Searching for Tony Bourdain

Foie gras taste on a Big Mac budget

runaway train

Yesterday afternoon, Michonne suggested that we go out for a nice dinner somewhere we hadn’t been. I took one of our great reference guides, “Eat. Shop. Chicago” (which is a spectacular guide for local restaurants and stores, and has never steered us wrong), off our tall bookshelf by the window, and started looking for ideas for where we should go. I settled on a nice gastropub in Ukranian Village called The Old Oak Tap, which had a great menu of food and microbrews, and decent reviews online.

We took the Blue Line to Chicago and Milwaukee and as we exited the train, I saw something I didn’t expect to see: A restaurant that our Patron Badass, Tony Bourdain, went to when he filmed his Chicago episode. The Silver Palm. I remembered that Tony and his local ally, Mancow Muller (our version of Howard Stern), had a good meal, so we decided to go.

The first thing anybody sees from the street is that the whole dining area is inside an old train car, and the whole place has railroad paraphernalia for decor. Upon entry, we noticed that for 7:30 on a Friday night, it was awfully empty and devoid of the typical Chicago weekend dinner patrons. We figured that it was just early for dinner on a Friday in the city, so we kept going.

We sat by the window and ordered drinks (M’s Manhattan was very good, and I had my Oberon), and we ordered the fried calamari appetizer. For dinner, M ordered the fried chicken (which the menu clearly states takes 30 minutes) and I ordered what Tony ordered: the Three Little Piggy. Double-smoked ham, a fried pork tenderloin, bacon, a fried egg, Gruyere cheese, and an onion ring on a sweetbread hamburger bun.

We waited almost 20 minutes for our calamari, which came out grilled (and appeared slightly charred). The server who brought it offered no apology and never returned. Another server emerged 10 minutes later with fried calamari. He set it down about a foot away from both of us and never said a word.

The calamari was excellent. Crispy breading and two good sauces: a chipotle aioli (is anybody else getting tired of chipotle appearing in everything now?) and a marinara sauce that tasted closer to cocktail sauce.

Five minutes later, our meals arrived. Mine was massive (see my Facebook page for a photo) and M’s chicken looked good, but with the coming darkness in the restaurant (lighting doesn’t seem to be a priority), it was hard to see that the kitchen had overfried it and that the breading was burned (the meat was still juicy and tasty, however).

It’s understandable that food gets burned in a busy kitchen in a major city on a Friday night. But when the expediter of a well-known restaurant in a nice neighborhood in Chicago allows burned fried chicken to exit the kitchen, I find that inexcusable. The Evildoer itself, McDonald’s, doesn’t allow that shit to happen. We told our waitress, who took it to the kitchen and returned a minute later to tell us that the fryer probably got too hot and recommended she take something else home. This also concerned us because we heard other patrons talking about fried chicken, and were not being told about a fryer malfunction. She ordered the duck sandwich, and I attempted to continue consuming the behemoth that is the Three Little Piggy.

The restaurant took M’s Manhattan off our bill and we took our leftovers home. I took half the sandwich with me for lunch today, and M planned to have her sandwich for lunch while she was home, watching the storms and the following Air and Water Show.

The duck sandwich was, in a word, disappointing. To begin, the duck was dry (how the fuck do you dry out duck? It’s covered in fat!) and grayish, and the prosciutto on the sandwich wasn’t prosciutto at all. It was ham, and charred at that. And the brioche bread? I’ve never seen brioche fall apart. It’s airy and light, yeah, but unstable? Come on.

Our server was nice, but distant. And instead of taking off the drink, how about the price of the messed-up food? Very few things actually went well with this meal.

Upon further online research (mostly on Yelp), we discovered two camps: Those who went for the bar or the Three Little Piggy and loved it, and those who had something else (like the duck, which has been called “dry” by one other person) and were either indifferent or disappointed. So unless you’re going to drink or for the porkish monolith that is the Piggy, skip it.

I don’t like writing bad reviews (this is actually my first), but this was a mostly irritating experience, and the first time either of us had ever sent food back to the kitchen. Next time, we’re sticking to the plan. Expect a review on The Old Oak Tap next week.

Rating: Rachael Ray (has some good points, but mostly annoying)



1 Comment»

  duck it « Searching for Tony Bourdain wrote @

[…] because a sandwich, and it was wonderful. The sweetness of the skin, juicy fattiness of the duck (are you taking notes, Silver Palm?), and perfect fluffiness of the bao made it a wonderful first […]

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