Chow, Baby: Wednesday, February 16, 2005
Live from Lincoln Square

If Chow, Baby had to have a favorite strip mall, it would be Arlington’s Lincoln Square, N. Collins at Road to Six Flags. Just last week, in the clearance section of Half-Price Books, Chow, Baby unearthed Dr. Max Morales’ The Plano Diet: A Permissive Weight Control Plan (1984, self-published, $1). How this ever got shoved aside by the South Beach diet, Chow, Baby will never understand. Wouldn’t you rather have the figure of a Dallas suburbanite than that of a beach bunny? And the diet really is permissive: You can eat anything you want as long as ... . Oh. As long your daily intake is under 500 calories. For example, the suggested breakfast—with a color photo in case the concept is too difficult to grasp—is one slice of toast and three ounces of juice.
Well, blow that off. There are too many good restaurants in Lincoln Square, reasonably priced and generally delicious. Right on the south flank of Half-Price, the welcoming staff at Hibachi 97 prepares a wonderfully tender filet mignon and sesame chicken combo ($10.75 lunch, $19.75 dinner) amid soothing House of Flying Daggers music and, at least on Chow, Baby’s visit, not too many theatrics. A few doors down, the deli-like Rocco’s Pasta marries kitsch and gourmet with who’s-that-supposed-to-be? wall murals alongside fresh-mozzarella salads and mix-and-match pasta with delicately balanced sauces (lunch around $6.95, dinner around $8.95). A bit farther on is Jason’s Deli, one of the few chains that doesn’t offend Chow, Baby’s sensibilities (always the Beefeater, $5.99).
Across the street, near the soon-to-be-demolished Loews Theater, Swamp Daddy’s is the resurrection of Lincoln Square’s recently deceased Lone Star Oyster Bar — same owner, same sports-bar air (emphasis on “bar”: must be over 18 to enter), and pretty much the same grilled/boiled/blackened seafood menu. Cajun-spice lovers will find most dishes a little too mild, but at least everything that can be is fresh-made, down to the extra-dilled tartar sauce, and all surprisingly good, given the non-gourmet ambiance. If Chow, Baby is 0 for 2 this year on getting grilled tuna steak ($10.50 with rice, two sides, and hushpuppies) that’s “properly” medium-rare, perhaps it simply needs to ask for what it wants and stop whining when something isn’t the way it’s “supposed” to be.
That resolution lasted until the next morning’s café au lait ($2.25) and croque madame ($6.25) at Café de France. Come on, people. Oh, Chow, Baby will take partial responsibility: The menu clearly discloses that this sandwich is “wrapped in eggs” like a regifted Christmas present instead of the way it’s supposed to be, which is topped with a soft-fried egg that breaks over warm grilled Black Forest ham and melted Gruyere to meld all the gooey flavors and ooh la la. Well, it doesn’t have to be Gruyere, but it shouldn’t be a single teeny, suspiciously square slice of what a staffer insisted was real, not processed, Swiss. There was no Gallic joy in this dish whatsoever. Chow, Baby pushed aside the mess and its weak, bitter coffee and ate half of its date’s very good Spanish omelet ($6.99), loaded with still-crisp peppers and onions, plus mushrooms, tomatoes, ham, and allegedly not-processed Swiss. Chow, Baby left hungry, but that’s OK. There are plenty of good Lincoln Square restaurants — Simply Fondue and Ristorante Portofino, among others — where Chow, Baby can stick to its personal diet plan of eating 500 calories every 15 minutes.
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