3.03.2008

Restaurant Review (Chicago): Aigre Doux

Our visit to Aigre Doux violated a number of the rules of intelligent restaurant eating -- we went during Chicago's Restaurant Week, late at night on a Wednesday, and to a place that bills its cuisine as "New American."

In this case, it shouldn't have mattered. Aigre Doux was named to Citysearch's Top 10 New Restaurants list, and its chefs are alums of Jean-Georges and Chateau Marmont. Throw in the fact that entrees clock in around $34, and we had good reason to expect a top-quality restaurant experience. Our visit, in a word? Meh.

Again, we have to mention that our party ordered off of the special prix fixe menu. Since they had run out of several items, however, our appetizers ended up coming off of the regular menu.

Apple and arugula salad with serrano ham and manchego cheese.
By consensus, this was the highlight of the meal, but should it have been? An apple-heavy salad is an odd choice for late winter, and the ingredients were B-grade at best. A classic pairing, expertly seasoned and perfectly boring.

Butternut squash soup.
At high-end restaurants, you usually get one of two things: 1) incredible ingredients that blow your doors off, or 2) innovative, interesting food with a twist. Here, we got butternut squash soup. Quite nice, and again expertly seasoned, but the ingredients were average and the dish seemed unfinished. No schnazzy crouton, no drizzle of exquisite olive oil to round things out. Butternut. Squash. Soup.

Baked salmon in a garlic sauce, served with polenta and an artichoke heart.
After dinner, several members of our party commented that it seemed like the food had been prepped and sitting in the back for hours, just waiting to be warmed through. This dish was the principal culprit, and really nailed the theme of the evening: fine, but not at this type of restaurant. Think about it -- baked salmon, $35. Oy.

Sweet and sour short ribs with squash puree and kale.
An unmitigated disaster. The meat was nicely cooked and very tender, but neither sweet nor sour (neither was the tasteless, thin, orange-colored sauce drizzled over it). The kale was fine, but totally out of place on the plate. It is unclear whether the puree was intended to be cold or hot; it was neither. Short ribs are basically a blank slate, with any number of options available for an inspired chef. Why the hell would you do this with them?

Sticky toffee pudding with Devonshire cream.
Chef Ameen's dessert was undoubtedly the "star" of the meal -- texturally interesting, packed with flavor, and topped with delicious cream. A little too sweet? Perhaps, but still a big win.

Other
The single best thing to hit the table was the bread. Ameen is supposed to be a whiz with pastries (and, we presume, also handles the baking), and this was a moist, cheese-crusted killer. Likewise, the after-dinner coffee was exceptional.

As for the other stuff ... well, we're generally food snobs, not restaurant snobs. We don't need (or really want) our napkins folded when we hit the bathroom, and we rarely notice service (unless highly informative) or decor (unless dazzling). When the food's not great, however, we tend to be a bit more critical on those fronts. Smudged windows and somewhat condescending, uneven service are generally things we overlook. In this case, they were mildly annoying.

Summary:
Frankly, we just don't understand what we paid for. If innovation isn't Aigre Doux's thing, ingredients and preparation need to be ... and they aren't. Our experience featured the rare flash of quality -- amazing bread, delicious cream -- and a whole lot of blah. At a restaurant featuring $20 entrees, that sort of thing might be tolerable. When the tab for two approaches $200, not so much.

Ratings follow the Zagats model. Food Price is for an average-priced entree, appetizer, and dessert. Wine Price is, in the grand tradition of Homer Simpson, for the "freshest" bottle on the menu.

Food: 20
Service:
21
Decor:
20
Food Price:
$57
Wine Price:
$42



Aigre Doux

Chefs Mohammed Islam & Malika Ameen
230 W Kinzie St
Chicago, IL 60610
Phone: (312) 329-9400

6 comments:

Brady said...

At $100/person, I agree that you should be blown away. That description reminds me of the last few meals I've had at Bayona and Antoine's. In both cases, the bill was about $100/person and I left either bored and unimpressed (Bayona) or pissed off and disgusted (Antoine's).

Both Chicago and NOLA have waaaay too many good restaurants to waste money at mediocrity.

Irons said...

My experiences at Antoine's were both piss-poor -- haven't those people heard of salt? What a shitty restaurant, and what an undeserved, overblown reputation.

Bayona, on the other hand, is one of my favorite NOLA restaurants. What didn't you like?

Anderson said...

I would highly recommend a little-known restaurant off of St. Charles near the Church of McDonalds. They serve the most wonderful boneless/skinless bar-b-que chicken. This little-known DREAM of a supper club is known to the locals of the Magnolia Project District as Mama's Tasty Foods. Be sure to wear your plaid flanel jacket and stained white t-shirt, because homeless attire is required after 5pm. Oh, and don't ask them why your chicken is mysteriously attached to a rib bone. That's one secret that they'll NEVER give away!

Anonymous said...

I also dined at Aigre Doux during restaurant week and have to say that I had a very different experience. Aigre Doux is my favorite Chicago restaurant and being a regular customer I am very familiar with Chef Islams menu. I ate both items from the restaurant week menu and have to say I think they were fantastic.The squash soup was garnished with black trumpet mushrooms as the finishing touch. The salmon is wild and very slow roasted to ensure moistness and maximum flavor. The salmon was not served with a garlic sauce but instead a white wine artichoke sauce. The short ribs were tender and delicous and I don't recall a kale puree- instead sauteed swiss chard finished with something creamy. If you call yourself food snobs perhaps you should first know something about food and what you are actually eating before you criticize it.

Irons said...

Anonymous, I'm afraid we didn't get any mushrooms with our soup. The salmon was wholly unremarkable (though moist, granted), and the fact that it was an artichoke is news to me. We talked about it, but couldn't figure it out.

As for the ribs, they were definitely tender, but it's shortribs -- anyone can make them tender if they cook them long enough; the trick is making them delicious (sauce, etc.). They just didn't hit the next level.

Look, this wasn't intended to be a terrible review on the merits, just on the price. Our experience at the restaurant was incredibly average; the prices are not (they're damn high!). Maybe it was just our trip -- you seem to have a very high opinion of the place, and a number of other people have said nice things about it. Out of curiosity, what are your other favorite Chicago restaurants?

PS: We apologize for mistaking kale for chard.

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How about this.. I went to a kosher steakhouse in beverly hills on valentines day. Jesus Henry Christ they charged us $7 per refill on my sprite and cocacola. What kinda ************** is that!??!!?