Chow, Baby: Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Managing to Please

General managers are the unsung heroes of fancy restaurants. Certainly Chow, Baby has never sung about them. No, Chow, Baby waltzes into a classy joint (when the budget permits) and, if it has a great time, leaves raving about the cute servers and talented chefs — without ever thinking that those things don’t get there by themselves. Somebody has to hire, train, and schedule the staff and order the food and wine, plus, if Chow, Baby doesn’t have a great time, handle whiny obnoxious customers. So here’s a shout-out to Greg Kalina at Del Frisco’s for all that plus not laughing at Chow, Baby’s thrift-store finery; Aaron Williams at Lambert’s for all that plus letting Chow, Baby take home the leftover brunch bacon; and Luis Xavier Rojas at Ferré for all that plus, well, he knows why. [Toot on pitch pipe.] Did y’all ever know y’all’re Chow, Baby’s heeeeeeroes….
Chow, Baby’s newest GM-throb, and the inspiration for this new GM appreciation, is Andreas Moustakas at Bonnell’s (4259 Bryant Irvin Rd.) Andreas looks like a Godfather extra, but instead of an Italian kill-’em-all he’s a Greek know-it-all: his customers’ names, how to fix the register, where the bathroom plunger is, what wine goes with venison carpaccio — you just can’t stump this guy! Unfortunately, Andreas’ Mediterranean charm wasn’t the only reason Chow, Baby hung out with him so much one recent Restaurant Week evening. Truth is, Chow, Baby wasn’t enthralled with its entrée — we’ll come back to that — and was wandering around the restaurant out of boredom. But its walkabout, and its new management sympathies, yielded a valuable RW insight: They look rich, but fancy restaurants simply can’t afford to give us a $50 three-course meal for $35, less $7 to the Lena Pope Home, and still have enough left for food, cooking gas, and, most crucial, GM salaries. That’s why RW menus generally offer just lower-cost regular-menu items plus some kind of chicken surprise, a RW-only dish targeting that $28 price point. The key for the diner is to know — before ordering — which is which.
Case in point, the familiar items on Bonnell’s RW menu were absolutely fantastic. The starter, lemon caesar salad (regular menu $6), was a subtle, simple, awakening of the taste buds. The endings, perfectly puckery key lime pie ($6) and a truly heavenly flourless chocolate cake ($7), were to die for. In the middle, the beloved’s stunning Bandera grilled quail ($21, but get two for $26, they’re teeny) was perfectly matched with a jalapeño-garlic cream sauce. But Chow, Baby’s less-than-thralling entrée — the only dish not on the regular menu — was a beef toughloin (that’s a tenderloin that ain’t) whose chili-sauce blanket seemed designed mainly for camouflage. It wasn’t terrible, but it was far from Bonnell’s best (the quail, for one).
So here’s what you do. Make a reservation at one of the places that are extending RW through Sunday (see Then find the restaurant’s regular menu (most are online) and memorize it. When you get to the restaurant in all your thrift-store finery, pick the dishes that are good enough for the regular menu, and avoid the price-point meals. This system is guaranteed, but if you still have an unsatisfactory evening, you know who to complain to. No, not Chow, Baby this time. Find a hero to make it right.

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