Chow, Baby: Wednesday, February 2, 2005
The Last Temptation of Chow, Baby

Food writers are the Cinderellas of any newspaper’s features department. It’s not fair. Music critics get pre-release c.d.s from all the record labels and get in free to any concert they want. Film reviewers don’t stand in line in the rain at Grapevine Mills; they get special (free) screenings set up at their convenience. Marriage columnists get fat government contracts. And radio critics, it’s well known, get all the babes. But food writers, oh, no, we’re not supposed to accept even a slice of complimentary pie, ever, no matter how innocently and graciously offered. This might Threaten Our Objectivity. On down the slippery slope — how to express thanks for this free ribeye? — to a stream of inexplicably positive reviews, and readers would begin to distrust our motives; worst case, they might assume we’re in bed with the advertising department. (Ha. Have you seen those guys?) We would have Lost Our Credibility.
But where’s the harm in accepting a friendly “comp” from a restaurant that’s been consistently fabulous for years — like, say, Bistro Louise (2900 S. Hulen)? A place that’s won local and national acclaim certainly isn’t trying to buy Chow, Baby’s love; they’re merely being kind to the $20-expense-accounter. And it’s not likely that Chow, Baby would have to keep its bleeding mouth shut about sharp metal objects in the salad here, so where’s the ethical dilemma? Self-convinced (but, just in case, not asking its boss first), Chow, Baby gussied up for Bistro Louise’s monthly wine dinner (five courses, five oft-replenished glasses of wine, $75) but left its wallet at home.
Well, Chow, Baby wound up with a bigger problem than it could have imagined. The menu, created by chef-owner Louise Lamensdorf after her recent travels to Italy, was exquisite. The wines were fabulous. The service was impeccable. The company — diners are seated family-style at large tables — was witty and current-event-informed. The evening was perfect. But nobody will believe it, because Chow, Baby has Compromised its Integrity. The only way to regain credibility now is to simulate a lack of bias by throwing in an occasional frivolous criticism (“Hey, I said it was a tad heavy on the caraway! Obviously I’m not in anybody’s pocket!”).
Our emcees for the evening were Louise herself, who introduced and explained each course, and Republic Beverage Company’s Robert Skufca, who did the same for the wines. Robert, who is a tad too gorgeous, was given to statements that Chow, Baby found hilarious (especially after its third glass of the incredible 1997 Tommasi Viticoltori Amarone), such as “A lot of people ask, ‘What’s La Grein like?’” But the eating deserved reverence: for starters, grilled jumbo shrimp on a bed of al dente cannoli beans dressed in mint oil, white balsamic vinegar, and some other good stuff, though the lemoncello was arguably a tad lemony. The warm rabbit salad in a black truffle vinaigrette was a tad too aromatic, though it went great with the 2000 Bottega Vanaia La Grein that everybody’s talking about. The pan-seared veal chop was perfectly cooked but dreadfully thick, and the accompanying creamy risotto was just a smidge too, too—no, there’s absolutely nothing even the tiniest bit belittling to say about this dish. Nothing. This trying-to-appear-unbiased is too hard! Much easier just to be unbiased. From now on, not even a free after-dinner mint for this critic.

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