip I am now on.  I got on line – intending to stay away from Kimptons.  Unfortunately, there were limited places to stay for me; and I reluctantly booked at a Kimpton.    But, I promised myself there would be no re-commitment to Kimpton instead – it was going to be a one and done – a moment of desperation.

But…

I was warmly greeted by the doorman and he teased me about the homeless guy hitting me up for cash.  Then, the front desk check-in took less then five minutes (I cannot stand those hotels where it takes so long to check-in.  You stand there, the clerk is typing furiously into the computer, typing what, who knows; but you stand there and wait and wait.)  And, in that five minutes, when I asked for a room away from the elevators, the clerk smiled warmly and said, no problem because we have upgraded your room.  WAIT – WHAT? An upgrade?

I zoom up to my room – its gorgeous and I am back in love with Kimptons.

The Kimpton Chicago is stylish and clean, it smells fresh but not sickeningly so.  The room scent is so relaxing it smells like a spa.  My room had two rooms.  One with a great couch, desk and TV.  The other with a bed with fabulous sheets and pillows. In fact the pillows were so over the top comfy that I bought two just before writing this.  The soaps and shampoos are lightly scented and plentiful, not little thimbles of acidic smelling bath supplies like some hotels.

The best part – a huge window seat with great views out over the street and of the river.  I sat there and did my work – it was so relaxing.  I loved it so much that I took photos so we can replicate it when we build our house.

Then, of course, I had my Kimpton $10 raid the minibar money and the excellent speedy wi-fi.  No wine and socializing this time -too much work to get done.

But, on my way to dinner, the staff was warm and engaging.

I have forgiven Kimpton.  Just because they had some jerk as a manager for one hotel, does not mean I should leave them forever.

I am back in love with Kimpton.  And, so, you should try a Kimpton.  The Kimpton in Chicago – Hotel Monaco is nothing short of spectacular.  (See my post on Airbnb – I really needed this. ;))

 

 

 

Stubbs – You Can Do Better

Stubbs Legendary Bar-B-Que I am sorry to report is living off its legendary status rather than its current goods.  Bar-b-que aficionados know Stubbs.  In fact Stubbs is so well-known, you can buy their sauce at the grocery store up here in the north.   A great American story Stubbs is and his restaurant undoubtedly deserves its legendary status.  Its just not a good meal.

It was started by Christopher B. Stubblefield after he got of the US military.  He started cooking across the street from the fair grounds in Lubbock Texas and not only encouraged good eating but great music.  Legends like Stevie Ray Vaughn, George Thorogood, Linda Ronstadt and others all had the opportunity to sing their hearts out at his joint.  This alone makes a visit worthwhile.

When we got there, a band was playing and the place was filled.  We were hustled to our seats and then hustled to order, to wrap up and pay.  They needed to turn those tables and, you were not going to stop them.  We had virtually no connection to the wait staff who took our orders or dropped our food off, they did not bother to connect. They rush over, grab your order than rush back plopping down a metal tray with whatever it is you ordered.

The food was at best mediocre.  First, the collard greens lacked any real flavor and were cold when they came out.  Second, the cole slaw also lacked any flavor.  Third, the fried okra was too hard for my liking and did not have much flavor; and it too came out cold.

As for the  beef and pork bar-b-que, the signature dishes, both were dry rubbed and both were a little dry.  The Stubbs’ sauce is on the table so, I drenched the meat with it.  But, even that did not up the flavor game.  They give you a piece of bread to put your meat on  – think of a thicker piece of Wonder Bread and you got what they serve you.  In fact, it almost looked like that weird bread you get when you are a kid in the cafeteria – the crust is almost the same color as the bread and it has no distinguishable taste; and it sort of becomes the consistency of Play-Do once you start eating it.  To my mind, you can do so much better in Austin if you want good bar-b-que and good music.  I am grateful to Stubbs for what he has done for music and good bar-b-que but, his restaurant has seen better days.

On the plus side – they have a good beer selection both on tap and in bottles.  So if you want to check it out, drown your meal with some good beer – drink enough and anything is tasty.

Good Food – Not So Good Atmosphere

Another night in Austin, my beloved family member and I met up with some friends to catch up over dinner at Uncle Julios.  First, its a chain – not many of those in Austin.

Second, it was so loud I could barely hear the person at the table sitting right next to me nor could anyone else – let alone the person across the table.  The noise came from a combination of the acoustics in the room, the high ceiling and wide open space as well as from the tables of younger adults, dining out with the purpose to tie one on and scream as much as they can while doing so.

