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Into Shelley’s Belly: The T Room in Uptown

Black tea with berries (left); the main mess hall (right) photos by Matthew Shelley
Black tea with berries (left); the main mess hall (right) photos by Matthew Shelley

I’ve only ever visited the T Room with a group of assertive women. They talk chic, and I occasionally interject with a mildly obscene joke to remind them of my presence. While I sit quietly, they gossip and complain about mundane details and dish on fashion, dating, and office drama. If the forks have spots, or the table is uneven, or the sunlight is coming through the window, or menstruation cripples their perkiness, they address it. Why do I go, you ask? These lovely ladies are my friends, and I enjoy their company. It’s a good learning experience, for the better a man understands the menacing madness that fuels a woman’s mind, the better he will keep a happy wife. I may have stolen that from Cracker Barrel. Whatever way the cookie is devoured, the T Room has always served fresh, clean food.

Another look (left); Signature Panini and Pecan Crusted Chicken Salad (right)
Another look (left); Signature Panini and Pecan Crusted Chicken Salad (right)
The main mess hall
The main mess hall
Tomato soup (left); Jonathan daintily eating it (right)
Tomato soup (left); Jonathan daintily eating it (right)

Oh, T Room! Where the huffy puffs unite under pristine accents of rustic tapestries and décor accessories. Glamorous daytime shoppers unite with fashionable business women to patronize this sophisticated pottery barn palace. This is T Room, and you will rarely see a man. Fortunately, I brought one with me this time. Jonathan is a handsome, rusty brunette who wrestled for state championships and works on his car on the weekends. He’s not much for fancy, but he accepted my invitation anyhow. Carol joined us, too. As she puts it, the menu is a depressing mélange of “rabbit food items,” but I disagree… mostly. I do remember always enjoying the lightness and zest that T Room offered through its food, but it seems like its kitchen has become complacent. Our entire meal was lacking in oomph. I know its typical power-shopping, Highland Park mom accepts this shortcoming for all of T Room’s graces, but I couldn’t swallow it. The ingredients seem to be pre-packed items set together on the plate with little care and interest. Carol’s Asian pear salad consisted of spinach, tomato, cucumber, mixed greens, sesame ginger vinaigrette, and spiced pecan baked goat cheese, which was the one redeeming item on the plate. The pear appeared to be slap-chopped and tossed on top. Jonathan’s roasted tomato basil soup had little life to it. It’s not that it was bad; it was just lazy. I had the signature panini with fresh mozzarella, roma tomatoes and avocado. It was suitable enough for eating, but like everything else, it seemed to be asleep on my plate. The bread was weak and unbecoming, while my pecan crusted chicken salad with mixed greens, grape tomatoes, dried cranberries, Boursin cheese and herb vinaigrette came off like a paint by numbers piece with the items collected from a salad bar bin. I’m not saying the ingredients themselves were salad bar material, it’s just the lack of life that came off my plate. We finished by sharing the flourless chocolate cake (aka fudge). The raspberry compote was very strong and the cake itself with pleasing enough. At least they are consistent. I did hear that the pistachio lemon tart rules, though, so maybe I’ll revisit for that.

Asian Pear Salad and Chicken Quiche
Asian Pear Salad and Chicken Quiche
Flourless Chocolate cake
Flourless Chocolate cake

I think the T Room needs to regroup and find some new inspiration. I’ve always enjoyed the lunches there, but when a menu doesn’t change in the slightest over the years, I just feel like they don’t care. I love a good signature dish, but with T Room’s boutique essence, there is plenty of creative space to offer a changing menu with the seasons and the availability of local foods. Like a long awaited whisper from a forgotten lover, T Room, find your spontaneous lust for life and put it on a plate.