Chicago >Food & Dining > Schwa Restaurant
1466 N Ashland Ave, Chicago, IL | Directions 6062241.908943 -87.667825
Tuesday To Saturday From 05:30 PM To 10:30 PM
Neighborhoods: Wicker Park, West Side
Schwa is a fascinating restaurant, a kind of workshop for a brilliant, manic young chef who, I think, is primarily cooking for other chefs. It's hard to get in and not everything is always good, let along great: but if you want to see modernist food in process, up-close, and with no frills, this is the place you need to come to.
Schwa cancelled at the last minute TWICE – Schwa is a unique place, but their customer service is HORRIBLE.
1) It is impossible to leave a voicemail message to reserve a table. The vm mailbox is full all the time.
2) When you DO get someone on the phone, don't be surprised if your reservation is cancelled a couple hours prior to dinner
My friend made a reservation for February 16 and it was cancelled about 3 hours before the scheduled dinner. Her out-of-town guest had stayed an extra night in a hotel (she lives in Canada) to go to Schwa. During the call with Schwa about the cancellation, my friend thought fast and secured another reservation. This second reservation was on March 25 (this time I was invited as part of the party) and it was cancelled about 2 hours before scheduled for dinner. My fiancé had already decanted wine worth more than $100. It was our last bottle from our trip to Portland OR wine country.
What’s troubling is that there are comments on Yelp that indicate that even though we were told by Schwa the cancellation was due to a water main break (or oven malfunction, can’t remember which cancellation excuse they used for which reservation), the restaurant WAS open that evening and people dined there!!
Just be careful when you make reservations here - DON'T assume you'll eat there.
It's Theater, and if You Don't Get it Shame on You – To eat at Schwa is to suspend reality. This little jewel of a restaurant is not about stuffing ritzy dishes and haute cuisine down your gullet, Schwa is more culinary theater than a substantive meal. One does not read poetry to get the news. One does not watch Waiting for Godot to Better Understand how the human brain works. The individuals who eat at Schwa and expect it to be a 'meal' or something to quell hunger after a long day at the office are missing the essence of the experience. Schwa is a journey. A tiny, intimate journey that you share with your senses and those who are lucky enough to be sitting next to you.
Do not go into Schwa wanting a rich person night on the town. This is not a place for phonies. This is not a place to flash around your knowledge of French wines, and this is not a place to be pampered by old men in fine suits. Schwa mainlines the pure essence of culinary creativity and lovingly places the needle into your senses. Each dish is methodically created, using some of the most unique flavor profiles and ingredients imaginable. Each ingredient is procured from small farms, regional craftsmen, and artisan savants. The courses flow from the kitchen like a theatrical performance, and each flavor is enshrouded in a kind of reckless joy, only tempered by masterful technique.
There are no mistakes at Schwa. The restaurant only serves 26 people per night, on some nights 30 people might fill the room. Chef Michael Carlson's one goal at Schwa is that each person's dish leaves the kitchen exactly how it is supposed to be presented. Because of the restaurant's size, the chef is in complete control of the cuisine. If fish is served cold it is meant to be cold. If pork is at room temperature it is meant to be at room temperature. Nothing at Schwa is an afterthought. Anyone who know's chef Carlson's passion will not doubt this. If you want to complain about your meat, take your beef down to Hollywood Grill.
No mistakes allowed, MC means move the crowd. The chefs at Schwa love music. They love the energy of metal, and the pulsing, thumping, rhythmic flow of good hip hop. These men spend their lives in a kitchen the size of a trixie's walk in closet. For these chefs, a days work begins at 7am and ends after midnight. They play this music in the restaurant because it's the soundtrack to their lives, their passion. You are lucky to be able to experience it with them. Do not complain about music. This isn't all about you. This is a shared experience. Bring an open mind and a welcome heart, and soon you will be nodding your head to some obscure MC from Minnesota, marveling at the colors and textures exploding in you senses. Accept the experience for, and the music for what it is. Your traveling through something new, something surreal and wonderful.
Rudeness is often justified when you act like a prick. Don't bring a prick attitude to Schwa. Schwa is a place to take food seriously, not pretense. The chefs are some of the most creative young people working in the culinary world. You are luck y to have them waddle up to your table and serve you their life's work. This isn't bulls__it, this is magic. Talk to the chefs. Thank them. Be a part of the dialogue. Get them a bottle of good rye whisky.
Schwa is a Chicago treasure. A masterful place filled with youth, vitality, grime, elegance, and pure culinary joy. remove your expectations about fine dinning and submit to the experience.
I've now called and left 3 messages over a 30 day period. Not one call back to date. Don't waste your time with this restaurant - they have very little concept of customer service.
