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Wednesday, November 14

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Detour

Nein
by Anne Holub

The newest experiment in ethnic niche restaurants, Nein brings the culinary delights of German minimalism to Chicago's opulent Gold Coast neighborhood. Nestled between Flowers of Power and the newest patisserie sensation, Ice (review pending), Nein provides a fresh approach at cooking very little.

The menu at Nein requires just a moment of study — especially as it's written on the side of a popsicle stick. Nein specializes in translating the spirit of German minimalism to the culinary palate — namely bread and water.

Starting with a "beverage course," our water was served room temperature and in wooden cups carved from the legs of discarded bed frames. This does provide the diner with many opportunities to pluck slivers of maple from one's lip, especially while waiting the seemingly interminable length of time between courses.

The waitstaff is spare — our server, Helmut, was short with his attention and patience, but his ability to deliver both cups of water to the table simultaneously was beyond reproach.

For our main course, the bread was provided hard and black — like the forests of our souls — as Helmut was quick to remind us. We carved out handfuls of the bread with our fingers and it was a surprising consistency reminiscent of fiberglass and cream of wheat. We ate it hungrily, but were told there was no more. The only patrons allowed at Nein that evening, we had eaten their only offering.

The prices at Nein are a reasonable sum considering they serve just two people per day, and have a considerable overhead for their neighborhood. We left with a newly established sense of nothingness, and our wallets a reinforcing $850 lighter.

Dining at Nein is an experience in German minimalism you won't soon forget — or else.

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Nein, 999 W. Goethe St.

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Lunchdate!, 1583 N. Damen Ave.

Lunchdate!
by Andrew Huff

As Valentine's Day approaches, lots of single folks are no doubt looking around and getting annoyed by all the happy couples. Fortunately, a new restaurant in the heart of Wicker Park offers an oasis from reminders of singlehood while providing a comfortable environment in which to find — and wine and dine — a potential mate.

Lunchdate! bills itself as "the first singles-only restaurant and lounge." That's certainly possible, and the fact that I had to get special permission to check it out, since I'm in a long-term relationship, makes it clear they're serious about their mission. Owners Mary Lee Barook and Janelle Figg are veterans of the dating service industry, and they've done everything possible to ensure that everyone you meet upon entering Lunchdate! is single, from the patrons to the staff, including themselves and executive chef Matt Aylers. The restaurant's website features a personals section powered by Spring Street; set up a date through the site and receive 20 percent off your check at the restaurant.

Despite the name, Lunchdate! is open for both lunch and dinner (plans for a brunch are in the works), and on a recent Friday night the first floor bar was packed with men and women on the prowl. To the left, rows of candlelit tables — mostly two-tops, naturally — awaited couples on tentative dates. Aylers designed the menu to be first date friendly: lots of salads, grilled fish and steaks, and pasta dishes. I particularly enjoyed the specialty past viagra, penne pasta in a truffle cream sauce with oysters, asparagus and pine nuts — all known aphrodisiacs but also a delicious combination.

Desserts, such as the raspberry-glazed cheesecake or "chocolate out-of-body experience," come with only one spoon, to encourage sharing.

After dinner, prospective couples may head upstairs to slip into the more comfortable café lounge. Easy chairs and loveseats litter the dimly lit room, while twin fireplaces help turn up the heat. The bartender doubles as barista, offering up both a signature martini (the "Lunchdatini," Effen vodka and passionfruit liqueur with a raspberry) and signature latte (the "latte date," with triple sec and a heart drawn in the foam).

Barook and Figg claim 24 relationships have sprung from meetings in Lunchdate! since it opened in December. This Valentine's Day, maybe you could make it 25.

 

About the Author(s)

The Critic is a semi-regular feature of "real reviews of fake things." Anne Holub loves her only mountain; Andrew Huff is a member of the me3dia.

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