Thursday, January 19, 2006

Not-so-Yumm Bistro

I don't really like to write and post bad reviews here, but sometimes I just don't think it's fair when there are so many restaurants out there doing a great job (and when many of my friends ask my honest opinion on where they should take dates/friends/family/clients.) Yesterday, I had lunch with an old friend at Oh Yumm! Bistro at 56th and Illinois (by Kincade's Meat Market). I've had some really great food here in the past. But sadly, it wasn't as good as I remember. It was good to see a dining room full of fur-coated lunching ladies, and the service was passable, but the food and ambience won't bring me back.

First, there was the smell. I came in through the back door from the parking lot right by the restrooms. I noticed both bathroom doors were open and an odd bathroom and stale grease smell permeated the entire back of the restaurant. It was so awful that as I went up front to ask the hostess for a table, I found myself hoping she'd seat me up front, as far away from what I took to be the source of the odor as possible.

As I walked past the open kitchen window (the pass right in the dining room), I was also disappointed to see a few untidily dressed cooks working with one sitting on the food prep table talking in plain view of the dining room. I hope a rag graced that station before any of my food did. Chefs! If you have an open kitchen, you need to ask your kitchen staff to dress appropriately and act the same! Your diners can see in -- and this kitchen didn't look like a well-oiled bistro kitchen. It looked like a pub kitchen complete with t-shirted staff.

After the hostess led me to a table and stood by offering me no assistance as I struggled out of my winter coat (I felt like I was putting her out that she had to wait on me), I settled in to wait for my friend. I listened while a large table of lunching ladies quizzed their waiter on unknown ingredients including golden beets. (He couldn't describe the difference between golden and regular beets although he clearly knew what they were.)

When my friend arrived and we ordered, I thought I'd try the pescadero tacos. They had an interesting roast chicken, some salads, and an ambitious looking duck confit with wild mushroom crepes. My friend ordered a seared ahi tuna appetizer. After a fairly long wait, out came our dishes. Mine consisted of two store-bought white flour tortillas barely stuffed with a few thin strips of an overgrilled white fish, some mushy guacamole, and plain shredded cheese. It was accompanied by a mound of mixed greens topped with a scoop of pico de gallo. I asked the waitress if the guac and pico were housemade and she said they were, but I'm not so sure. My friend had a nice looking plate of seared ahi tuna, crusted in sesame seeds, and sliced thinly in a presentation. It was good, but came with an odd ball of sesame-seed crusted sticky rice which was so undercooked it was gritty (Japanese sticky rice takes longer to cook and must be steamed at the end to cook all the way through) and so sweet that I figure it can't even have been an attempt at sushi rice but something else all together.

I don't know if any other diners noticed their dishes were just not as well executed as the menu would suggest. The table next to us ordered a bottle of white zinfandel, and they seemed to be regulars so who knows?

They seem to have an ambitious menu without the ability to deliver. There's nothing wrong with plain, unintimidating food. But sometimes plain food is harder to do than something fancy -- and either way, it has to be prepared by knowledgeable staff -- and a kitchen that even casts a vague impression of having problems is a dealbreaker in my book. Normally, I might say I just had a bad experience, but there were too many things that I suspect are ongoing. My conclusion? Sadly, Oh Yumm -- not so Yumm.

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