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Tuesday, February 19

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Airbags

I really thought I was going to hate Feast.

Without even going there, I had already made up my mind about this place. It bothered me simply because it is located in the "trendy" part of town (on the corner of Damen, North, and Milwaukee, for those of you who are not trendy), it has a "look-at-me" patio sidled up to the sidewalk, and on weekends a chatty, dapper crowd spills out of its doors regardless of the time of night. The rumors about the pretentious wait staff didn't help matters. I managed to steer clear of this place for months, telling myself it lacked the originality of the other restaurants I admire in Chicago.

But two weeks ago, finding myself in the Wicker Park neighborhood at the dinnertime hour for one reason or another, I decided to give it a go. And now, pardon the pun, I'm eating my words.

For starters, the wait staff was pleasant and friendly. When my dining companion and I couldn't agree on whether we should dine inside or out (can you figure out which of us argued for a table indoors?), the host cheerfully showed us to a table that while situated on the patio, was still covered by the awning of the restaurant, allowing us spectacular views of both worlds -- a perfect compromise. Later, our server patiently explained the menu items to us, and even when she had to come back not once, but three times to take our orders, she remained good-humored.

More surprising to me than the helpful staff was the menu variety; the list of options is long and impressive. The cuisine at Feast can best be described as global fusion with Indian, Italian, Asian, Mediterranean and Latin American flavors all making an appearance.

Meat-eaters will have a tough time deciding between the pork chop with asparagus and mushroom crepes, grilled lamb chops, marinated skirt steak, beef tenderloin with bleu cheese potatoes or one of a variety of chicken dishes. Vegetarian options such as a black bean jalapeno ravioli and Indian veggie plate are also available, as well as a wide range of fish. And, happily, Feast is one of the few -- too few, if you ask me -- restaurants in town that serve turkey burgers.

By now I was feeling pretty dumb for initially writing off this place as being unoriginal and ostentatious. My only hope was that the food would be inedible, or, at least, cold -- only then would I be justified for avoiding Feast. Alas, this was not to be. Our crab cake appetizer, fresh lump crab meat patties adorned with a roasted corn salsa and scorching chipotle mayonnaise, was delicious. I ordered a bowl of steamy chicken tortilla soup that was loaded with fresh vegetables and chunks of chicken and had a fiery kick -- just how I like it. Even the complimentary bread bucket, soft cheddar biscuits with a chipotle-flavored whipped butter, was excellent.

But it was my dining companion's entrée that really blew us out of the water. A tender breast of chicken stuffed with herbed goat cheese lay atop delicately toasted potato gnocchi, fresh spinach, and tomatoes. The entire dish was bathed in a light citrusy sauce, the subtle lemon flavors proving a delightful compliment to the strong goat cheese. If you can't already tell from the description, this dish was amazing.

My order, the wonton napoleon appetizer, was less stellar, although it certainly had potential. (I had opted for an appetizer as my dinner because Feast serves huge portions, and with the bread, soup, and crab cakes, not to mention all the stolen bites from my dining companion's dish, I didn't think that I could tackle a whole entrée by myself.) The wonton appetizer was a literal tower (thus, the name) of layers: Mixed greens, crispy fried wonton chips, tuna sashimi, tuna tartar, and smoked salmon were piled on top of each other and drizzled in wasabi dressing. The dish definitely scored creative and aesthetic points with me, but, disappointingly, the tuna was not nearly as fresh as it could have been.

Yet, this minor setback far from ruined our meal. Overall, I was enormously impressed by the value of the food and the creativity of the menu. The prices, although higher than what I would normally pay for dinner on a weeknight, are fair; most entrees are in the range of $13-$16, and the diverse wine list is affordable. Sure, you won't see me on the patio next Saturday night, martini in hand, posing for the crowd, but I guess I wouldn't mind returning soon to try Feast's signature mac and cheese at a table in the corner. And I suppose I wouldn't mind recommending this place to others.

Boy, do I hate being wrong.

Feast is located at 1616 N. Damen. Visit them online at feastrestaurant.com.

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Comments

eric f / August 16, 2004 10:25 AM

Man, do I dislike critics who are all 'post-popular'. As in the first paragraph. Seriously, get over it, you're writing a restaurant critique, not Lewis and Fuckingclark discovering new dining opportunities for the white man here. I don't care how many exhibitions you've attended at Buddy.

