Sunday, June 16, 2019

Put the moss in context: A visit to Clever Rabbit

     My younger son turns 22 today. So Friday night we took him out for a birthday dinner. His girlfriend is a vegan so he selected a restaurant with a deep vegetable menu, Clever Rabbit on Division Street in Wicker Park.
     Not purely vegetarian, but "veggie-focused," which should have been a tip-off. I always say that vegetarian restaurants must be excellent, that mediocrity is a luxury they can't afford, because otherwise nobody would go there. With meat on the menu, indifference has a foot in the door. 
     But we're getting ahead of ourselves. The place has a pleasant, severe aesthetic, and I admired a wall of moss by the host's station.
     "Is it alive?" I asked our waitress.
     "It's still alive, but not living," she replied. 
      That isn't a contradiction to someone who just turned 59.
     "I know the feeling," I said. 
      After we ordered, I excused myself and went over to take a photo, first asking permission of the host, a young man in his mid-20s.
      "May I take a photo of the moss?" I said.
      "Everybody does," he sighed. 
       Oh. There is a certain small shame in doing what everybody does, but I took the picture anyway, already feeling conspicuous. Then I compounded the error.  I liked the close-up detail, but felt the moss should really be placed in context.
     "Do you mind if I include you in the photo?" I said. He said he didn't, but something about his manner, which I took as an embarrassment, a frost, made me feel he really did mind, but was indulging a crank.
     I had made another mistake.  
      I retreated to the table, but the encounter percolated, slightly. I decided to lay out the situation for family feedback.
      "It was if he felt I were some creepy old guy taking his picture for some strange purpose," I said. "I'm tempted to go back and try to explain that I'm not. I just wanted to put the moss into context for my blog. But my sense is, that would only make matters worse."
      Everyone heartily agreed that yes, it would make matters worse, and I should let it go. Which I did.  We enjoyed a festive meal, with much laughter and conversation.
      Dinner consisted of a variety of plates—carrot dumplings and wings, for appetizers, then a rhubarb tart, asparagus and burrata, a cheese plate, a burger that we cut in quarters and shared, except of course with our new vegan addition, who had plenty to eat, she claimed. I tried both of the two non-alcoholic cocktails on the menu, and they were fine. Service was desultory, and while we had a good time, that was more our doing, without much assistance from the Clever Rabbit.  The place opened two years ago, and while it is a pleasant space to sit, it wasn't one of those restaurants you love at first nibble and are keen to go back to.  Maybe that explains the unenthusiastic service. It's almost as if they know.


  1. Folks now have so many "eateries" (journalese for 'dining establishments') to choose from, even in cities far smaller than Chicago, that they've now become quite fussy and picky about where they go for second viisits...or even first ones. It doesn't take much negative publicity anymore to torpedo a restaurant's reputation and sink it. One incident that goes viral can cause a place to crash and burn...especially the squeaky-clean new ones.

    Too many young and inexperienced (and even the not-so-young and quite experienced) entremanures think that all they have to do is spiff up the woodwork and the granite, hire a few chefs and some youthful and good-looking staff, hang out a shingle, and wait for the ink to dry on their very own license to print money.

    A recent Cleveland joke has a wife saying: "Honey, a new restaurant just opened down the street." To which her husband smirks: "Cool. We should go sometime before they close."

    The Clever Rabbit has actually been open for two whole years, even while serving up all those complimentary helpings of Ageism and Snarky Attitude? I'll be surprised if they're still around two years from now. Sounds like you gave them what they so richly deserved, Mr. S.---a good hard kick in the ass. Kudos from this creepy old guy, who is quite content with his meals at home.

    1. I couldn't have said it as well as Grizz65.
      Aesthetics are important, but the food has to be the focus, or what's the point? I could go sit in the lobby of most downtown buildings for aesthetics and snarky employees.

  2. You dont think that a wall full of loss isn't super creepy and shudder producing, whatever the context?

  3. "alive, but not living." Because it's plant life? Because it doesn't have a heartbeat? And how do they water it?

    1. They don't. It's infused with some kind of preservative. So it isn't alive, the waitress' remarks notwithstanding. It just looks alive.

    2. A wall of moss all by itself looks kinda could easily be an image of a forest, taken by a drone. Something is needed to enliven the image...perhaps an employee who looks like Kate Moss.

  4. Once I was traveling with a photographer on assignment in rural Missouri. It was lunchtime and we ducked into a decent-looking restaurant. All the walls inside had mounted animal heads: elk, bear, moose, wild boar, etc.

    We opened our menus, and it was a vegetarian restaurant.

    We ordered and ate (very good food, well within Neil's requirements). When I went to pay, I remarked to the hostess, "Your decorator seems a little unclear on the concept."

    She gave a slight sigh, and I realized I must have been about the 500th person to say that.


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