Now… the young adult patrons are welcome to that; and, most of us have been there and done that.  But, you need to be up for that scene if you hit Julios – I am just saying.  We asked the waitress to move our table because we had the young adults in stereo, groups on both sides.  The manager came over and told us it was a no-go since there were no tables available.  Irritating this was since we could see several tables that would have fit our group that were away from the young adults.  Thus, we sat either in silence or yelling at one another with out much success through the meal.  Really a disappointment.

Further, the service was inadequate.  The waitress would leave our table and we would not see her for what seemed like forever.  A couple of time we had to flag down another waitress to get our waitress to bring us some water or chips or whatever.  In fact, the waitress did not bring me the salad dressing I had asked for.  Once I pointed it out, she said she would get right over with it.  I ended up eating my salad with the dressing she brought in error since it took her so long.

The chips were the highlight of the meal. Thin, salty, not greasy and crispy.  The salsa had zing, a great tomato flavor with a bit of smokiness.  The chili con queso was simply the best I ever had.  The cheese was cream and flavorful which was enhanced by the pico de gallo.  I could not stop eating it – which is why I went for a salad for my meal.  My salad was just OK.  Greens, jicama, avocado, shrimp – nothing special.  I ended up with the lemon vinaigrette despite my ask for the spicy ranch.  When the spicy ranch arrived, it really was not that spicy.  My dinner mates were pleased with their fajitas but noted nothing spectacular about them.

As for drinks – a great selection, and I was happy to see a skinny guava marguerita which I ordered.  It was full flavored despite being a skinny.  But, the yummiest of the drinks, hands down was the marguerita with the jalapeño.  The heat with the ice was interesting; and frankly worth every calorie.

Bottom line, if you are looking for a rowdy mexican place with some great drinks – Uncle Julio delivers.  Dont go if you are actually looking to talk with your dinner companions. Remember to be patient with the staff because you won’t see them much; and nurse your drink because you may wait awhile for your next one.

Moonshine in Austin

My first meal in Austin was at Moonshine Grill and what a treat it was.  I had flown in the night before, had a One bar for dinner, went to bed, got up, went to the seminar, gave my lecture, and did some work while I waited for my beloved family member to arrive.  Beloved family member arrived around 12:30 and we agreed to meet at the Moonshine Grill.  I picked it because on my way from the Airbnb to the hotel, where the convention was, I saw it and it looked cute.  It was well manicured but not over done, it had a big porch and two charming patios.

By the time I arrived, I was tired, starving, sweating, irritated to be in a suit, and once again negotiating the bricks to protect my heels.  I sat down ready for a good meal and a tasty drink to wipe it all away – mission accomplished.

Walking in the place feels down-home and authentic.  It has heavy wooden chairs and tables, twinkle lights on the trees, a covered patio and indoor seating.  We sat on the patio and the friendly, good natured waitress came up immediately for our drinks.  She remained attentive and engaged through the meal – right there when we needed her.  And, she came right back at us with good natured teasing when we teased her for holding out on us over the appetizer special.

We went with the Hard Lemonade – vodka, mint, lemon and lemonade which was a tough choice given the moonshine drinks on the menu.  It was delivered quickly, it was super cold and hit the spot on a humid Texas day.   My spirits lifted from the drink, seeing my beloved family member, and from the huge great dane dog laying on the floor while his dad had lunch.  The whole scene was so comfortable.

The waitress clued us in on the appetizer  special – fried green tomatoes, with shrimp and remoulade sauce.  They were fabulous.  The coating was cornflakes.  The tomatoes were think and crispy, not soggy, the remoulade was plentiful and spicy.  The perfect companion to the Hard Lemonade.

Since we were starving, we also ordered the rosemary french fries.  The fabulous fries were think cut, crisp, not greasy and the rosemary was a unique addition.

I had the Berkley House salad which was greens, pickled veggies, avocado, cukes, tomatoes, sunflower sprouts with a lemon vinaigrette – I added grilled shrimp.  All the ingredients were fresh and the dressing was delicate and not too oily.

My beloved family member ordered the Backyard Chicken with pepper jack, avocado, poblano, onion, apple bar-b-que sauce, mayo and lettuce.  It came on a soft sweet roll and all the sauces blended perfectly together to create a hardy, flavorful sandwich.

Cant recommend this place enough.  I would go again – for sure.