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December 20, 2008

Crofton’s on Wells

by gastronomicbypass

Location – 535 North Wells Street

In one word – Eh.

Food – On paper, Crofton on Wells sounds great, especially to a pesco-vegetarian like me: the food is New American with a French/Southwestern flare, the menu shifts seasonally and, most importantly, the chef always features several vegetarian and vegan options. Did you know that Crofton has been open for over 10 years? Given this unusually long tenure in a city where restaurants come and go, you may be surprised that you’ve never heard of it. Well, there’s a reason it’s not on your radar. Unfortunately, it was only so-so and expensive. Not a great combo.

My Trusty Sidekick and I went here for a little weeknight datey-date and we were seated immediately. Crofton’s first moves were good ones: hot and crusty rolls, shining with brushed butter, followed by a cute little foodie “bite” from the chef. Yes, and yes.

To start, Trusty ordered the wild mushroom starter with bacon, pepper, and brioche ($13). But the mushrooms were over-salted and the bacon was the only discernable flavor. He should have followed my lead, which I recommend you do. You know the scene in When Harry Met Sally when Sally fakes an orgasm and a lady in the diner orders “what she’s having” for dinner? Try the Signature Crab Cakes ($16.75) and this will happen to you. But you won’t be faking it. So dense and packed with crab, there’s no end or beginning to the lumps of meat—cutting into it with your fork is like cutting into a thick, plump piece of fish. Plus it comes drizzled in a warm, sweet corn or yellow pepper reduction that has a little bit of a bite—like a hint of sweet, mild Chinese mustard. If I go back to Crofton’s again, it will only be to eat three courses of their Signature Crab Cakes.

For the main course, I tried the vegetarian Buckwheat Soba Crepes with Beets and African Blue Cheese foam ($20). The plate arrived with three fist-sized crepes topped with a dollop of foam and a spray of micro-greens. Pro: the foam was wonderfully weird in taste and texture (imagine a pungent, blue cheese meringue). Con: the crepes were impossible to eat—the portion of dice-sized cubes of beets was fairly meager and because the beets had no binder (with the typical binder of cheese being on the outside in the form of foam), the result was that when you cut into the crepe it would unwrap and all the teeny tiny beet cubes would spill out. When you’re forced to regroup each bite several times before it makes it into your mouth, it’s difficult to eat and enjoy a meal. Crofton, don’t tease me like that.

Trusty had big thumbs down for his main course, which was a piece of Florida Snapper on a bed of barley ($32). To make a long story short: it was salty and salty. And Trusty thought it was too heavy, as though it had also been marinated in melted butter.

We were too overwhelmed for dessert, although the unusual fruit sorbets our waitress pitched sounded tempting.

Drink – Pretty good wine list. The half bottles are on the super-duper pricier side (most were in the $35-$62 range), so you have a great excuse to order by the bottle (many were in the same range as the half-bottles). The price of wine by the glass is more reasonable ($8-$12).

Service – Our waitress was friendly and recommended a wine for Trusty that he enjoyed.

Scene – The ambiance is very low-key in a mainstream kind of way. Low lights and low music—exactly what you would hear in a Borders. So, the restaurant doesn’t have a lot of character and doesn’t attract any characters, but if you aren’t looking for a unique dining experience, it’s pleasant and you can easily have a conversation. If your parents are the type who won’t be susceptible to sticker-shock when the bill arrives, this would be a great place to take them.

Dress – I went in jeans and a blouse and felt very comfortable for their week night crowd. Trusty was in business casual. Because the scene is so low-key, no need to primp.

Cost – I walked away feeling like it was not a great value. Without drinks, tax or tip, price was $40-$45 per person. With drinks, tax and tip, it was about $65-$70.

If you like, try… Green Zebra, Spring, Sola

Written by hungry yuppie

Read more from Brunch, Date Locale, River North

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