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Friday, January 12, 2007

Food Friday: Mike Ditka's

Oh my sweet baby Jesus in manger. If you're in Chicago and have about a hundred dollars to blow, DUDE - go to Ditka's!

It all started the month of my thirtieth birthday. I'd seen my friends turn thirty and their significant others do super cute things for them. One friend's boy organized a super fancy dinner party. There were about 10 of us there and he made everything from scratch. Another friend's husband wrapped thirty precious little gifts: the theatre stub from their first date, her favorite candy, a flower from her bouquet. None of these were extravagant gifts, but they were all sweet and thoughtful. At some point, I put this insane pressure on the Targo to do something special for my thirtieth birthday. Well, needless to say it was a downer. I ended up planning it myself and was really disappointed. Meanwhile, he went to London for vacation three days later. Jerk. I'm so not bitter. Liar.

Anyway, for my thirty-first birthday, the Targo realized that for a foodie, nothing is sweeter than a restaurant we would ABSO-FREAKING-LUTELY never go to under any circumstances. So, he took me to Fulton's on the River. It was incredible. I've never had food that good, and the Targo has never spent that much on two dinners. He's really quite frugal, so I'm sure it sent him into panic attacks when he paid the bill. That's a whole other story...

So, to be safe for Christmas this year, the Targo got me a gift certificate to Mike Ditka's Restaurant. While it's not the fanciest place in Chicago, I'm a sucker for a steak and I liked the potential of seeing someone famous. Rock!

When you enter, you're immediately assaulted by cigar smoke. On the north side of the building is an upscale sports bar. The patrons were were a mix of casual (khakis and polos) to business attire. There were no diamonds and pearls, but hey! this is Chicago. The hostesses were too cute and too sweet. They were the type who appeared to actually like their jobs. That's pretty impressive to someone who worked in food service for 10 years and has noticed a significant decline in the service industry. Aside from the $4.00 bar Cokes, our wait was comfortable and actually pleasant.

We were seated in the main dining room, which was decorated in tasteful sports memorabilia. There was actually a lot of history on those walls, including and autographed picture of Jackie Robinson!

The bread was piping hot, soft and served with a lightly whipped honey butter. The other patrons talked at a comfortable volume, so it was neither too loud nor too quiet to talk. Juuuuuuuuust right.

The Targo and I began with chicken soup and a Mike's salad (Granny Smith apples, walnuts, bleu cheese). Outstanding and perfect portions for sharing. The timing from the salads to entree was very good too. It seems like the staff was well-trained and very responsive to the guests' needs.

Every time we go to a steakhouse, the Targo feels compelled to order chicken. It makes me crazy and I nearly stab him with my oversized butter knife each time. Not one to disappoint, the Targo ordered the Rotisserie Chicken. It was a huge portion of white meat, dressed with yummy fresh peas and roasted potatoes. The flavor was light, but not bland. Meanwhile, I dove into the Blackened Prime Rib. Warning: your $30-$50 steaks do not come with side dishes. The Targo and I ordered the Au Gratin Potatoes as a side. The Prime Rib, dear God, was heavenly. It was tender, perfectly spicy and oh boy - did the Targo covet! I can't tell you how many times I saw the chicken eater staring at my entree. The Prime Rib was served with a Burgundy mushroom horseradish sauce and that was incredible. I also ordered the Roasted Garlic Au Jus and it rocked. I'm sure my breath was horrendous, but I ended up sharing with the Targo, so it didn't matter. The potatoes were a little bland, and I would definitely get something else next time.

Our only negative - and this is a little nit-picky - was our server. This woman came to our table twice: to take our order and to deliver our bill. Let me say that we never did without, but it was frustrating that she was going to get the tip when everyone else did all the work. Now, I understand the tipout process, but I know too that it's minimal compared to the work that the bussers and assistants do. Especially in this case with Ms. "I'm too cute to wait on a married couple, let me go over here and be super flirty with this table of four guys." I get it. I've waited on many a table and have tended much bar. I know it can be about hedging your bet and working harder for the tables that you're likely to get the most out of. I just don't think it should be that way. And, AND, I'm a ridiculously generous tipper. The only times I've ever left less than 20 percent, my order's been wrong, I didn't get an iced tea refill, and the server kicked my puppy. Kidding. My point is that you never can tell how much a table will appreciate good service. So, we left a great tip and just hoped that the bussers and assistants were tipped out well. Retrospectively, we should have tipped them instead.

So - to sum it all up here: The food was stellar, the service - in totality - rocked, and the atmosphere was warm and comfortable, even if you're not a fan of Da Beloved. I give Da Coach's place three and a half black and white cats.

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