I finally got to experience the "swine and wine" at this hot new restaurant right on Michigan avenue. Previous trips were abandoned when faced with overwhelming crowds and ridiculous wait times. I arrived at 5:45 on a Thursday, and the place was packed, not a single space open in the relatively small restaurant. If you decide to wait for a single opening at 1 of the 3 large high-top communal tables, be prepared to play an endless dance with the hostess, guests, busboys, and waiters, all traveling back and forth in the same narrow aisle you are forced to stand in while waiting. If you are lucky enough to get the attention of the bartender, you have the honor of paying $13 for a belgian style ale (12 oz on tap). It was good, but really? $13 for a small draft beer? After about 20 mins. of rather conspicuous and agile waiter dodging, I was finally wedged into an open space at 1 of the communal tables. When I say wedged in, I mean literally. I thought they were going to have to use some of the plentiful lard from their kitchen to grease the sides of the chairs so we could be locked back into place. These seats are so close, I might call these tables conjugal instead of communal. Also, please, when you are sitting at a comuunal table, please be courteous enough to allow arriving guests entry - turning your back on the waitress and ignoring us is NOT going to make it go any easier (witch). OK, so after all this hassle, I screamed my order at the waitress (the noise level is just above rock concert) and was then subjected to overhearing the conversation (screaming match) going on between my 2 tableside guests. Another hint - when you're in a rather public setting that requires you to speak loudly, consider excluding conversations about politics/religion/sex - especially sex. Nobody, trust me, NOBODY, wants to hear about what kind of porn you and you're boyfriend choose to watch, not at the dinner table, not ever. Finally, I get to sample the raved about food. I started with the fried olives stuffed with chorizo (are these on just about every menu nowadays?) and they were pretty good. 6 good size olives, and at $5, the only real value I saw all night. They went well with a Spanish Rioja I ordered (nice touch, you can get 1 glass, or 1/3, 1/2 bottles; but I found it odd they excluded ANY domestic wines. A good selection of imports, but why not include some domestic choices?). I was recommended the bone marrow smear, and I have to say I was disappointed. A smallish portion, somewhat bland, even with the herb dressing and the sea salt garnish. It actually tasted like it had been in the refrigerator too long, just didn't have the fresh taste I expected. Finally, a dish to be proud of - the milk braised pork shoulder. If it wasn't for this final saving dish, I would have been hard pressed to rate this restaurant above poor. This dish was outstanding - this is what I was looking for, and salvaged an otherwise tough dining experience. Overall, the impression I left with was of a pretty good neighborhood tapa's bar, hit and miss as most are, that is riding a wave of communal good feeling way beyond where it should be if considered on the food and ambience alone. Chicago is a great food town, and there is NO WAY this is 1 of the top 5 restaurants in this city - not on food, not on atmosphere, not on value. If you want to get there early, or for lunch, pop in and see if you agree.
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