Anyway, I've been to Feast twice now and had the same problem both times: the apps were amazing, the mains were bland. It's been a few years, so maybe things have inverted, but crossing my experiencing with the review, it still seems hit-or-miss.

Gordon / August 16, 2004 11:11 AM

What the fuck does "post-popular" mean?

Shylo / August 16, 2004 1:54 PM

Yeah, Gordon, I don't get that either.

Anyway, thanks for this review, Kim. I haven't been to feast, thinking it would be good, but probably pretty trixie-ish. But now I'll give it a chance.

have a heart people / August 16, 2004 2:52 PM

What's with women labeling other women as trixies? Does the forward-thinking progressive liberal mindset not have enough heart to embrace: other women? (Just imagine what old bigotted male-chauvinists think of your petty labeling!--get it together.) And who cares if people want to be cool and how they go about acheiving it? So one should never enjoy a meal on a patio for fear of posing, and what crowd really freagin' cares anyway? "Oh i won't go there cause that's where trixies go", or how about saying this: i won't go there cause that's where [add any race, nationality, class, or human being over which you believe to be superior] go."

Doesn't everyone, in the end, want to be recognized as having some worth?

Katie / August 16, 2004 3:02 PM

I've eaten at Feast several times. I've had both very nice, plesant waitstaff and I've had some of the worst waiters EVER! I've had some decent meals there and some that are quite piss poor, but for me the food wasn't all that exceptional in my mind for the price you're paying, which is why I don't go back there anymore. Near the end of my visits, I started having more bad experiences there than good.

Oppressed Trixie / August 16, 2004 3:53 PM

Thank you for speaking up on behalf of me and my sisters. It hurts us deeply to consider all the people--including, yes, other women--who, night after night, refuse to come into John Barleycorn and associate with us. All this segregation is bringing us down. Totally.

robin.. / August 16, 2004 4:38 PM

dude, eric f, you ought to get a doctor to check out that chip on your shoulder...

Roald / August 16, 2004 5:40 PM

Eric...You, sir, are a steamy turd.
That is all.

Ronald / August 16, 2004 5:40 PM

Eric...You, sir, are a steamy turd.
That is all.

Shylo / August 17, 2004 6:44 AM

I see what you mean about trixies. Yes, they are people too. And no, it's not good to stereotype. There's a good point to take away from your post, HAHP. That said, my ass ain't going fucking near John Barleycorn ever.

eric f / August 17, 2004 10:33 AM

Point taken. Best not to conflate blogging with critical theory, eh?

Gordon / August 17, 2004 11:56 AM

Critical theory, my ass. Get over yourself. It's a reviewer's job to acknowledge any prejudices he or she might have had before setting foot in a restaurant or theater, because it colors the review. My standard example of this is Pitch Black, which I rented expecting a giant piece of shit Aliens rip-off, but I was pleasantly surprised with it turning out to be a very good Aliens rip-off (if nothing else, better than Alien 3 or Ressurection). If I were to review Alien vs. Predator (I won't), I would acknowledge that I think it looks like a giant piece of shit, as well.

I don't think I'm putting words into Kim's mouth when I say she was only acknowledging that Feast looked like a crap restaurant, and that she was pleasantly surprised. Atmosphere is part of what you review when you review restaurants, and the clientele of a restaurant is part of the atmosphere; you can't separate them.

Don't get me wrong -- you're more than welcome to your opinions, and you're more than welcome to voice them here. But please, do try to form coherent thoughts.

Mike / August 17, 2004 12:03 PM

C'mon now! Go down to Timothy O'Toole's on a Saturday night tell me that crowd isn't the least bit funny! I've never seen so many Coach bags and $200 shoes!
Besides, don't think for a second that all the Trixies and especially their male counterparts (whatever they're called) aren't talking about the indy-rocker or activist set every time they pass them on the sidewalk.

Gordon / August 17, 2004 12:13 PM

The boys are called Chads, apparently. (So sayeth Craigslist. Sorry if I'm steppin' on your toes, Shylo!)

