The maxi dresses were approaching. In lime green, in zebra print. Empire-waisted beneath bulging breasts, grazing against wedge heels or flip-flops. The maxi bedressed were congregating confidently at the hostess stand, lingering lonesomely with cigarettes outside the entrance to the upstairs lounge, laughing loudly in the deep red, patterned booths. They were closing in from all sides, and they were ready to party.
I turned to the table in front of me. No fewer than eight mid-plates were sitting, half-eaten, among my party of four. Two rejected cocktails had been pushed to the outer reaches of the table. I looked at myself and I knew I had made a mistake. Why, again, had I shown up to this place in overalls?
Owners Shane Hudson and Jamie Uhlir brought on chef Rick Spiros, formerly of Mantou Noodle Bar, a late-night Bucktown udon-and-bao joint that opened and shuttered mysteriously within a month, to helm the kitchen at the Red Canary, which they dubbed a gastro-lounge. But if it didn’t sound (even more) ridiculous, they probably would have been better off flipping those words. Scene is supreme at this bi-level space, which takes its design cues as much from exposed-brick warehouses as red-light sex clubs. And if that’s what you’re here for, Spiros’s food is going to be an incredibly pleasant surprise. As will the servers, dressed in red outfits that range from Cat in the Hat to Playboy mansion, who are attentive and sweet (no matter what you’re wearing).
But if it’s the “mid-plates,” not phone numbers, you’re after, the experience will leave something to be desired.
If nothing else, I give Spiros serious props for not resorting to the kinds of faux-fancy foods that “upscale” bars feel it’s necessary to turn out: mutilations of Kobe beef, whiffs of cheap truffle oil at every turn, some sushi for the ladies. Okay, so Spiros isn’t totally immune to truffle-oil pressure: The stuff shows up in a “truffle pesto” accompanying fries, which in practice is akin to glazing an already kinda soggy french fry with oil. Needless to say, that small container quickly joined our noxiously bitter cocktails on the “avoid” section of the large table.
The rest of the menu at least reads more promisingly: lemon-infused cherry tomatoes; charred baby octopus; pulled short rib on toasted baguette; New England lobster roll, bacon and avocado spread. But four average cherry tomatoes marinated in lemon oil a “mid-plate” does not make; shredded short rib and a poached egg are so rich they take down the bread beneath it, leaving nothing to cut through the heft; the octopus is chewy; and the lobster in the open-face rolls is unappetizingly cold and doesn’t taste all that fresh.
One by one, my group of four nibbled at these plates and pushed them off to the side. And then we devoured every last piece of the one standout plate, the buttermilk-fried quail. Crisp, juicy, with a deep flavor like the best pieces of dark-meat chicken: If the rest of the food here had been anything like that quail, I know I could dig up a maxi dress in my closet somewhere.