Like Messers Fox & Obel, I lamented the lack of gourmet superstore in Chicago. Going to New York, i run to Zabars, Balucci (or as i called it to my wife yesterday, Babalucci, Desi's gourmet emporium), Fairway, etc. I still hold dear memories of the Harrods food hall, Fouchon and Pecks from years ago forays through europe. Why, I pined, could not Chicago have an equivilant.
Thus, i followed rather closely, the publist aided bits that alerted me to chicago's nascenent food emporium. I dragged my wife and kids there yesterday. My wife gave me 90 minutes to check things out, otherwise, we would be liable for the full parking charges. (Critisism number one, 90 minutes is not enough time to shop a "real" gourmet store).
Oveall, I found the place needs some real work, but I am still happy it's trying. (Note, much of the following comments are based on observations, not tastings.) Although the store is well laid out and looks good, it does not hit the senses on all cylanders. You expect this kind of place to overwhelm you with the smells of stinky cheeses, sour pickles, baked breads. You should feel the flames from the rotisserre and hear the crackle of searing meats. Vegetable and frut displays should dazzle like a dutch still life. This place just screamed out, store or even worse, supermarket.
I was most impressed with the fish. It really shamed its closest upscale competitor, whole foods. Many more whole fish choices including a positively pre-historic looking monkfish. Goregeous large shrimps and whole crawfish also enticed. For those looking to play Morton's at home, the meat department featured dry aged hugely marbled prime steaks. Although a wonder to look at, I seriously wonder whether the customer base exists for such pricey meats. Streeterville is not the upper east side. The deli counters included hard to find things like spanish serrano ham, german speck and high quality proccutti, but lacked quality basics like baked turkeys. They were selling several pricey smoked salmons and caviers, but again, somethings seem to be missing. No Zabars. The baked goods looked rustic, hearty and european. The danish I purchased was a little stale.
A couple of other quibbles: They sold mostly organic fruits and vegetables, but these days everyone does. Instead of argentian pears, washington apples and ANYYHING from california, how about local hierloom tomatos. My favorite vendor at the Oak Park farmer's market sells about 15 varieties of them as well as multiple kinds of apples, two types of shallots, a rainbow of peppers, etc. all grown here in Illinois. Why not try and achieve this level of produce on a daily basis? Also, how about the gourmet micro greens and upscale fruts that restraunters get from ohio? Finally, where the was choice, I did not need it. Shelves upon shelves of oils and vinegars. Here, I'd must rather see one or two balsamics they deemed "best". When i see all these olive oils or similiar stuff, I have no idea which one to buy. It is almost like doing einee-meanie-miney-moe.
I hope they improve, figure out how to make money and thrive. The sales staff had been drilled in friendliness but lacked competence (a very long adventure at the bakery counter). The cash machines did not work. This all needs to be fixed. Good luck Fox, Obel and your backers. I'm rooting for you.
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