The back porch of Volo in Roscoe Village is arguably one of the best outdoor eating spaces in Chicago. Which is why, on a recent Saturday night, a group of six of us arranged to have dinner there. My friend made the reservation weeks in advance, requesting that we be seated outside, and when that Saturday rolled around and turned out to be beautiful, we were giddy with excitement.
When we arrived, however, we were told there was a wedding out back, and that seating there was unavailable. We were disappointed, but no worries, we were willing to sit in the smaller, more generic patio in the front. Except that we were not allowed. A very apologetic hostess told us the owner would not permit that the tables be rearranged to accommodate our party. There was no mention of code issues or anything like that, only that the owner was unwilling to seat us out there. Our only option to sit outside would be to sit at three separate tables. At this point, I must have looked at the hostess like she had three heads: what was the point of us coming as a group to Volo, then? Why didn’t someone at Volo call ahead of time (these days, most restaurants do just to confirm the reservation) to let us know there was no way our group would be seated outside? The hostess apologized for about the eighteenth time, promising we "would be taken care of."
So we settled in. We had a booth with an extra table, creating makeshift sitting for six that made, particularly for my husband and me seated at the extra table, hearing particularly challenging. The worst part of this arrangement, though, was that the entire inside of the restaurant was suffocatingly hot. Volo’s kitchen is open and situated right in the middle of the small inside of the restaurant, meaning that not only were we not sitting outside, but much of our dinner conversation centered on comparing the puddles of sweat pooling along our backs, and how our skirts were firmly stuck to our butts and legs.
So what of the food? Some of it was good -- I really did like the cheese platter and Brussels sprout appetizer – but I found it nearly impossible to enjoy. After a summer of three digit temperatures, spending my money to eat out at a stifling restaurant was not exactly what I had in mind. We split several of the small plates, and had a few rounds of drinks. However, when the time came to either order another round or go elsewhere, it was an easy decision to go elsewhere (although one that took longer to implement, since by then our waitress had disappeared).
- My friend, Andrew, with his beer
The check arrived, and we noticed that apparently the hostess's promise that we "would be taken care of" did not mean with a free dish or discount. Nope, not at all. In fact, instead of being taken care of, we were hit with an automatic 20% tip, presumably because we had a table of six. Prior to this point, I was willing to try Volo again another time. Restaurants have rough nights, and I get it. But adding a 20% tip to a party of six added insult to injury. We certainly received no special service given the whole situation; I would actually argue that, if anything, the service was under par. Good service, to start, would have been a telephone call informing us that outdoor eating would not be available. Good service would have been a comfortable room in which to eat our meal. Good service would have meant always being able to find our waitress. And good service would have translated into actually being "taken care" of as promised.
All in all, we had a great night. I was with a fantastic group of friends, and we made the best of the (hot and sweaty) situation. And after Volo, we walked next store to Riverview Tavern, which had no problem seating a table of six outside on the sidewalk. There, we enjoyed the beautiful night outside, ordering another round of drinks and a second round of dinner -- apparently everyone was still hungry after Volo but didn't want to stay any longer, or spend any more money, eating there.
Try Volo (but sit outside!) at 2008 W. Roscoe. Try Riverview Tavern at 1958 W. Roscoe.
Filed under: Classic Restaurant Reviews