How not to do it: Michael's Southshore 

click to enlarge Michael's Southshore - MARK LEE

You know you're looking at a systemically underachieving eatery when the server barely bats an eyelid when you tell her the food is inedible, and almost instantaneously clears the table and adjusts the bill.

In Geist, where appearances are everything, it might be a good idea for a restaurant manager to dust off the grimy exposed wooden surfaces with a spot of Pledge from time to time, give the tables and place mats a thorough clean, and replace the carpet every couple of years. Because lots of dirt makes a restaurant look bad, and crumbs of food wedged between the table and the wall don't bode well.

As for the food, Michael's Southshore emphasizes using fresh ingredients, but none of the sources are listed, and our sticky and grubby menu didn't appear to be especially seasonal. A pair of duck spring rolls ($9.95) tasted old, almost as if they had been assembled well ahead of time and then frozen. The duck had no flavor, and in my experience, it's a bird with a lot of flavor. Perhaps confiting the duck and preparing the other ingredients separately would enhance the quality of this dish. Instead, it's just mush.

Similarly, the crab cakes for $11.95 tasted old and fishy, with a floppy texture, almost like tinned crab. If this was fresh, then the chef should be chastised for food abuse because it's a shameful waste of ingredients.

Our main courses remained largely untouched. Of the ten entrees on the menu, five are served with broccoli florets, so you'd better like broccoli. My braised short ribs ($21.95) were woefully undercooked. This isn't a cut of meat you just throw in boiling water for a few minutes. This needs long slow cooking. The texture was reminiscent of an accordion: the connective tissue stretched out when I tried to cut it. It smelled of an abattoir. And oddly enough, the cabernet reduction sauce made no reference back to the cooking liquid, causing me to wonder exactly how this dish was prepared. Served with mashed potatoes the texture and flavor of wallpaper paste, this dish was the sort of thing that your instructor holds up in cooking school as an example of how not to do it. And the garnish: two discs of raw turnip, two of raw carrot and some cubes of uncooked root vegetable. Seriously.

My wife's entrée was actually worse: a pecan-crusted walleye filet with broccoli florets and smashed potatoes. Now this is walleye season, but this didn't seem like fresh walleye to me; regardless, it was haplessly overdone, the crust so deeply fried that is was almost burnt, the texture sticky like stewed porridge.

The soups (French onion and smoked chicken chowder) were, however, about fifty percent correct, so it wasn't a total bust.

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