Eddie V's: Like Taking a Cruise, Minus the Good Food and Service.
What's fancy? As the brand new sequel to The Official Preppy Handbook reminds us, fancy isn't surface glitz and remarked-upon glamour; real wealth is more likely to be conveyed by threadbare blazers and decades-old recipes for mild Bloody Marys than diamonds and Cristal. Fancy entails an insistence upon quality and an unspoken assumption that someone's always around to do your work for you.
A Bentley is fancy. A Hummer limousine is fake fancy.
And, for that matter, so's Eddie V's, the bespoke steak and seafood place that opened earlier this year near the boundary line between Uptown and Park Cities. Eddie V's badly wants its well-dressed patrons to believe it's a fancy place to dine, but it's fake fancy to its core. It has the visuals and price list of a high-end restaurant, but its mediocre food and eye-wideningly bad service are befitting of an eatery way farther down the "nice" spectrum.
Fake fancy isn't always an unworkable proposition. Proms and homecoming dances, held in spruced-up gyms with columns of sparkly balloons obscuring the bleachers, are fake fancy. Cruises, with their mandated formal nights and servile crew of tropical drink slingers, are typically fake fancy.
Eddie V's feels very much like a cruise, right down to its strange mash-up of hospitality and capitalism: On the first night I visited, a server stationed in the bar was pouring a couple of middling wines for diners on their ways to their tables, presumably trying to up alcohol sales. (Olive Garden employs the very same strategy.) The massive restaurant even has a long-haired bandleader, who's prone to cheesy taglines like, "Thank you all for coming out to Eddie V's." And, just like on a cruise, the menu name drops all the opulent ingredients favored by eaters on expense accounts. There are oysters and lobster bisque and veal chops and a flaming dessert. If only escargot were added to the menu, guests might have to pop a Dramamine before showing up.
But, unlike a cruise, Eddie V's isn't much fun. Maybe the price tag's the problem: Surely nobody's entertained by paying $50 for a meal that takes nearly 50 minutes to arrive.
Eddie V's handsome team of white-jacketed servers is the epitome of fake fancy. They certainly look the part of a professional wait staff, but every manager, bartender, server and busser who approached my table was comically inept. On one visit, our server skipped half the bullet points on the standard server "to do" list: She twice rushed away from our table before we could place drink orders. She didn't tell us about specials until after we ordered. She did deliver a basket of yeasty bread and an accompanying pat of butter in a relatively timely fashion, but forgot the plates and knives. She never returned to correct the error, but reappeared almost an hour later to check on our entrées: "I trust everything is delicious," she decreed before running off again. Thank goodness we didn't want dessert.
On another visit, service was much quicker but far more perplexing. When I asked our server for recommendations, he confided that he didn't like fish. Since Eddie V's ostensibly specializes in seafood—despite the preponderance of potatoes amongst the 14 à la carte sides offered, which suggests the restaurant is selling a fair number of entrées from the "steak and chops" box on its menu—I asked why he'd taken the job. Having waited tables for years, I can't imagine wanting to work somewhere where I knew I'd always hate staff meals. "Oh, I used to like fish," he assured me.
He was assisted by an equally honest manager who identified himself as a corporate trainer with two years of experience. When one of my guests inquired why the chocolate lava cake bore an official "risk associated with raw animal protein" warning, the trainer was stumped. I'd assume the cake's made with eggs, not raw oysters or undercooked poultry, but the trainer couldn't contain his confusion: "Why would you want animal proteins in a cake?" he wondered aloud in perfect Seinfeld-ian inflections before steering us to a banana butter cake he swore was the best thing he'd ever tasted.
The extraordinarily sweet cake, nestled between matching hills of whipped cream and ice cream, was flambéed upon serving.
"It's legit, right?" the trainer said, recounting his travails trying to recreate the recipe at home. It shouldn't be hard, he explained, because the cake is "literally made with Pillsbury yellow cake mix."
Pillsbury yellow cake mix retails for $2.33. My single slice of cake cost $8.
I don't expect to pay wholesale prices in restaurants. If I read a restaurant's ledger, I'd probably find a few mark-ups even more galling. But it's the kitchen's job to make guests feel like they're getting their money's worth, and whip their skepticism into submission with a cavalcade of astounding flavors. When food tastes flat and uninspired, as it does at Eddie V's, it's impossible not to think about how many loads of laundry you could have done for the $28 you just sunk into a wedge of bland, butter-soaked, fake-fancy halibut.
None of the food I sampled at Eddie V's was outright offensive. I liked a simple heirloom tomato salad featuring two thick slices of purplish tomatoes, layered with an unbroken cutlet of red onion and a heap of creamy burrata approximately the size of an air hockey disc. Dressed with a clean-tasting olive oil, the salad was a rare triumph of ingredient integrity.
Other dishes were made with lesser-quality product: A watery creamed spinach almondine seemed to have been made with frozen spinach. And a correctly cooked filet of flavorless beef was a chore to eat.
While many restaurants are now advertising their grass-fed beef, known for its kaleidoscopic flavors, Eddie V's menu proclaims "We proudly serve grain-fed beef." The fish end of the menu is similarly—and disturbingly—retro. Rather than serving any esoteric aquatic creatures, Eddie V's concentrates on overfished species including Gulf snapper and Chilean sea bass. Of course, there's tuna and salmon, the latter buried under a muck of herbs and bread crumbs.
The golden-crusted snapper stretched across the plate like a sunbather, surrounded by a thick, maple-colored onion stock. Since the menu described the preparation as a snapper meunière—rolled lightly in flour and sautéed in butter—I wasn't too sure what to make of the dark sauce. Perhaps a play on beurre meunière, or brown butter, the sweet, viscous sauce didn't belong with the delicate fish.
There are other creaky dishes—including a crab salad served with a browning avocado half, anointed with a Thousand Island-style dressing—and kitschy ones too. Eddie V's makes a few unbilled forays into tiki cuisine, resurrecting trampy Polynesian classics now rarely served in earnest.
There's a soy-soaked appetizer of salty scallops wrapped in salty bacon that recalls rumaki; paper-thin slices of beef served with a hot rock for tableside cooking and a gently fried rice dotted with limp sautéed mushrooms and gumball-sized hunks of moist crab meat. Fortunately, the rice is eminently eatable and far better than the misguided fried breakfast potatoes and undercooked asparagus also included on the list of sides. The best possible meal at Eddie V's would probably consist of rice and a grilled, unsauced fish—perhaps a species that doesn't appear on the "avoid" page of seafood consumer guides.
I asked my server why the restaurant persisted in serving Chilean sea bass, and was told the fish is no longer in trouble. That's a made-up answer: While there are a few well-managed stocks of Chilean sea bass, the server's pat response was plainly phony. Just like Eddie V's.
Eddie Vs 4023 Oak Lawn Ave., 214-890-1500, www.eddiev.com. Open 5-11 p.m. Monday- Thursday, 5 p.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday and 5-10 p.m. Sunday. $$$$
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