Reservations on Reservations

We just can’t compete with Da Bears.  Every fall season our Sundays get a little more quiet.  Our first thought was to get a big screen tv and re-concept ourselves as a sports bar.  Just kidding.

So after a late night binge on sports drinks and myoplex, we drafted a game plan.  Watch out Bears, Ruxbin is taking reservations…Sundays only.

This is a pilot so we’ll report back and let you know how it goes;)

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Some Things Never Change

It’s hard to believe it was just two years ago when we were ridden with anxiety and with brave faces prepping for our very first Friday. It was the day Red Eye decided to splash us prematurely on a two page spread in their Restaurant Features, and in an odd coincidence the day the utility pole outside our back door came crashing down on neighbor Michael’s poor garage from the 70 mph winds foreboding one of the heaviest rain storms that summer.

I don’t know how, but we managed to do 63 covers (two full turns) all whilst uncomfortably blotting rain water relentlessly leaking through our windows and spilling onto the tables of some of the nicest and most understanding diners you could ever meet.

We have grown tremendously as a restaurant since then, gaining the attention of some heavy weights in the press and food world along the way. And while 63 covers today isn’t anything to sneeze at, it certainly doesn’t induce the same kind of trepidation it did two years ago.

There is an old griddle that we inherited from the previous restaurant tenant. The kind that looks like it’s been through hell and back. We’ve been using it, along with other pots, pans, refrigerators and serving ware that came with the space. Mostly because it saved us from going out and buying new. But over time, and from the great fortune of staying busy, the old things began disappearing one by one. And in its place would appear shinier things. But for some reason, this griddle, whose very first appointment was to heat up sourdough crostini which went along with a bowl full of steaming mussels, couldn’t be rid. And even after its bottom gave out and began warping, it’s still a crucial vessel used for some of the dishes we serve today.

The other day Vicki brought in a brand new griddle pan from a recent shopping trip. But in the same absurd manner in which my dad would wear the same worn sneakers for years and years refusing a new pair until the soles flop off, the cooks would reach straight past the brand new griddle every time and take down the old one. Puzzled by this, we asked if the new pan wasn’t the right kind. “No, it just doesn’t make the same flavor as the old guy” Ed would say to us. Could be. I speculate it also brings a sense of old comfort to the rapidly growing and evolving kitchen. It keeps us grounded and reminds us where we began.

Cheers to our Two Year Anniversary!

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Homefries

They say Imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and flattered we were when we saw that Geekeats  “cloned” our fries.   We were very impressed with his method (score on the $2 fry cutter btw), and he even used a similar silver bowl!  Could’ve fooled us.

So I thought I’d follow suit and document our process so you and Geekeats can see how we make our fries, step by step, and perhaps try your hand at it at home:

Morning Potato Delivery arrives:

Potatoes go for a scrub and a peel:

Scrubbed

Peeled

Happily soaking (prevents oxidizing & softens potato) as they wait their turn to get cut....

Brute Strength or Methodical Finesse?

Methodical Finesse.

Cut fries soak to remove starch:

Quality Control

Starch water drained

Off to the fryer!

Fry Round 1 @ 325 degrees: Soft and cooked through

Fry Round 2: To order @ 350 degrees until GBD (Golden Brown & Delicious;)

Hot out of the fryer, the fries get tossed in a large bowl (larger surface area increases coating potential) with garlic confit, parsley, kosher salt and love. Toss well so as to get a coat of garlic confit goodness on each fry.

Parsley

Kosher Salt

Garlic Confit

Don't be timid, get in there

The fries are then served with our housemade Chipotle Aioli which consists of egg yolks, oil, lemon, garlic, and chipotle peppers.

Money

Ruxbin Garlic Fries

Enjoy:)

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an exciting day at ruxbin

February 16, 2012

6am.  GQ Magazine announces their 2012 Ten Best New Restaurants in America.  Ruxbin makes the cut at #9.  We. Are. Floored.

10am.  I get a text from Jenny:  “A guy had a tripod setup taking photos of our storefront, asked who he was shooting for and he said ABC.  I was out in my pink socks and crocs too.”  And yes, he glanced at her feet and gave her a funny look.

That's hot, Jen.

12pm.  Excitement erupts in the kitchen as Nate arrives with our brand new Cotton Candy machine!  A vast upgrade from our original one (generously gifted to us by Rosy).

The Real Deal.

1pm. Jason and Ed haul up lumber to the Rooftop, work on the Garden begins. This year’s goal: triple the garden size and have a bee hive.

Planter Boxes

5pm.  Family Meal.  The crew goes festive and makes carne asada,  fiesta-style~

People ask if we eat well at the restaurant...

yes.

5:15pm. We bust out the celebratory GQ Cookies.

Chef loves cookies.

Cookie Party.

:)

12am.  Service is over, clean down is finished. Ed sits with the staff and says a few heartfelt words as we pop a little bubbly to celebrate and wind down the night.

Thankful to our guests and staff for another great night.  May we always continue to Push.

