Dear Michael’s Cuisine Restaurant & Ancho Chile Bar (3413 W. 7th St.),

It’s been too long, my old friend. How have you been? I still fondly remember those crazy nights I used to spend at your bar, sipping wine by the fireplace. I was a young 20-something back then. There weren’t many other dining and wine bar options in town at that time. Honestly, I don’t know why I stopped coming by. The food was good and the wine list reasonably priced. Sure, you had that strange phase when your servers wore cowhide chaps, but we got through that.

On a whim, I stopped by at happy hour the other day. The place looks the same: comfortable, lively, and full of pretty people. I didn’t know any of the staff, but I still felt well taken care of. The house-fried potato chips ($6) with ranch dipping sauce were addictive, but I gotta tell ya, that marinara with the ancho-fried calamari ($12) was completely bland.

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Still, the nostalgia was nice, so I tried it again, this time for lunch. As a friend, I know you’d want me to be honest about that experience.

It was a little jarring to see the joint by the light of day. It’s like a completely different place when I’m not plying myself with booze. A nice man wearing an apron and a baseball hat took us to our seats.

We started with the ranch jalapeño appetizer ($12), which had all the creativity of a grocery store shrimp platter. The eight gulf shrimp were marinated in pickled jalapeños, onions, and something called “Doc of the Bay” spices. It tasted like the kind of last-gulch snack I’d conjure from spare parts sitting in my refrigerator.

The kitchen recovered nicely with my entrée of baked crab cakes ($18.50). Though they had the soft consistency of Hostess Sno Balls, the rich ancho chile cream sauce brought out the natural sweetness of the ample portions of crab. The accompanying vegetable medley and rice were unseasoned and bland, however.

Speaking of recoveries, the pecan-crusted goat cheese chicken ($16.50) was raw in the middle. Since my guest and I had to get back to our day jobs quickly, we asked our server for a recommendation that wouldn’t take long to prepare. He suggested the light, delicious caesar salad ($6.75) with a tender, silky piece of salmon ($5.75). Just as we were finishing our meals, the nice man in the apron brought out the recooked chicken to take with us. He also took it and the salmon off our bill, which dramatically improved my perception of the experience.

Now that I’ve rediscovered you, let’s stay in touch. I’ll definitely be back for drinks and snacks at the bar, though lunch seems to need a little work. Keep my seat warm by the fireplace.

Fond regards.

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