Always game to try a new place, hubby and I decided to hit up Spoke and Steele, the new restaurant in the new Le Meridian hotel downtown. It’s in the old Canterbury spot, but you would never know they were the same place. It was a touch sad for me, because hubby and I spent our wedding night at the Canterbury, but change is the only constant right? Anyway, the new digs have changed things around, putting the clean and maybe somewhat sparse dining area in the front of the building, and utilizing the big pictures windows onto the street as part of the dining room. The woodwork’s been painted white and it has a much more modern feel. It may feel kinda cold and generic too.
It’s early days for this place, but I would say the service needs a fair amount of polishing—actually maybe some straightforward training. Our server was extremely friendly, but offered little help with the menu and never came to fill our wine (the bottle was brought to us already opened). I heard another server giving a lot more detail about the food, including explaining that there is a cheese and charcuterie option that is not on the printed menu. (Also, I find it strange that it is not on the menu as it is a major portion of the online menu and much of the press surrounding the opening of the place).
Food-wise, I think the menu could use some rearranging also. There is a section called “shareable city plates,” a section called “small plates” and then one called “large plates.” You would think that the sharable plate section would be more things that are, well, sharable items you would want to eat to start your dinner. Several of them came across as things that would be more properly termed side dishes—a shareable portion of a side dish, yes, but not something you would want to share as your only app. The one exception to this, and one of the highlights of our meal, was the fried white anchovies with shishito peppers ($10). It was an interesting dish—if you ate just an anchovy or a pepper on its own, it was nothing exciting, but a bite of each one and some of the Cholula citrus aioli was a wonderful combination. The peppers aren’t spicy, but gave a soft, slightly pickled contrast with the very crunchy anchovies. And the aioli flavored with a good amount of citrus and hot sauce was exactly the right complement. Again this was what I expected with a shareable plate.
The other shareable plate we got was the roasted asparagus with salsa verde, prosciutto and a poached egg. Typically, this is the kind of dish I am drawn to, but sadly this one had little flavor even with the salsa verde. I was hoping for more of a flavor punch. If I had this as a side dish with an entrée, I probably wouldn’t have minded as much, but a plate of roasted asparagus as an appetizer just seemed out of place. Side note—the dishes on the small plates section are all soups or salads, no other appetizer options.
We guessed that these sharable plates would be fairly large based on the price points, and they were, so we ordered one main to share with a side of the Mormon Funeral potatoes ($11), which was also from the sharable plates section, and not the side dish section (confused yet?). The main dish we had was the seared crispy bass with corn pudding, Brussels sprouts leaves and marinated tomatoes ($32). I loved the bright fresh colors of this dish and the fish and the corn pudding were well done. The fish had a nice crispy skin, and the corn pudding just a touch of sweetness. The marinated tomatoes tasted as if they were marinated in pure salt—I had one and almost spit it out, and I have a pretty high salt threshold. I chugged my water after that one. Not sure what happened there--maybe the lid fell off the salt shaker, but they were inedible. And this may be a flavor combo best left to summer when the tomatoes are a bit riper. If they were ripe and less salty, it would have been a nice hit of acid. As it was, we left them all, and everything that they touched, on the plate. The Mormon funeral potatoes were really quite good. They hit that “something your Gramma would have made” spot in your palate. They were shredded cheesy potatoes cooked with mushroom cream and topped with crispy cornflake crumbs. The menu said they were topped with pickled ramps—I am pretty sure they were just green onions, but regardless, I really enjoyed the pickled flavor of the white part of the onion with the rich, decadent potatoes. The green parts become too chewy and hard to eat, and don’t hold the pickle flavor as much. Maybe just using the white part would be better—or even something like shallots that would be easier to eat. Great flavors together though. Again, it made a great side dish, but not sure I would want to eat a pan of this as a starter.
At this point, we decided to skip dessert, because nothing really jumped out at us. I think there is some hope for this place—a few of the dishes were interesting, but there were a few too many misses both food an service-wise to make me want to rush back. And the atmosphere wasn't really wooing me either. By the way, what is that room to the left of the restaurant as you come in? Lounge? Bar? I'm just not really sure. Maybe I'm old, but I kinda miss the natural wood from the Canterbury days. Anyhow, we'll see, maybe we'll give it another go in a few months when hopefully things are a little smoother...
Spoke and Steele
123 S. Illinois Street