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House Rules

Welcome to Ruxbin.

Thank you for joining us for dinner. We are excited to cook for you and have you as our guest. Ruxbin is our home. It houses our dreams and values. And while we invite you to be our guest, there are house rules.

House Rules:

Our food is labor intensive, our kitchen is tiny, your patience is appreciated.

No large groups: Parties up to 6 Sunday-Thursday, 4 Friday & Saturdays.

As this is a small restaurant, we may ask for your table after you’ve finished. 

We seat complete parties only.

Waitlist Courtesy: Let’s talk Commitment.  If you’re on the waitlist, you are committing to dine with us and we are committing to seat you. If your plans change, give us a courtesy call to allow other guests the opportunity to dine with us.

If you are in the Waiting area, please be patient while you wait to be waited on.

No grouchy pants allowed. You are responsible for agreeing to your wait time.  If you think the wait will ruin your evening, please do not leave your name on our wait list.

Please take phone calls outside. No laptops. No iPads.

It’s no secret that we are a tiny place. We max out at 32 seats, 10 tables for two and 3 booths. We have a kitchen probably smaller than the one you have at home, and no walk-in refrigeration which limits our storage space.  The other day we had a guest demand that we provide them with an extra chair- we don’t have extra chairs lying around, there is no storage for such thing. What you see is all that we have, and if your party is that large, then we simply are not able to accommodate you. We have limitations. Therefore, a set of House Rules are in order, to ensure an enjoyable experience for both our guests as well as the members of our Ruxbin Family.

Now what do I mean by “enjoyable experience”? Well, for one, by far the most popular question we receive here at Ruxbin is “how long is the wait”?  And this is where the experience begins… You see, the wait depends on you, the customer.  Every evening we typically fill the house by 6:30.  From there on we go on a wait and start allowing walk-ins to place their names on the waitlist.  And every evening there are several people that decide to not show up for their tables without cancellation notice.  This, my friends, screws both of us over, but mainly it screws you, the Diner.  It’s your fellow diners that do this to you.  Their place on the waitlist commits them a table for the night, meaning there is one less table to give out to you.  So either the previous customer that walked in equates to you having a longer wait or possibly them taking the last table for the night.

Take it from a fellow diner that came in the other night, visiting from LA:  “I love how you are walk in only, anyone can come in. Instead of having to wait 5 months to eat here, I only have to wait an hour and a half!”.  Here someone appreciates why we decided to stay walk in only in the first place – to be accessible. Given that we only have 32 seats, if we actually took reservations we would fill up so quickly that you’d have to plan your reservations far in advance.

So here’s a typical scenario: It’s Thursday night, the tables are full and the waitlist begins.  There are already several tables ahead of you waiting including Dan’s.  Now, you walk in at 6:45pm and ask for a table for 4, I typically have one of two answers:  A) There is a wait and the next table is estimated to be available around XX:XXpm  or   B) The wait list is full for the night and I am not able to take any more tables.  Now,  let’s say customer Dan haphazardly put his name on the waitlist thinking “well, I’m not going to wait that long, but just in case I will put my name down” (thinking no harm, no damage) and ends up eating elsewhere without giving us a call.  Well, if our buddy Dan gave me a simple courtesy call to cancel, that table could’ve been yours. But alas, you’ve already walked out the door 2 hours ago looking for another dinner option because you and I were both under the impression that Dan would be coming back for his table.

The above has been one of the toughest jobs I’ve had to do- turning away eager diners at the door, i.e. “But I just flew in from San Francisco”, “But I just took public transportation for 2 hours to get here”, “But I hired a babysitter for the night to eat here” , “But its my birthday”.  Trust me, all the heart wrenching pleas I hear at the door tug at my heart too, to the point that when I’m hosting, the kitchen braces themselves for critical mass and by night’s end are moments away from the breaking point, all because Vicki lets the crowds in. I can’t help but want to accommodate as many guests as I can.  But when we have a tiny restaurant that is able to only seat so many guests per night, and many are being turned away, all I can do is ask for a simple few rules to be followed so that people that want to eat here, can and enjoy themselves while doing so.

I’ve been learning a lot in the 1 year 4 months 11 days since we’ve opened.  I’ve experienced the spectrum from some really great guests to some that just tend to be plain, mean. But one thing I can certainly recognize, is that while we are in the hospitality industry with the intention to serve others, there is a fine line between being hospitable vs being a doormat.  Ruxbin is our home. We spend more time here than with our families.  It houses our dreams and values and we look forward to cooking for others. And while we invite you to be our guest, there are house rules.

 

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Making the List

Lists are my sanity.  Making them, seeking them, referring back to them as often as I can, crossing them off, and repeating the process over again.  If you live by them (particularly those of the silent badgering To Do variety) just as much as I do, you’d understand how essential they are for processing a multitude of things at once.  On my desk right now is a shopping list of groceries that hadn’t made the day’s delivery, a list of phone calls and emails to return, a list of pros and cons (of a deeply personal matter that needn’t be divulged here), a list of places visited and remembered in Paris this past Labor Day, a list of neglected lists from previous weeks (ranked of course by priority), a list of goals for Ruxbin written in shorthand, and a crumpled up prep list Eddy must have left behind at some point.

