When was the last time you spent $25 for breakfast? It's easy in Las Vegas, where the once bargain basement buffets have given way to luxurious feasts fit for Nero. Sure, you can still find $4.99 all-you-can-eat affairs, but get ready for gummy pastry and deep-fried pizza puffs.
At the Bellagio, where you do, indeed, fork over $25 for breakfast (and wait in line to do so), you can choose from a mind-boggling array of treats, from fruits and salads to meats and cheeses, with plenty of time for upper-end seafood, and pastries as well. OK, most people are eating a combo of breakfast and lunch, but they always find room to end with an assortment of the fancy pastries.
At the Bellagio, there is a team entirely devoted just to the making of Danish.
The kitchen makes 15,000 pastries a day for banquets, the hotel and the restaurants; 5,000 are Danish just for the buffets. So, is it really a surprise that the pastry shop uses approximately 42 tons of butter a year?
At a hotel kitchen in Chicago, a pastry chef who asks to remain anonymous says that the kitchen in the Bellagio is like another world. Here, at home, the kitchens are smaller, and so is the demand. That isn't to say there aren't problems. Special orders especially irk this dessert specialist.
'I'm not talking about sauce on the side or food allergy things,' the chef explains. 'I'm talking about changing the whole damn plate as if the menu is self serve. This sauce with this meat with this vegetable, or, for me, this fruit with this cake with this sorbet.'
I was a born special orderer. While other kids were thrilled to go to McDonald's, I fretted and whined. See, special orders (a plain hamburger) threw them for a loop. Since all the burgers were pre-made, my plain burger resulted in a long wait at the register.
My parents tried the tactic of leaving me alone at the register after all their food came, and they were seated. The reasoning was that I would give up my silly battle for an unadorned sandwich, and just eat the ketchup and mustard the next time. Never happened.
We switched to Burger King, whose motto at the time was 'Special Orders Don't Upset Us.' Sure enough, my plain burger came out with the rest of the food. Unfortunately, there was still a problem for little Mr. Finicky. Sesame seeds on the top of the bun.
So, while the rest of the family enjoyed their burgers, I made a big production out of picking off each individual seed. Surely my parents will someday be waving down at me from a very high place in heaven.
I wouldn't have lasted five minutes with the pastry chef, who is especially annoyed when diners request items that aren't even on the menu in any form, something I only did once, and, again, can blame on being a kid.
My favorite restaurant growing up was the Bow Wow, on Devon. This was nothing fancy. My parents always seemed happy to go, probably because I was so excited to eat something as the restaurant intended to prepare it. Drummettes. Really just chicken wings cut in half to resemble miniature drumsticks, the deep-fried drummettes were caviar to me.
Then, one day that seemed like any other, I ordered the drummettes. 'You gotta order something that's on the menu,' said the waitress. My heart sank. For some reason God was punishing me (or more likely my parents), and had taken my beloved drummettes off the menu.
Still, I ordered something that was once on the menu. Not so, at the hotel. 'People ask for items as if we take the time to make other things just hoping that maybe tonight will be the night someone has had a mindmeld with us and will order something we don't offer.'
Surprisingly, diners request items not on the menu all the time. 'Sure I could make it, if you want to wait half an hour and can ask all the other tables to hang on because this one wants something special.'
At this particular hotel restaurant, people ask for cookies all the time—which is not on the menu. 'Oh yeah, we make dozens all day and let them sit out. This isn't a bakery. We don't just make things and wait for people to buy them. We make everything to order. I hate doing these special orders.'
So, next time you're eating out, you may want to think twice before asking for a different sauce on your linguine. '(Those diners) are a royal pain in the ass. Our chef designs platings specifically for the components and once you start changing things, it can all go to Hell.'
When my dad worked in advertising, he came home with a McDonald's poster for their fish sandwich, that still hangs in the kitchen today. What made it special is that it was from France, and says Filet de Poisson, which cracked me up. OK, so I was only seven.
