This week the Eater 38 club took a stab at another one of Chicago Eater’s “Eater 38” restaurants. The choice: Maude’s Liquor Bar. Not only is Maude’s on the Eater 38 List but it’s also on the newest Michelin Bib Gourmand list, so I was a little excited about it. Unfortunately that excitement wore off fairly quickly.
Let me say this right off the bat, I thought their frites were some of the best I’ve had. Perfectly fried, thick sticks of potato with a solid, crisp outer shell, encasing a light fluffy center. They smelled and tasted like they were fried in duck fat which may explain it. The frites were so good they didn’t need the aioli which accompanied the order. Not as much a fan of the other appetizer we ordered, the French Onion Fondue (caramelized onions and melted gruyere). As far as melted/broiled cheese appetizers go I wasn’t wowed. Best to leave this type of dish to the Argentine and Mexican restaurants.
Our main dishes were also a mixed bag. The escargot were good; the steak tartare was good but also a bit bland. Two of our party ordered the fish (whitefish) but the kitchen only had one left and offered them salmon as a substitute. Just a small difference between the two I’d say. They ended up ordering the last fish and a steak. Neither were bad but neither were outstanding. The steak (ribeye) was cooked well but had a lot of fat on it. By far the most disappointing dish of the evening was the cassoulet. It was basically a plate of beans. If there was any duck confit, bacon, or sausage in it they were microscopic pieces. For dessert we had an order of crème brulee and chocolate mousse which were fine. Very much like any other crème brulee or mousse you’ll find in the city. Sigh.
The cocktails were good and you can also order $4 house wine which is very refreshing in a world of $8+ by-the-glass wine. I like that and think it’s great. One thing we love about travelling in Italy is there’s usually an inexpensive option for a jug/pitcher/carafe of house wine and I wish more restaurants here would do this. I love that Maude’s is. Offering a mini-carafe (one and half glass worth) of wine for $4 is an outstanding idea.
Back to the food. I think part of the problem we had is the menu is very small. There just aren’t that many choices. If you’re not in the mood for the “traditional French” fare (foie gras, escargot, cassoulet, marrow bones) you can choose from the “almost French” part but are pretty limited to one steak, chicken, and fish dish offered. And they’re all basic preparations, roast chicken, fish with brown butter, grilled steak. I’ve got no problem with simplicity in cooking and smaller menus but if you’re going to be simple you better make sure every dish is fantastic.
Furthermore, we all felt rushed throughout the meal, even though we were there for 2 hours and the place wasn’t overflowing with customers. We hadn’t even ordered yet and a waiter was trying to take some menus. When asked if he needed them he replied he just wanted to clear some space for the food. Huh? On more than one occasion a waiter tried taking a plate from the table where the person wasn’t done yet. Cheryl almost had spoon taken out of her hand during dessert. She took a bite of the chocolate mousse set her spoon down and then had to stop the waiter from running off with it! Servers were all friendly and nice but it was just a weird night service-wise.
Looking back, I think we just had higher expectations for an Eater 38/Bib Gourmand restaurant after sampling Anteprima and The Purple Pig. Sadly, Maude’s did not match them. Looking for good French cuisine? Chicago has plenty of others to choose from. I know this is totally opposite to all those Yelper’s who love it but for me Maude’s was…meh.