Were you around during Prohibition and do you miss the drinks of that era? The answer is most likely no, since you'd have to be in your eighties or nineties to remember it and I don't think anyone that age reads my blog. If you never had the chance to experience the drinks popular during prohibition and would like to, however, I suggest you go to Herbs and Rye. Not for the food (definitely not for the food), but for the drinks, which are terrific. In fact, you're not limited to drinks that were popular during Prohibition, but can enjoy the whole American history of drinking from the "Gothic Age of American Drinking" (1775-1865) to it's "Revival" (1990-present). No matter what you choose I'm sure you'll be happy. I've tried three, the Frisco from the Gothic Age (I don't even like whiskey), the Scofflaw from Prohibition (I don't like bitters), and the Diablo from the Reform years (gotta love tequila). Each has been exceptional, but I don't review cocktails, I review food.
Ian and I have now been to Herbs and Rye three times. We were disappointed the first time, somewhat less disappointed the second. In fact, we walked out after drinks and calamari the first time when we were with my parents because it took forever to not get our food. You might be asking yourself, "Frugal Foodie, why would you go back a second time, let alone a third time ?" Well, there are several reasons.
1) We were sad to lose the old occupant, Caminos de Morelia, and had been anticipating the opening of a new restaurant ever since they closed and we saw a new sign go up (though, that's really just a reason to try it a first time, I suppose).
2) Ian says the name in a way that just makes it appealing. I can't explain it but it's like "herrb and a-ryyye"
3) Every new restaurant deserves a chance to work out the kinks.
4) It's close to home.
5) We hadn't yet had a chance to try their 50% off happy hour, and 50% off food is great way to get you back in the door. (5-7PM and late night, M-F)
The meal always starts out fine. The drinks, as I mentioned, are spot on, and the bread is good, made all the better by sweet honey butter. The servers are pleasant, but then you order, and you wait...and wait. I understand the time it takes to make the cocktails (browns stirred, whites shaken) but there is no excuse for the food taking so long when there are a maximum of two other tables. The calamari ($7.50 with happy hour, pictured above) this time was much better than the first, so I was glad to see the improvement. The idea was good (peperoncini, crispy pancetta, and aoli drizzle) but somehow it ended up as a fairly uninteresting salty mass. Perhaps I am being too harsh. It wasn't so bad, and the portion was large, if you like that kind of thing. I suppose the most disappointing aspect was that it was a vast improvement. A long while after it left our table we got our Vitello a la Fiorentina, a veal T-bone ($18 with happy hour), which wasn't a T-bone at all. Our waiter admitted he had forgotten to tell us that the chef had changed it to a chop, which would have been fine if it was good, but it wasn't. Although it was cooked well, I don't think we were able to get more than six decent bites out of it that weren't ultra-fatty between the two of us. The mashed potatoes underneath weren't hot and didn't have enough butter, and the asparagus was completely void of seasoning. Forget about the "caramelized lemon" and white bean ragout, if you can even call it that. If we'd been paying the full price of $36 I definitely would have complained. What am I saying? I complained anyway. The chef took it off the bill, almost making me feel bad for being so negative in this review. Alas, a critic's job isn't always an easy one.
The chef truly isn't the only one to blame for the imminent demise of this restaurant, however, the decorator is. The dining room is supposed to make you feel like you are in old Vegas, but falls short in every way. The red felt wallpaper, fake leather booths, tiny chandeliers, cheap silverware and fake bookcases all add to the depressing ambiance. The worst, above all, is the music. It is more outdated than the drinks and is truly nauseating. I mean, I'm sure "Suwannee River" had it's day but it's 2010 now. Ian put it well. "I think I'm going to slit my throat with this butter knife if I have to listen to this anymore." "Wait!," I said, "Let me finish that honey butter first."
Overall, I'm not sure the 50% off menu even makes it worth coming here. I would truly like to see this restaurant continue to make improvements because they have a really great thing going with the bar. It would have been smarter of them to open up a much smaller place that focused on great drinks and served a few exceptional tapas, rather than investing $1.6 million in this huge, boring place (the young new owner unfortunately invested everything he had). My suggestion is to stay in the bar and order the drinks. Order lots of drinks, that way the music probably won't bother you as much. Who knows, you may even start singing along.
Tonight's Food Rating: 6.5
Tonight's Drink Rating: 9.5 (best I've had off the Strip)
Ambiance: 5 (would have been a 6.5 if they changed the music)
Would we go back?: ANYTHING'S POSSIBLE UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF ALCOHOL