Having a job reviewing food and restaurants is very lucky, especially for someone who, like me, loves food. I've been able to try so many restaurants I otherwise normally wouldn't have, and I've discovered some truly great spots.
I've eaten a lot of local fare: just this afternoon I drove down Dempster Street from Skokie Boulevard to Crawford Avenue, pointing out to my passenger the places I've eaten and what was special about them, and I was barely able to finish talking about one before coming up on another.
And this is just one of the Patch towns on the north shore for which I write on a regular basis.
The flipside of this great gig (besides the ten pounds I've put on since it became much too cold to do my running outside on a regular basis) is that I have to try a lot of mediocre food too.
I've received hate mail from readers castigating me for my critiques, even when I tried to be fair, and went out of my way to acknowledge that the place was newly opened, or that the chef was great in his other ventures, or any number of other qualifying factors.
As a food writer, I don't have high demands -- I try to review places that are important to a community and then talk about them honestly.
I don't need to be thrilled every time. I don't need to uncover the latest niche gastro hipster trend or be wowed by technique or presentation. I just need to be generally pleased with the food and not have any significant problems.
The reason I bring all this up is that I haven't exactly been thrilled with my food adventures recently. With the exception of a fantastic burger at Hub's, I haven't uncovered much to be excited about, and I don't want to sound like a broken record, but Jameson's Charhouse is no exception.
Opened on the ashes of the Boston Blackie's scandal, Jameson's takes over the lobby location in Skokie's Doubletree Hotel. It's a sideways move for the inn, and they would have been well suited to take true advantage of their $22 million redesign and chosen a restaurant to match the gorgeous updated, modern lobby, going out of their way to contract an amazing eatery like Naperville's SugarToad.
But I digress. On to the food.
My companion and I started with a couple of appetizers. First up were the crab cakes ($11). Lured in by the idea of a honey chipotle sauce, that we were eagerly anticipating. Their presentation was excellent: served atop a bed of fresh mixed greens alongside a drizzled portion of the sauce, the crab cakes were light and tasty perfectly complimented by the sweet and savory flavors. As merely good as they were, they may have been the best part of the meal.
Our next choice didn't fare quite as well. As huge fans of stuffed mushrooms ($10), we couldn't help but order them, especially given the idea of seeing them stuffed with creamed spinach and topped with a hollandaise sauce. Again, visually, they didn't disappoint: these large mushroom caps were given over to a spiced ground beef, mixed with spinach and the creamy hollandaise. Topped with a cap of piping hot, melted cheese, the mushrooms were fine, but nothing spectacular, leaving us wishing we'd gone instead with the shrimp de jonghe, an appetizer of shrimp baked in garlic butter.
Each entree came with soup or salad. I opted for the soup while my companion opted for salad. My soup was lentil, which was interesting for its tomato base, something one doesn't see in a lot of lentil soups. The salad was fine, a small mix of greens, iceberg and romaine lettuce. One plus side was the warm ciabatta roll served on a cutting board next to a dollop of extremely creamy butter.
Soon enough, we received our entrees. My companion opted for macadamia nut encrusted tilapia ($15) served atop a bed of wild rice alongside the vegetable of the day, which was steamed broccoli. The broccoli portion was generous but overcooked, and the fish once again inspired us to describe it with that most damning bit of faint praise: "fine." The nut crust was skillfully done though generally not very flavorful.
But this is a steakhouse, and I was really anxious to try the filet mignon ($18). I requested medium rare, and found myself soundly disappointed when it came to us gray and flat throughout. At this point, I was too disappointed to complain - it's not a great sign when a steakhouse flubs the cooking instructions for a steak. At this point I felt more inspired to leave rather than stick around and get it right.
In the end, Jameson's does bring something worthwhile to Skokie, like an incredible whiskey, cognac and bourbon list. It once was the case that locals had to travel to the city for a list like this, but Jameson's changes all that, and brings along about a dozen martini offerings as well.
Unfortunately, we're going to need them if the (admittedly new) kitchen doesn't begin to bring its game up to speed. Right now, this "just fine" steakhouse is a mediocre disappointment.