It still cracks me up. The juxtaposition of the French language, usually appearing in my life only on fine restaurant menus, with the big glamour shot of the fried fish sandwich may not be a gut buster, but it's amusing.
Fortunately, the offerings listed under Les Poissons at Brasserie Jo are nothing to laugh at. Returning to this handsome restaurant after some time away, I was pleasantly surprised to find a consistency but not complacency.
As part of the Lettuce Entertain You enterprise, Brasserie Jo has managed to forge its own identity, thanks in part to Chef and co-owner Jean Joho's (also partnered with Rich Melman on Everest and Las Vegas' Eiffel Tower at the Paris Hotel) influence. So, yes, Joho's signature shrimp bag is on the menu, heralded as 'The Famous Shrimp Bag,' which is deservedly popular and impressive, as the bag is opened up, and you begin to eat your large shrimp with lobster sauce, fresh peas, and herbed rice.
But, as I often do while eating, we're getting ahead of ourselves. Take a deep breath and peruse the hors d'oeuvres, or as you and I call them, appetizers. Start light with a fresh grilled asparagus salad, or go heavy, which is quite easy to do. The war goat cheese tartelette is rich and slightly sweet, but small enough not to overwhelm, and is even served with a petite salad, so it's almost like you're not even ordering cheese in a butter crust. The truly hedonistic will have to choose between chicken liver mousse and foie gras maison en torchon. Actually, the truly hedonistic will order both, along with the onion soup, which has a nice, hefty, warm-you-up-in-the-winter layer of gruyere cheese on top.
Those hoping to avoid the heart specialist can order a simple house salad with mixed greens, beets, and cucumbers. Heartier salads include a Belgian endive with blue cheese, or a frisee salad with bacon, croutons, and poached egg.
If you want more seafood than just your entrée, plenty of options are available as starters. You can view much of it near the entrance at a large seafood bar, which displays much of the offerings on a bed of crushed ice. Try a half dozen oysters on the half shell or steamed mussels in either a white wine or cream ale sauce. Or, what the hell, just order Le Grand Jo, which brings a massive and impressive selection of oysters, shrimps, mussels, and Jonah crab claws to your table, as well as every eye in the restaurant.
If you do choose seafood as your entrée, other choices include peppercorn-crusted swordfish with frites, sautéed walleye pike in a warm mustard vinaigrette, with a frisee salad, or a delicate sautéed filet of sole, served with capers and rice.
Classic steaks include, of course, a steak frites and pommes frites, or the smooth steak bordelaise in a red wine butter sauce, with, yep, more of those pommes frites. A thicker steak can be found with the 10 oz. New York strip, served either with a deep rich béarnaise sauce or au poivre.
You may want to plan your visit to Brasserie Jo to coincide with one of their regular daily specials, which include a veal wiener schnitzel with sautéed spinach on Tuesdays, roasted sea bass with white beans on Wednesdays, and chicken pot au feu with horseradish cream on Sundays.
Don't miss the desserts, including one of my favorite presentations of profiteroles. Puff pastry are sliced in half and sandwich scoops of rich vanilla ice cream, and brought to your table by a server wielding a ceramic pitcher filled with a warm, thick fudge sauce. Holding the pitcher high above the dessert, they pour a healthy serving (yes, you can ask them to continue), and get out of the way just soon enough to avoid being stabbed with a fork..
Over the years, the Lettuce Entertain You group has continued to refine the space, moving the host stand, and removing some bar tables, to allow for more seating. Still, the signature palms remain, the ceilings are high, and the attractive oversized bar draws the eye to its large octagonal clock mounted in the framework of a large back light that curves up into the ceiling.
Service is professional and knowledgeable about both the food and the extensive list of drinks. Servers are assisted ably by a team of secondary servers and bussers, even when the restaurant is full, which is often. Reservations are a good idea.
Brasserie Jo is located at 59 W. Hubbard. Valet parking is available (and necessary). Brasserie Jo is open Monday through Thursday 5-10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday 5-11 p.m.
See the front page, left side directory of www.WindyCityMediaGroup.com for Dining Out listings.