Actually, I think the Chads & Trixies probably aren't talking about the indie kids. They're too busy talking about themselves. Loudly. On the cell phones. That or reality TV. :)

Dan / August 17, 2004 12:34 PM

I have to agree with Gordon about acknowledging the "vibe" or reputation of a restaurant. It's important for a reviewer to recognize any pre-concieved notions they may have about a place, and I think Kim has done that.

And while I'd like to think that service and quality of food are the primary motivators for someone to go into a particular restaurant, let's face it: Many people will not set foot inside a establishment they percieve to be too trendy or too preppy or too ghetto or whatever. Ambience is important. It's the reviewers job to either dispel a restaurant's reputation or confirm it (or at least offer their perspective).

And as for Eric F, get the fuck over yourself. Making "Buddy" references sounds pretty "post-popular" to me.

consigliere / August 17, 2004 12:46 PM

Hey, Gordo, as a reviewer-manque, mustn't you also make a mini-Maoist self-criticism and provide a shortlist of your prejudices and peccadillos? Or can you simply shill Pitch Black with impunity?

Just trying to cohere here.

BTW, I'm with Katie on Feast.

Gordon / August 17, 2004 1:16 PM

Actually, Consigliere, I write the movie reviews in Movie Make-Out, right here at GB every week, so "reviewer manqué" isn't quite on the money …

(And don't call me Gordo.)

Boxy McBoxerton / August 18, 2004 5:06 PM

Am I the only one here who doesn't feel comfortable neatly placing people into boxes like "indie kids" and "trixies" and whatever else people are calling each other these days?

Are you trying to tell me that in adulthood we STILL have to worry about being categorized into cliques? And that one kind of person shouldn't like the restaurant that the other kind of person likes?

Can't people just fucking like what they like? Are you the people who make me feel like an asshole when I buy a Carpenters CD at Reckless?

Gah! If you knew me, you would think I was a total loser.

Shylo / August 19, 2004 9:08 AM

Cliques as adults? Of course there are cliques in adulthood. Is it right, fair, or kind? No. And I think most of us wouldn't place ourselves in a clique (hipster, trixie, etc). That's for others to do.

And the Carpenters are cool. Karen C. had a gorgeous voice, like warm taffy.

Cinnamon / August 19, 2004 1:03 PM

When I go out for a nice dinner, I want great food, a friendly server, and soothing atmosphere where I can talk with my friends and not be jostled because I'm crammed elbow to elbow with the next table. This is why I tend to skip the trendy restaraunts. They cram too many people into the space available, the noise-level is often too loud for a conversation, the servers seem to act like they're bored about giving you your food (but they still expect 20-25% for tips), and my good time gets tainted. Doesn't matter if the people jabbing me as they walk by are wearing Coach handbags, or messenger bags covered with Indie buttons.

I've avoided Feast for this reason and lots of places similar to it. However, if I'm around there and hungry I might give the place a second look. So that's why I'm glad Kim is willing to put aside her suspicions and eat at places so I can get an idea before I shell out the bucks and have a bad night.

Kim / August 20, 2004 11:10 AM

Thanks, Cinnamon. Those were EXACTLY the points I was trying to make (without labeling people as hipsters, yuppies, trixies or whatever).

cd / August 20, 2004 11:31 AM

Gotta have those indie buttons on the bag. Otherwise, how would anyone be able to tell what a lemming you are?

I went to Feast once - I think it was around Christmas - and they were the only bar that was open. I sat at the bar and had some whiskey and then I tried the mac & cheese. It was good, and the bartender was very nice. She even bought me a drink.

Folks, I'm not from around here. What's a Trixie?

cd

Andrew / August 20, 2004 11:52 AM

A Trixie is a somewhat derogative term for a certain segment of urban single women. They're usually described as vapid, superficial, label-conscious and obsessed with finding the right (rich) boy (who are sometimes referred to -- sorry, man -- as Chads). I'd point you to the official Trixie mockery site, but it's indefinitely down for redesign.

Basically, it's a subset of Yuppie.

Krissy / August 20, 2004 8:53 PM

A Trixie is the kind of woman who is laughing drunkenly with her cohorts outside my Division Ave apartment wearing a wedding veil because she's getting married tomorrow. Which is why I'm moving somewhere "post-popular." :) Ooh, I'm being catty. Fun.

 

About the Author(s)

Kim Conte loves to write and eat, and dreams that one day someone will pay her a lot to do both.

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