Sunday, October 22, 2006

Dinner Was a Real Pain

Friday night before leaving his office, Craze informed me that he felt sick. Now, I'm pretty lucky that he is not sick very often and any illnesses are typically short lived. And thank god, because when ill, he can be the most annoying, whiney baby ever. He's just not fun to be around when he's sick.

All Friday afternoon, I had been gleefully been looking forward to the approaching weekend even though I'd been fighting off my own cold for the past few days. I showered, got dressed in my going-out-someplace-fun clothes and put on make-up, only to have any hopes of dinner and a movie dashed at 5:40 p.m. when Craze called.

So after a Friday night spent at home in front of the TV and a Saturday of the same, I finally asked him what he wanted to do about dinner. I didn't want to cook. I cook ALL of our meals. So, come the weekends, I want a break. After much back and forth discussion, it was decided that we would check out an Ecuadorian restaurant not far from our neighborhood called La Peña (Spanish for the "rock," group" or "circle," not the "pain") on Milwaukee. The Chicago Tribune gave it Three Forks and it had gotten rave reviews on an episode of "Check Please." Craze called and made reservations for 8pm.

When we arrived, the place was buzzing with activity and we were ushered to a table near the stage. "Cool," we thought, since we'd heard good things about the live music. We were handed menus and then our wait began. After about ten minutes, a dour waitress arrived at our table. We ordered an Ecuadorian appetizer and a salad, two chicken skewer entrees and one margarita. Our appetizers arrived fairly quickly, but Craze's salad was a fiesta of room temperature iceberg lettuce, tomato and cucumber. Not too great. My bacon and cornmeal pancake appetizer was an unappetizing beige ball of dough. It was lukewarm and not very tasty. Craze looked at it and said, "It looks like it has problems." A later taste test verified his visual diagnosis.

The entrees were the most measly portions I can ever remember seeing in a Chicago restaurant. Each of our skewers had three tasty, but thinly-pounded pieces of chicken breast, one tiny piece each of both red and green pepper, and one almost overlooked piece of onion (not even a chunk of onion, just one single sliver apiece). This miniscule offering was then accompanied by plantains, which in this case were two bite-sized rations on each plate. We had ordered a side of beans and, after confirming with our unfriendly waitress that these were black beans, they arrived, but were not of the black variety. More like a bowl of navy bean soup. They were tasty enough, but not what we ordered. And to top it all off, my margarita tasted a little like windshield washer fluid and was a big disappointment considering it cost about the same as my entree.

Our waitress never once returned after delivering either of our courses to ask if everything was ok and Craze even had to flag her down to get more water. In each interaction, it was clear that she did not to enjoy her job and wanted to ensure that no one around her enjoyed their experience either.

Forty-three dollars and change later, we exited leaving dissatisfied and still a little hungry. The only high-point of our evening was the live music which was very good. But would we go back? No way. And that's a bummer, as we're always looking for places to eat in our northwest side neighborhood because we're not spoiled for choice. I'd happily go back and pay more for my entree if it was a more robust offering (i.e more food, please), the appetizers had a lot less "yuck" factor and we had a server who cared about her job. 'Til then we can't help but misinterpret La Peña,, into a PAINFUL dining experience, versus the place we want to group around the table and enjoy a great meal.

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