Technically, it’s one post, but I’m keeping the music post theme of the week alive for one more day. Last night, I had a press dinner at Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse for their new menu. For me, I have a hard time saying no to a steak house and a press dinner. I’d heard it was going to be a decent size group going out. Sometimes you never know who is going and how many people which can make for a fun night or a long night. I once did a tasting menu at a certain restaurant with two publicists that was 6 courses and close to 4 hours with no visit from the sommelier. I had A glass of wine throughout. Needless to say, we were all a little weirded out by the experience and I’ve not been back to the restaurant, but I will tease those publicists about the ordeal they made me sit through when I see them from time to time.
While it may seem glamorous, not all dinners are created equal. Last night, we started in the bar with their cheesy garlic bread and cocktails. If you’ve never been to MJs and plan to go…order that garlic bread and then plan on heading to the gym the next day. It’s that good and worth the price of going to the gym. The cocktails were nice and unique. I also appreciated we had small tastings and not whole cocktails. I don’t want to get drunk and I don’t want to feel like I’m wasting things. Plus, if the drink is bad, it’s hard to hide that with a full drink!
Our move up stairs began the main part of dinner. I have to say shockingly and thankfully our evening’s conversation wasn’t dominated by the recent Michelin Guide star release. Our first course was a unique turn on lobster squash bisque. I’m a big fan of this soup in its many iterations. MJs had an arancini with lobster to accompany the soup. It was suspended over the cup with a pick. I thought the texture and flavor paired well with the soup. Next, we got a selection of salads which were well dressed and since it’s a steakhouse made it feel like I had some form of healthiness going on. We then had their grass fed ribeye and scallops with a barley risotto. While scallops are seen everywhere, these were cooked correctly and the barley was an interesting touch and done well.
I realized a while ago these dinners serve a few purposes. First, they are there to obviously hype the restaurant, and get it in front of writers. I’ve never seen the critics but more of the man on the street writers and freelancers who do a bulk of the food writing in Chicago. Second, expose those same people to perhaps a unique part or “hook” to write about said restaurant. Third and this is me being a snob, educating these food writers on food. I often forget not everyone has worked a kitchen or focused on food with the passion I have. Many aren’t familiar with certain techniques, descriptions or even ingredients. So when the chef comes out and answers questions, I feel any cook should know it reminds me not everyone has been as lucky as me.
The sides we had I was a little disappointed in. The Brussels sprouts were good but the roasted truffle mushroom with grits was lacking. I wished for more grits and getting them a little hotter. The mushrooms were good but not enough truffle to make it stand out. MJs is known for its mashed potatoes. They typically offer a variety that changes from time to time. I appreciate they use Yukon Gold potatoes, the correct potato for mashed – each potato variety has a purpose. The flavors were good but again me being a snob like mine prepared a certain way. A former cooking friend always would tell me to shut up and eat them that they were good and not everyone does it my way. This is what helps me stay grounded when everyone raves. In my head, I appreciate the flavor but wish for just a little more.
One thing I’ve personally learned on these dinners is that what you get when they know you’re coming isn’t necessarily how it is. I expect them to put their best foot forward when they know a group of 10 involving writers are in the restaurant. I’ve been there serving and cooking for those groups in the past. That next visit or two is what clinches it for me. Now don’t think I don’t like Michael Jordan’s because I do. I’ve been a few times on my own and would go back again. Think of this as an insight as to what a food writer deals with because I’ve gone back to some that felt like completely different restaurants.
Our night ended with dessert and I got to have a nice chat with one of my favorite writer friends David Hammond. I’ve met many people over the past few years and I’ve always looked forward to catching up with David and his wife Carol when she accompanies him. He’s not only a great guy but an excellent storyteller.
With night two in the books, I hope this post is an interesting view in to a possible week night for a food writer. I tasted everything but didn’t clean my plate. That isn’t always so easy but I also don’t want to be the fattest man alive! Tonight I’m off to a fun dinner series at one of my favorite restaurants. I’m also looking forward to catching up with an old, restaurant friend who runs their beverage program --- but that is a story you’ll just have to wait for tomorrow.
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