If you’re unfamiliar with it, Restaurant Week is an annual event in Chicago during which many restaurants offer pre fixe menus at decent prices so ordinary working folk like you and me can get a more luxurious taste of their fare than we could normally afford. I’d received a number of Lettuce Entertain You gift cards over the holidays at work, so Mindy and I decided to take advantage of that by sampling the Restaurant Week menu at Wildfire. Wildfire is a fairly well-known and well-liked restaurant, offering steaks and seafood and salads in an upscale environment. I’d never been there before, but I’d heard good things, even from my boss who can be fairly harsh in her estimation of restaurants. Mindy had had a less than satisfactory experience with their catering services at a work event, but gamely decided to give the actual restaurant a shot.
We both chose courses from the first pre fixe menu while substituting dessert from the second menu. I went with a Spinach Salad appetizer and Potato-Crusted Sea Scallops as my entrée, while Mindy picked the Baked Goat Cheese Salad and Filet Mignon. We both substituted the Chocolate and Peanut Butter Pie for dessert, because the other desserts on the menu just did not seem that special. (Personally, I’m at a point where if I’m going to order a dessert in a restaurant, it better be something that I either can’t make at home or a combination of flavors that I’ve never thought to put together. Call me a burgeoning dessert snob, but you better wow me with your dessert.)
My Spinach Salad was perfectly fine, with fresh baby spinach, grated radishes, chopped mushrooms, hard-boiled eggs, and nicely crisp pieces of bacon. The mustard dressing was appropriately sharp and a little bit sweet. It was simple, but decent and I could have eaten just a large plate of that and gone home relatively satisfied. Mindy faired less well, complaining that the dried cranberries in her salad had been all clumped together in one spot and the walnuts were beyond toasted and were essentially burnt. Zero points on the appetizer from Mindy, half a point from me. (Because how hard was it to throw together that salad? Not very, I’m guessing.)
We had opposing experiences with our entrees, however. While Mindy was fairly satisfied with her Filet Mignon, cutting away the seared crust to eat the warm, red, meaty center by its bloody self, I was completely disheartened by my Sea Scallops. I realize that the menu said they would come with a potato crust and what I had expected was a light, crispy topping to lend the soft, delicate scallops a little textural difference and a little extra flavor. What I got was a densely crusted scallop, covered in large chunks of hard potato that completely robbed it of its subtlety in both feel and taste. It was basically Shake ’n Bake scallops and it made me sad. No, it made me angry. Why would you do that to a scallop?!, I wanted to scream. Who thinks this is good?! I ate two or three of the scallops because I couldn’t bear the idea of wasting the normally delicious mollusk, but they just weren’t any good and I didn’t want them.
I shook my head no when the waitress asked if I would like her to wrap them up for me. “Did you not like them?” she asked, reaching in to take my nearly untouched plate. I politely said no and turned down her offer to bring me something else. “We’re getting dessert, too,” I said. “I’ll be full from that.”
I’m happy to say that dessert was the high point in a low meal, but even saying that is, well, not saying much. The Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie was a peanut butter smeared graham cracker crust, filled with a rich chocolate cream and topped with whipped cream and chopped peanuts. The chocolate cream was satisfying dense and the peanut butter had melded with the graham crackers to become one being. Although I scraped off most of the whipped cream, because that’s what I always do, it was nicely whipped and not too sweet and the chopped peanuts added a welcome salty crunch in the midst of all that creaminess. It was a perfectly decent dessert, but you know what? I can make this at home in about 20 minutes. There is nothing tricky or difficult about making a chocolate pie filling or whipped cream or, especially, graham cracker crust and for that I was not entirely wowed.
The waitress had been particularly gracious when she returned later, explaining that she had shown my plate to the manager and that our drinks would be taken off the bill. It was an unnecessary, but nice gesture and we thanked her for it. I know that was made in effort to keep us as customers, but I have to say that, honestly, the best part of that meal was the fact that, with my gift cards, it was free. We left Wildfire unsure of why the restaurant was so popular or what people saw in poorly thrown together under-seasoned food (I didn’t mention it above, but our side dishes of au gratin potatoes left a lot to be desired, too). Understanding management notwithstanding, I have no desire to come back here.