Last night, I put on my one decent shirt and headed out with my wife to Manny’s Steakhouse in its new Foshay Tower location. The goal: Celebrating our second anniversary with some pricey but world-class steaks. But within five minutes of being seated — immediately after the arrival of the bread basket — the two of us were headed out the door to the car, and then to Rainbow Foods, where we would purchase two of a particularly excellent brand of frozen Italian dinners.
One year ago, we’d had one of the best dinners of our lives at Manny’s. The service was exemplary — gracious, professional, friendly, prompt, jovial. I’d noted the anniversary on the OpenTable reservation; the maitre d’ heartily congratulated us on our first year of marriage on the way in. The food was meat and potatoes elevated to the peak of its potential. I’m not typically a steak guy. Manny’s steak, I’ll eat and enjoy, regardless of the price. The overall experience was impeccable, as in, there really wasn’t anything to criticize. Another visit, with friends, was equally great — a full, lively house at Manny’s, but a hell of a lot of convivial fun.
This time around, in the new location, the experience was different. After pushing our way through a churning scrum of customers milling around the podium, we were whisked off to a table for two — immediately next to another table for two, which in turn was next to another table of two, which in turn was surrounded by what felt like hundreds of tables wedged closely together, packed to capacity. The entire room was a sea of diners, all speaking incredibly loudly in order to be heard. In terms of volume, it was comparable to Grand Central Station in New York, or Town Talk Diner on a busy night.
To be fair: Grand Central Station has really, really high ceilings, and you can generally make yourself heard if you enunciate in a loud speaking voice, and the typical check at Town Talk is probably 1/4th that of Manny’s. When a busboy asked us how the weather was outside, we had to ask him to repeat himself and then shout our replies. The two-hour long $200 perfect dinner that we had been looking forward to had suddenly shaped up to be about as much fun as eating at Six Flags Great America.
It should be stated that we saw no evidence that Manny’s service has slipped (under the conditions, you can’t fault the maitre d’ for being to the point), nor the food. And the economics are impeccable — pack a place like Manny’s to the gills with business travelers utilizing expense accounts, and the few random local couples splurging on a romantic celebration look pretty insignificant by comparison.
That said: It’s a different restaurant now. If anyone knows a good place to celebrate a second anniversary, we’re in the market.