‘Tis the season of giving, right? That’s why Chow, Baby gave a second shot to a couple of the restaurants I panned over the last couple of years. I tried to revisit two other places that had felt my wrath, but they’ve already closed. I’m not suggesting my scathing review helped cause their failures, just that I was, shall we say, prophetic.
Occasionally, though, I get it wrong or maybe hit a place on an off night. Other times, the food and service just get better from one visit to the next..
Back in April, I found the food at Macaluso’s Italian Restaurant (2443 Forest Park Blvd.) bland and the service lacking (“Crabby,” April 24, 2013) –– which didn’t bode well considering the location’s history as a restaurant sinkhole. I’m happy to report that the service has turned around 180 degrees. On a recent visit, my guest and I were seated promptly, and our server was friendly and attentive. The wait time for the food was long, but we could see the place was busy, and our server kept reassuring us that the kitchen hadn’t forgotten us.
The food was better than on my first visit, but far from perfect. Flavor-wise, the escargot provencale ($6.95) was a garlicky, salty thing of beauty. However, it was served at room temperature, and the accompanying crostinis were limp from sitting too long in the white wine sauce. The clams mariccati ($9.95) tasted like previously frozen rubber with a nice, zesty tomato sauce.
The entrees made up for the so-so appetizers. The fresh-tasting mixed seafood tuttomare ($19.95) with shrimp, scallops, calamari, and white fish, was an elegant-looking dish, though the thin, spicy tomato sauce drowned out the flavor of the more delicate seafood morsels. The dish of the night was the braised chicken romano ($10.95), with mushrooms, shallots, red pepper flakes, and the same light tomato sauce as the pasta. The chicken was so tender I could have eaten it with a spoon. My only regret was that we ordered three things with similar-tasting tomato sauces — hardly the restaurant’s fault.
Back in February, I thought Spice Thai Kitchen and Bar (411 W. Magnolia Ave.) was a rudderless mess with terrible food (“Get Better Fast.” Feb. 26, 2014). One of my complaints was that they didn’t have a host stand or any way to indicate whether diners were to seat themselves, and it was a free-for-all at the door. That was an easy fix for the Thanpaisarnsamut family who own the place. There’s now a sign asking folks to wait to be seated. I feel like I can take credit for that change.
On my February visit, the service was a rolling dumpster fire. We had no idea who our server was, and when we figured it out, the guy showed all the charm of a rabid dog. This time around, the service was still a little off –– my guest and I waited for a while to be served, and we had to ask a few times before our water was refilled –– but at least everyone was pleasant.
The food was also better, by leaps and bounds. The pillowy pot stickers ($7), stuffed with cabbage, pork, and onions and served with a soy dipping sauce, had a delicious, salty flavor and billowed steam at the touch of a fork. In the tom yum taylay soup ($8), a spicy but balanced mélange of tender shrimp, mussels, calamari, mushrooms, chiles, and lemongrass, the heat of the broth worked with, not against, the sea-faring creatures. Even better was the duck kra pow ($19), roasted to tender perfection, with basil, jalapeño, and red bell peppers. The spice heat was a little overwhelming, but, again, that’s more a case of user error than kitchen mistake. I should know my own spice threshold.
It could be the ’nog talking, but it feels good to have given these places a second shot. It’s even better knowing that they’ve survived and improved.
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