I honestly don’t know where to begin. I have so many questions – is this the beginning of the end for Lettuce Entertain You? Were any Italian’s, of any kind, involved in tasting the menu? Will the Melman son's just admit food is and never will be a priority when they open future restaurants?
RPM is the third opening for Jerrod and R.J. Melman, the son's of Lettuce Entertain You founder Rich Melman. They’ve opened three restaurants to seemingly prove they’re worthy of taking over the throne when their father decides to retire or step down. Their first was HUB 51 – an everything to everyone restaurant with club Sub 51 below – I went twice before I blogged and got sick both times. The second opening revamped Brasserie Jo in to Paris Club and Studio Paris. I went to the pre-opening and while it was fun to see Chef Joho run around I’ve honestly not been back. At this rate, Dad is going to be working awhile.
RPM was opened with much splash since they partnered with reality TV stars Bill and Giuliana Rancic . They also added their sister, Molly, to the team for this project. The Italian restaurant takes over the previous Ben Pao space and is visually sleek, modern and what you would expect of a trendy place. I should have stopped at the door!
The restaurant menu is a typical “these plates are meant to be shared” mix of Italian inspired dishes. The service in the dining room is not a system I like. At all of the Melman son’s restaurants, there are few to no bussers leaving your server in a tough spot of doing everything at your table. On my first visit, my server was a water sherpa and spent her whole night running for her life. Food plates piled up and were rarely explained when delivered. Apparently, all the food runners and all the people with ear pieces can’t clear a table or put humpty back together again. On my second visit, I went twice, we ate in the bar and things were much smoother but the team aspect was more apparent. So if you go and service is important to you, eat in the bar!
Doug Psaltis is the chef at RPM and has a pedigree which is why the lack of food quality was surprising. Throughout both visits the seasoning on dishes was so off. Plates ranged from border line salty to not a grain in site. The fresh pasta, while fresh, was often times not cooked properly or created with any kind of care. Ravioli shouldn’t have a crunch, and a farfalle should look like a bowtie! I know someone will say, "It’s hard to make them by hand" – yes I know, I did it at Fortunato. But, if my chef or sous chef or anyone saw me make a “bowtie” look like that, I’d be made to start over. I’ve struggled to put in to words how the gnocchi special was last night. I can only say this – It makes you wonder if the people making, cooking and serving the gnocchi have ever had gnocchi. The entire dish was a mess from dumpling to sauce with the flavor of paste.
Some dishes on my visits were good – the Lobster Caprese was unique and had flavor, the Fritto Misto was seasoned well, the only pasta I like was the Duck Agnolotti with Fig and for dessert get the Tartufo. There are items on the menu that say truffle – duck and cover! The polenta with poached egg “fresh truffle” and parmesan was soupy and the truffle laughable looked like a hint of pepper. At $15, you would think you’d either get more “fresh” truffle or truffle oil to deceive my taste buds if not my eyes. Oh, and that farfalle I mentioned was supposed to have truffle as well – I actually forgot until I just looked at the menu!
What is the future for Lettuce Entertain You if this is a restaurant they’re ok with opening? This is not a Shaw’s, Joe’s or even a Wildfire. You used to know you could go to any LEYE spot and get solid food at a fair price – you still can at those spots. The new business model seems to be - revamp a tired piece of real estate, open a club and know you’ll fool enough tourists or reality TV junkies often to pay the bills.
One could argue RPM is a fabulous looking doppelganger of Bar Toma. With the Melman’s opening a Tiki Bar soon, I hope Paul McGee’s back is strong because he’s got a lot to carry. I know I won’t be trying the Pu pu platter.
Tip: If you do decide to go – cab or take public transit. The valet was so disorganized both times I waited just to give my keys up. It also takes about 10 minutes just to get your car once you get out to go home. If the server’s weren’t so busy, maybe they could ask if you valeted to help you get your car.
52 W Illinois St, Chicago, IL – 312-222-1888
Joe Campagna is the Chicago Food Snob. A former restaurant General Manager, Server and Chef you can find him on twitter @chifoodsnob. You can reach him through email at email@example.com. Joe also contributes to Eater.com Chicago and MyDailyFindChicago.com.