By Michael Philippi
Ungaretti & Harris Restaurant Critic
Have you seen the new television show "Chicago Code"? I hate it. The Irishmob running construction in a corrupt Chicago? With Rahm? With Fitzgerald? Not gonna happen. Not today, and our great city deserves a better portrayal. I hope it is canceled before this column hits print.
On the other hand, there's always room for another great steak house. Chicago Cut Steakhouse wants to be a "go to" steak house. And they have a legitimate shot at it. Conveniently located on the Chicago River and LaSalle. Great open, glass-walled space. It's a gorgeous bar where you expect to see cases get settled, political arrangements ironed out and Chicago at work.
The people who work there are nice — really nice. Matt Moore and David Flom have done a great job combining old-school clubby with an upscale touch that will make people want to come back again. The staff just can't do enough to make your experience as perfect as it can be, wine list on a nifty iPad, in-house dry aging — all the ingredients. The food is good — sorry guys, not great yet, but I am guessing it will be pretty soon, in time for those long meals in the sure-to-come outside seating along the magnificent Chicago River.
Put this all together with prices that are on the fair side of manageable, not to mention the signature steak knives, and you have a real nice steak house in a market that offers stiff competition for shrinking red-meat dollars.
One of the smartest things that these guys did is create a shockingly broad menu for a steak house — even some vegetarian offerings. You could eat here every day for a month and never get near red meat. All of the offerings, ironically, with the exception of the steak — which looked beautiful, but was way, way off the requested temperature — were keepers.
Who can pass up lamb lollipops — those tiny, one-bite lamb chops — three to an order, served with a minty, citrus glaze that might have been better hot. Upscale "sliders" are all the rage and these three to an order were delicious tiny hamburgers on pretzel rolls served with possibly the best tarragon, spicy mustard ever. The crab cake is a big, meaty portion delicately crusted with a little panko teeming with sweet fresh crab meat gently seasoned (oregano?) and served over a bed of tangy coleslaw; it stole the starter show.
We passed on the ample selection of salads, soups and sandwiches and went straight to the protein section. The signature steak — a bone-in rib eye — was magnificent to behold. Perfectly charred and pretty as a picture. The problem is that it was ordered medium rare and it came out cold and blood-red between the thin layers of great char. Too bad, but it's a cardinal sin for a steak house to miss the temperature by this much and create that awkward "do we send it back" question, that has no good resolution — do it and the meal timing is all screwed up, don't and someone isn't going to be happy with their meal.
On the other hand, the crispy Amish brick chicken was amazing — a whole small chicken butterflied and simply roasted with olive oil and kitchen spices, it was crispy as advertised without losing a bit of moistness.
There are plenty of fish options. The Chilean sea bass was firm, mild and flavorful, served over a citrus reduction that complimented without overpowering. And then there was the pork chop — a stunning, thick-cut, marinated Iowa pork chop that they somehow managed to char to a light crust, cooked all the way through and kept juicy and tender. I never understand this trick, but if the fully cooked steak is anything like the pork chop, then Chicago Cut really does have a shot at being everybody's go-to steak house.
Desserts were predictable — big slab of cheesecake; creamy, crusty and delicious crème brulee; and berry cobbler. Served hot in an oversized soufflé bowl, this was a big bowl of baked mixed berries, swimming in melting, rich vanilla ice cream topped with an oatmeal cinnamon crumble.
Traveler's Tips: New York is full of great food. If you insist in staying in Midtown, try the relatively new Millesime, in the grand Carlton Hotel. The space is mezzanine lobby with tables tucked away for privacy, but with an overview of a soaring lobby. The influence is French brasserie, the theme seafood. Table-side preparations of tuna tartare and pike quenelles Jean — two pieces of pike smothered in a buttery roux — are worth the trip. And don't even think about leaving without dessert — try the Pineapple Carpacio, an ambrosia of razor-thin slices of pineapple in a coconut and ice cream heaven.
Lagniappe: If you are at the Carlton, do after-dinner drinks in their downstairs bar, or Salon — an homage to Tin Pan Alley with a speakeasy flair, it offers new takes on classic drinks, like the Night and Day — a Manhattan-style potion tailor-made for sipping while listening to eclectic jazzy groups like Lily and the Parlour Tricks. The drinks, the music and the people-watching are very, very good.
Chicago Cut Steakhouse
300 N. LaSalle St., Chicago 60654
Verdict: 3 gavels