After all the positive reviews of West Side Lounge, we decided to try it last night. Overall, we enjoyed the experience and thought it was excellent value for money, though there were a few frustrations.
Upon walking through the door, we were instantly soothed by the music, the plush banquettes and the dark color scheme. The menu sets a fun tone to start, with a page of specialty cocktails. Figuring this was a strong point, my DC and I ordered four over the course of the evening. All but one (the pomegranate martini) stank. (The others we tried were the regular mojito, the pineapple mojito, and an old fashioned peach something-or-other.) I was afraid my DC was going to cry when he tasted his mojito, since we were only a stone's throw from the mouth-watering ones at Chez Henri.
The appetizers also looked pretty good. We settled on the spring pea fritters and the spicy Asian calamari. The fritters were sensational. Spongy and savory, studded with firm peas. Though I'm not a fan of fried calamari, this was flavorful and used nice small squid. The greens that accompanied both dishes need a punchier, less salty dressing.
The mains are somewhat baffling: no matter what you get it seems, your side *will be* potatoes. Mashed with garlic, mashed with goat cheese, mashed with some other cheese, or, if you really want, fried. There were two dishes where the starch side was pasta (orzo and something else) and one that offered toasted polenta. So by default, we got the pork tenderloin, which is the thing with which they pair the polenta. It was delicious. A generous portion, cooked to a succulent medium rare and served with a colorful, crunchy and very lightly dressed slaw. And yes, the polenta was lovely.
Service throughout was dreadful. Our waitress could barely summon the will answer our questions or to make eye contact with us, plates were left uncleared, a second round of drinks which we ordered when beginning our mains arrived as those plates were being removed, at least 20 minutes passed after she gave us the dessert menu before she returned. Worst of all: a really insincere kiss-up with plenty of attention and eye-contact as she presented us with the bill. Yuck.
Since the dessert choices didn't inspire and our patience with the lousy service was running out, we decided to hit the road for a change of venue. For the quality of the ingredients and the careful food prep, it's hard to beat the prices. I think the bill came to $75, which at most places we visit just covers us for cocktails or a bottle of wine.
(Tangential gripe: *someone* should really do something about parking around there. I always dread going to restaurants in that stretch, including lovely Chez Henri, because there's inevitably 10-15 minutes of circling before finding a spot.)
We decided to head to one of my favorite bars, the Bristol Lounge, for a change of pace, ie. good service, good drinks and hopefully something interesting on the dessert menu. (I think I saw a spread that looked like a dessert buffet. Anyone tried it?)
Since it was standing room only, we headed upstairs to the bar at Aujourd'hui. I am still absolutely kicking myself that I haven't gone there sooner. The bar area is like the Bristol only better: more intimate, ultra comfortable, fabulously luxurious décor (huge old-school portraits and down-filled embroidered silk accent pillows). The only disappointment was the range of choices on the dessert menu: dull, dull, dull, aspiring no higher than molten chocolate cake and vanilla crème brulee. With the financial resources and kitchen skills at their disposal, why oh why can't they put together a menu with a little passion and flair? We had two glasses of excellent dessert wine, an utterly unseasonal but flawlessly executed apple tart and warmly solicitous yet unobtrusive service. The total came to about $60 before tip. Pricey, but so darn decadent and welcoming.
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