Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Review: May St. Cafe, Chicago

may st cafe interior.jpg

Note: This also appears with my reviews over on Yelp

May St Cafe was pleasantly unusual. It's dark, snug, lively, loud and idiosyncratically laid out. They serve worldly dishes with a uniquely local feel. It's urbane, yet unpretentious - haute cuisine, neighborhood style. The food is delicious and the presentation is excellent.

Highlights / Lowlights:

What was great

- Food. We tried some classic combinations (pork chop, black beans and rice) and some clever innovations (two types of quesadillas to start: mango & shrimp, and brie & pear - both really well done). The salmon entree was also very, very good.

may st cafe salmon.jpg

- Seasonal touches. The kitchen demonstrated a bit of its range and imagination in the way they incorporated pumpkin into the menu on the night we visited. The pumpkin mashed potatoes were subtle, not sweet like you might expect - very nice. And the pumpkin flan was excellent, with good flavor and balance, not overpowering - really well done. It surprisingly overshadowed a very good 'warm lava cake', in my opinion.

- Service and attitude. Welcoming from the moment we approached the restaurant. Pulling a quick u-turn on Cermak after we passed the parking lot, we saw someone give us a friendly wave as he pointed us to an open spot. Later, when the Executive Chef, Mario Santiago, made the rounds of the dining room, we realized it was him whom we had seen in the parking lot. Somehow I don't picture Mario Batali doing that, but maybe I'm wrong. In addition to Chef Santiago, we also had good experience with our waitress, who was very on top of things.

- The kitchen. Kudos to those in the kitchen on this night - they turned around high quality food very quickly.

may st cafe table setting.jpg

- Ambiance. Two things about the ambiance in particular are worth noting. First, the very interesting artwork on the walls that evinces a hand-crafted, personal kind of expression - a nice complement to the spirit of the restaurant. Then there is the lighting, which is very dark and intimate. The house lights are dimmed to nearly off, and you're left with a combination of the flickering votive on your table and the light of the street lamps diffused through the window treatments. I'm still kind of new to Sweetest Day as a holiday, but for a smoothly romantic setting on Sweetest Day, this was good.

What wasn't great

- Space and acoustics. The dining room is by no means large. Seats 50 people, tops, in one relatively small room. And on this night there was some party of 10 or 12 stretched across two perpendicular tables. Their presence unmistakably impacted the layout and the atmosphere, offsetting some of the positive ambiance points. But I am willing to chalk that up as a one-off. I'm guessing it isn't common for ~25% of their patrons to account for ~85% of the noise. We were fortunate enough to get a 4-top along the south wall of the restaurant, near the window onto Cermak. That felt like the best place to be in terms of space. Even there, though, we couldn't escape the drunken cackling of this large party's doyenne hostess, who seemed to believe she was entertaining in her own private salon, either completely oblivious or unconcerned about how her idiotic bleatings might detract from the enjoyment of her fellow diners. There was a tangible difference in the room's vibe once she finally left, but unfortunately her stay coincided with most of ours. At least we had dessert in peace.


The 2 critical questions

- Would I eat here again? Definitely. Just wish it wasn't such a trek, as Edgewater to Pilsen isn't a casual jaunt.

- Did it seem like good value? Pretty good. Our bill for two appetizers, two entrees and two desserts was $86 before tip. It's byob, which is nice. It isn't inexpensive, but the quality merits the price.


Food - Excellent

Service - Very good.


Space - Nice, but small

Bathrooms - Pretty cool - I envied them their stone sink and counter tops.

Parking - Excellent. Couldn't be any easier.


nick said...

Agreed - May St. Cafe is a great little place, BYOB is always a bonus and the food is terrific. Definitely worth the trek to Cermak.

Art Sindlinger said...

Thanks, Nick. Btw, I checked out your stumblings and followed through over to check out Derek Erdman. Noticed his painting include one of Franco Harris and one of Nell Carter. Nice.