First, the truffled tuna casserole—a family-size serving of pasta tubes, tuna, peas, and mushrooms in a barely detectable truffle cream sauce—was the poster child for the sort of bland, unsatisfying food that leads to unnecessary overindulgence. Second, the veal skirt steak, which I'd felt obliged to try since it showed up in three variations on the menu. Had the meat been amazing, I'm not sure it would be worth the guilt, but that question remained theoretical. The slices I sampled in the steak salad reminded me of bad calamari: rubbery and slick. Third, Joseph also volunteered that he hadn't been happy with the desserts and had recently hired a pastry chef to make improvements. Good call. The sweets I tried were so dull that a week later I had to refer to my notes to remember that I had eaten about two bites each of chocolate torte and banana cake before losing interest.
Birch's focus on comfort and affordability seems well suited to the current economic climate. My only hope is that informality doesn't degrade into sloppiness. Even in a casual setting, the details still matter. Compare these two approaches to service, for example. One evening, our waitress recited the numerous dessert options so fast that we had to ask her to repeat the list twice—Was that chocolate mousse cake or two separate items? The waitress stood next to the table, impatiently hovering, as we awkwardly debated our picks; the whole interaction just felt uncomfortable. In contrast, I watched a sympathetic waitress at a nearby table kneel down as she spoke to an elderly couple so they might hear her better.
Not your mama's fish sticks: The walleye at Birch's
It's the little gestures—like the comped drinks our hostess offered when we had to wait for our table—that make customers feel like they matter. And equally small slights—those same drinks showing up on our bill—that make customers feel like they don't.