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Two Chicago restaurants

I'm not sure what to say about Starfish, a sushi place west of the Loop that I ate at last week. The food was fantastic. I had the chirashi, which was served on a plate instead of a bowl, with the fish piled up on a modest amount of rice and with some tasty greens off to the side. I had a chance to sample the sashimi, maki, and nigiri that my lunch companions ordered, and they were all delicious. If the food was the only thing that mattered, I'd give the Starfish an enthusiastic three stars.

Unfortunately, the food is only about 94 percent of everything that matters about a restaurant. Some combination of service, price, and atmosphere makes up the remaining six percent. The service at the Starfish was bad. Well, not actively bad, but completely nonexistent. We were seated promptly, but after that it was as if we had never shown up.

We waited about fifteen minutes before placing our orders. One of us had a question about vegetarian rolls that the server didn't know the answer to, so she said she'd check with the chef. When she came back ten minutes later, she'd forgotten all about it and had to go back to the kitchen a second time. Finally, she answered the question about what was in the vegetarian rolls with "a lot of different vegetables." Thanks. It felt as if we waited about three hours for our food, even though it was probably only two hours and forty five minutes. We had to ask for dishes to mix our wasabi and soy sauce. We had to ask for spoons, twice. We didn't even bother to ask for regular soy sauce -- low sodium was the only stuff on the table -- so we just grabbed it from the sushi bar. Keep in mind that the dining room was only half full at the most. The worst part was that the staff never apologized for the wait until the very end, and then only because they must have overheard us discussing the pros and cons of leaving no tip.

So it's hard to decide whether or not to recommend the Starfish. I suppose if you want good food, and if you're forewarned that you may have to go on the offensive to pry it out of the people working there, then the Starfish is the place for you.

***

It's much easier to evaluate Hannah's Bretzel, a new bretzel place on the corner of Washington and Wells. Ok, I know you're probably not tired of all the old bretzel places, but. . . .

A bretzel, apparently, is a big pretzel made with different kinds of soft bread that can be sliced in half and packed with yummies like camembert, organic ham, and fresh cucumbers. You can have a breakfast bretzel with knutella if you want. Hannah's also serves sandwiches on extremely high-quality breads with all-organic ingredients. For dessert they have a fantastic selection of fancy chocolate from all kinds of chocolate makers in the US and europe. Their beverage selection is pretty good too -- teas, coffees, and sodas of all flavors. One little gimmick I think is pretty cute is their delivery service. Everything you order will arrive at your door in a Mini-Cooper.

The only thing about Hannah's Bretzel is they only have about four seats in the restaurant. So plan on doing take-out, and plan to try it before it gets too trendy, popular, and crowded.