My wife studied to be a dancer of the ballet variety. She still loves it and has instilled that love in me. I never thought I would enjoy dance but I really do. Last night we ventured to the West Loop to see Swan Lake performed by the American Ballet Theater troupe at the Civic Opera House of Chicago. First a little history. The opera house opened in 1929 with a production of Camille, an American opera. Swan Lake was composed by Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky in 1877. It premiered at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, Russia. This brings us to last night. We decided to visit a restaurant located near the opera house so we would have a short walk to see the ballet. We settled on Rivers. Rivers, as you can imagine, is on the Chicago River. It has a very nice view. The menu is a typical mix of fish, beef and chicken. It does feature some interesting duck dishes too. I was intrigued.
We were seated in a booth. We both like booths. As we looked at the menu and the specials, we decided we couldn’t decide what we were going to have. There were many good choices. A server came to take our drink order and drop off some bread. I asked for a martini. He offered bleu cheese olives. What a great idea! Margie had a vodka/cranberry cocktail. He tried to talk her into a Cosmo. It’s just not the same thing. She stuck to her guns and had what she wanted. No worries…yet.
I looked in the bread basket and found three different types of bread. I picked a sourdough with a thick crust. I was looking in the basket for some butter. Nope, it wasn’t on the table. We had to ask three people for butter before we receive a tiny little ramekin of it. I tried the sourdough bread. It was bland. That is hard to do, a sourdough bread that is bland. I tried the raisin brioche. Bland and tough. I start to get worried. Margie is fine however. I am glad for that. I like a little time before ordering to slowly sip my cocktail and have some conversation. Our server honored this and eventually asked us if we were ready to order. I ordered the corn soup and the grilled salmon. Margie had the Caesar salad and chicken fettuccine. Almost immediately after the menus were taken away, the salad and soup arrived. I thought that was a little odd but fine. I then looked into the soup. I was not happy. It was like looking into a bowl of pie filling or thick pudding. It had sort of a gray color to it and a little corn suspended in it. On the menu it sounded so much better: roasted corn soup with roasted tomato and onion confit, chives and red pepper cream. The garnishes sounded great to me. In reality the tomato and onion confit were barely noticeable. The chives were nowhere to be found and the red pepper cream was a little squirt on top of the pudding/paste soup. I believe the soup was thickened with a cornstarch slurry instead of a cream reduction or roux as a good soup is.
I ate the soup so as not to disturb Margies dinner. Her salad looked pretty good right then. She was enjoying it. As were finishing our starters, the entrees arrived. In my world, this is not acceptable. Why would I want my fish when I haven’t even finished my pudding/paste? The soup and salad plates were pushed to the side and we began on the entrees. I would say we felt a bit rushed at this point. We had built in an hour and a half before the ballet to eat a leisurely dinner. We were now half an hour in. I still had half my martini left. That in itself, is a miracle. I was looking forward to a nice glass of Sonoma-Cutrer chardonnay with my fish. That chardonnay and the martini were the best parts of the meal. The fish was unseasoned and overcooked. It was served on a bed of corn and other vegetables. They too were quite bland. I know this sounds like I am being too hard on the cooks of the restaurant. But when I can have better food done by students at our school, something is wrong. While were eating, a server reached over Margie and myself to retrieve the soup and salad plates that were left behind. This is another server mistake. You do not reach over diners to get plates. These are not new ideas in service. These are standards. I expect them at school and at a fine dining restaurant.
We finished our entrees and the plates were taken away. I didn’t really want any coffee or dessert because I didn’t trust them to make either correctly. There was a long wait before the server popped up again and offered us the dessert menu. He said something funny though, “Are you ready for the best part of the meal?” Whoo boy, he didn’t know how right he was. We looked it over and it had the normal chocolate cake, ice cream and sorbet items. I wasn’t inspired by anything and neither was Margie. There was another long wait before the check came. I guess this was to make up for the lack of time between courses.
On our way to the Civic Opera House, we looked for somewhere to have coffee. The West Loop area was deserted. It’s understandable. There’s just not that much traffic on a Saturday night. We found our way to the theater and saw a beautiful art deco structure. The interior was ornate and well preserved. We walked upstairs to our seats and were greeted with a kindly elderly woman who looked exactly like Margie’s grandmother. She was very nice and showed directly to our seats. Wow, nice service. I wanted to get a cup of coffee before the show began. I had only a few minutes to finish the cup. The vendor of the coffee offered an ice cube to help cool it down so I could finish it quickly. Wow, more good service. It was nice to be back where normal service standards and better were in place.
We enjoyed the ballet immensely but it was very long, almost 3 hours. We hopped on our bus home and noticed all the great restaurants we could have eaten at. We had a good laugh. Oh well, thank God there’s always another delicious meal coming our way.