Saturday, March 11, 2006

from chicago: a mess on your plate

Is it a chain if there are nine locations of a given eatery? If so, then I am about to scribble some notes on yet another chain – one that we often choose for a meal when in Evanston: the Flat Top Grill.

Don’t stop there, Madisonians, read on, for there is this small sign tucked away at the Flat Top:

Madison Mar 06 150

I’ve eaten at places similar to it before: you pile onto a plate a selection of stuff, you hand over your mess to the cook and you sit down. In minutes, your very own assortment is stir fried and set before you.

But the Flat Top really pushes it over the top, so that the entire restaurant spins around this stir-fry operation. At any one time, one or two dozen individual mounds are being swished and tossed on the huge flat cooking top. And no, they don’t (99% of the time) mix any of it up: you don’t get any of your neighbor’s spillings.

My eating companions have preferences. One of them especially likes a few select veggies, of the green and thin type, and so she carefully mounds her bowl with her favorites. There are also wonderful sauces and spiced waters that you can ladle onto your mound and she looks for her one or two precious blends each time.

Me, I have my cluttered mindset scribbled all over the plate. None of this meticulous selection and scrutiny. There are literally two dozen raw veggies (and a handful of fruits, plus raw meats and fish for those who like to throw in such stuff) out there to pick from and another dozen sauces and mostly I find them all irresistible, so that in the end, my plate looks like this:

Madison Mar 06 149

It’s all very economical. Your mound of food is around $12 and for another couple of bucks you can get another round of it. If you take their wine suggestion, you’re out only $12 for the bottle.

I feel after dinner completely satisfied that I have covered all my veggie needs for a week. Guilt-free eating. As fresh and honest as it gets.

So one more little plug for a chain-ish place. Asian again. About to pop up in Madison. I’ll be there when it opens.