But lists are also my repose.  There is nothing I enjoy greater than combing through somebody’s cherished book list, playlist, or bucket list.  While there is hardly any time for watching movies these days, I still like to check the box office list from time to time to see the weekend gross.  There is something very gratifying about making your way down a list.  The cognitive leg work of sorting things out has already been done, leaving you with the easy option to relate or dissociate.

Which brings me to a rather momentous list that’s recently touched our lives here at Ruxbin.  The abridged version is that we were fortunate enough to experience the “popular new kid” phase last summer when we first opened our doors, as evidenced by the frequency of nights we’d run out of tables.  And luckily, our passage into the “old news” bit wasn’t so painful, as we were still filling capacity with ease on most nights.  But the “hottest newest” effect was in truth beginning to wear off midsummer.  At first, we’d reason that we were experiencing slow season in Chicago just like everybody else.  Who would want to be cooped up inside on a warm summer night anyway?  Summertime is numbered in this city, and if we weren’t ourselves tied to running a restaurant we’d be at the lake with our coolers too.  But to be honest, the dip in covers had some of us a little concerned.

In a surprising turn of events a mere week after addressing this eventual slowdown, we were named 5th Best New Restaurant in the country by Bon Appetit in their highly regarded restaurant issue.  I imagine most consider these rankings and Top Ten lists arbitrary to some degree.  Especially because opinions are by definition subjective.  But when the opinion belongs to a trusted and well-traveled gourmet who carries a great deal of influence in the industry, it dares to cross over into something more than just an opinion.   We’ve certainly had noteworthy mentions in the press before, but nothing as bold as “Number 5 in the Country”.  Something about this label imparted a new sense of validation at Ruxbin for what we do each service and all the hours surrounding it.  And after the initial wave of excitement, it began to pose some serious inner-reflective questions which had me feeling the need to form some sort of construct to understand the meaning behind it all.

This past fall break, we were lucky enough to book a table at Le Chateaubriand, the highest ranked restaurant in Paris and 9th in the world according to Pellegrino’s 2011 list.  I was anticipating the meal of my life.  And as each course presented itself to us, I found myself scrutinizing a little more and indulging a little less.  It was as though the weight of this “Number 9″ had me stranded in a jungle of critiques.  There were palate-rousing flavors [a roasted chicken so replete with almond extract, a pairing so odd that it stripped away any sense of familiarity I ever had to chicken] and textures I have never experienced before [duck heart coated in seeds and having every bit of an organ-like texture you’d imagine an organ to be].  I tried creatures that will haunt me forever [salty barnacles resembling the claw of a sea dragon which juiced with each bite and had minuscule mussels latched tightly to its skin].  There was shock factor [a raw mushroom opulently covered in rich dark chocolate with nothing more than a sprig of mint] and moments of sheer appreciation [a refreshing ceviche with pickling juice and peach, and an array of herbs piled atop a floral scented ice cream].  It wasn’t until Eddy cut the circuit of critiques at the table by raising a pretty straight-forward question that we realized our gaffe.  It wasn’t whether or not we liked the barnacles or chocolate covered mushroom, as that would be debatable.  He simply asked if we were having a good time.  And to that our answer was a resounding yes.

What I learned most from that five course dinner at Le Chateaubriand and how it relates to us at Ruxbin is that there really is no universal check-list of criteria.  What makes a good restaurant for one person could be if the food has challenged them or not, and for somebody else it might be the level of service received.  For Bon Appetit editor Andrew Knowlton, I think the determining factor was whether or not a restaurant afforded him a good and memorable experience.  As sited straight from The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, “an interesting experience in a simple establishment, where exceptional innovation was discovered, could be judged better than a more opulent meal from a widely feted restaurant team.”   When Mr. Knowlton recognized something special about Ruxbin, it was reaffirming and humbling for all of us.  In our hearts, we knew we had a good thing going.  A restaurant that, above all things, cultivates sincerity in both the food we cook and the service we give.  But to see it recognized on a very national scale is a privilege that we know we cannot take lightly.

We had the opportunity to share a round of drinks with Mr. Knowlton a couple nights ago, and we thanked him for the recognition.  He responded by thanking us for a great meal, one that he apparently hadn’t forgotten in over four months’ time, as he recounted with fondness our bouillabaisse-like mussels, the crispy eggplant salad with golden beet batons, and how warm and inviting our staff was.  Naturally, all this comes with more pressure to do more and be better.  But if you were to ask what it means to be number 5, my answer would be simple.  We try our best to ensure our guests have a good time, and perhaps they will leave with a happy rivet in the memory of the dinner they’ve just been served.

Savoring pastries in Paris.

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5-Hour Energy

It's been busy. Fueling up the crew. This carbo load will get us to family meal:)

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