Dont expect a call back to make a reservation – I called on a Thursday afternoon and left a message to make a reservation for that Saturday night. It was going to be a surprise dinner party for my boyfriend. And if you can believe it, I never heard back from them. This is the second time I've tried making a reservation there. Who do they think they are! I ended up planning the dinner party at Think on Western and happy to say it was wonderful all around.
Oh Schwa, why are you so cruel? – I must preface my review, I came to Schwa for the first time in fall of 2006--I went w/ 3 friends (we're all early 20s) and fell in love w/ the atmosphere, music, gorgeous staff (I think at the time just the chef plus two), byob aspect and obviously the food. Every one of the 9 courses was delicious and innovative, minus the dessert which seems to be the trend. Although there was a truffle milkshake that I can't be to harsh about. I could not wait to go back.
I returned early this year, the menu was now $105 and there were some additional bodies in the back. The food just wasn't reminiscent of my first visit, the menu changed but most dishes were hits or misses. More misses than hits unfortunately for me. And I had to leave abruptly due to some stomach rumblings--long story short my second experience has ended my love affair w/ Schwa.
Good food does not compensate for rude service – I dined at Schwa shortly after it opened and had a fantastic experience. The food was delicious and inventive. I was hoping to go back for a special occasion and tried to make a reservation six weeks in advance. I was told I was first on the wait list. When I called the day before I was to dine, I was very abruptly cut off and told, "we'll call you tomorrow if there's a spot." It seemed strange to me that after six weeks of remaining on the wait list, they couldn't tell me if someone had canceled. Wanting to make alternative plans if need be, I asked what time they thought they would call. The response was, "I don't know. In the afternoon." No one ever called the next day. While some may focus solely on the quality of food, I believe my money is for both the food and the service. Based on this aloof attitude that seems to have developed along with Schwa's success, I will never go back. There is better food and far better service in Chicago.
No tourists or suburbanites here... – While reservations can be tough - my wife had to leave a message which was returned a day or two later, dinner at Schwa is worth the effort. Off the beaten path location and small room can be startling - upon entering the restaurant you are IN the restaurant - no server station, no host to greet, just the dining room. Lighting is warm, the plain room is inviting and comfortable once you are seated (if it's just two of you ask for the table by the window - it's away from the kitchen which can be noisy and it offers you a good vantage point for people-watching). We went with the 9 course tasting menu - and I'd say 7 out of the 9 were hits. Especially the Kusshi oysters rolled in oatmeal, lightly fried and left to swim in a small spot of oatmeal, raisin, and Blis syrup (syrup aged 9 years in whiskey casks I seem to recall the waiter explaining). The sweet and grainy oatmeal and syrup contrasted nicely with soft brine of the oyster. It was the first course and it was the most memorable. I'd have to agree that the desserts didn't knock my socks off. My favorite aspect of the evening was the lack of any "service" staff. This place is essentially 4 guys making something happen - quite a show to watch - and it's nice to have some of your food presented by the guys who actually made it. The music can be a bit over-the-top but serves to remind you that you are in Wicker Park and not Lincoln Park. The BYO policy is great - I called the day of our reservation and the chefs called back later with suggestions for the wine. I look forward to going again soon.
Good but loud – Off beat location and interesting food preparation make for an enjoyable meal. And BYOB helps keep the bill down. We did the 12 course tasting, and 9 of the courses were memorable. Deserts could use some work. Our main complaint was the blasting hip-hop music. Perhaps it inspires the chefs, but when you can't hear the explination of what you are being served, there is a problem. We didn't intend to interfere with the "vision" of the chef/owners, but we did ask a few times for it to be turned down just so we could have a conversation. The decibel of the music seemed in out of place with the lawyer, upper-end office clientele. Just a suggestion, turn the speakers up in the kitchen and down in the dinng room so people can talk and hear what the food being presented is all about. Although we enjoyed the meal, we probably will not return because of the sound.
Great food, questionable service – Some of the best food anywhere in Chicago - plus, you can't beat the BYOB. Fantastic flavors, nice presentation, you can try a tasting menu or pick what you want - either will be great. Drawbacks are the limited space, out-of-the-way location, slow service (the kitchen staff doubles as the servers), and the inability to get a reservation. During serving hours nobody answers the phone and if you leave a message during the day nobody returns your call. Kind of ruins what could be a great dining experience.
3 or 9 courses? – This is a great place, but with only 26 seats, I shouldn't even open my mouth. It's hard enough to get in as it is. But this is fun dining, and not to missed. The food is very creatively prepared trying to use organic and/or local sourcing with high quality ingredients. The courses are served in unconventional dishes and with a melange of flavors. You can opt for the 3 course or for the longer 9 course (2+ hrs) tasting menu.
Service is done by everyone, chef included, and you can feel how authentic their effort is.
This is a Top 10 Chicago restaurant.
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