SOAP v18 @ The Chicago Firehouse Restaurant (03.03.2016)
Steak: 4.5…It was fabulous, better than others I have had since before the place burned to the ground. But they didn’t burn this bad boy! Sometimes I’m in the mood to bother the chefs for a “rare plus”, which I did and it was prepared exactly how I preferred. I felt it was salted, which is not always a bad thing, but noticed it started to dominate the rest of the meal by the time I was wrapping up. Delicious nonetheless
Starters/Sides 3.5…We ordered the bacon sweet-potato pancake which seemed like a no-brainer in that it is such a unique choice, but was the most lackluster of the choices. The sauteed spinach and mushrooms were tasty. The surprise favorite was certainly the cauliflower, also well-salted, but still terrific.
Ambiance 4.0…This is my favorite of the steakhouse buildings in Chicago. The restaurant looks beautiful in its renovated state. As mentioned bar has been re-purposed and lends itself to more of a contemporary setting. The old dining room looks as it did with some ancient finishes. We were seating in the more contemporary north wing which wasn’t quite as lovable. But the most obvious omission of all was the fire pole. How could you not have that in place by opening night? That’s the best part of the entire place! All and all the experience was excellent.
Drinks: 4.0…John’s wine recommendations were undisputed and favorable to the table, and therefore he was quickly trusted. That is until the after-dinner drinks came: WHAT WAS THE HELL WAS THAT!?!?! Half a point docked for that move, though we definitely appreciated the gesture, and extra credit due back to the excellent service and new bar setup at the entry.
Steak: 4.5…20 ounce bone-in ribeye. Survey says: SPECTACULAR. The crust was amazing and those bites around the edges were like steak heaven. So much flavor and I didn’t want it to end. Bearnaise sauce only complemented the steak even more. On the side comes some small portions of roasted garlic, tomatoes and onion bulbs, which while I normally like my steak to just be a “steak on a plate”, this didn’t bug me too much as they were actually edible and very tasty and made sense. I’m talking to you parsley at other steakhouses! My only downer was that some of the bites towards the center of the cut didn’t have the flavor profile that was consistent with the rest of the steak. But that only happened a few times and could have just been a steak fluke. Not my top 3 steaks I’ve had, but definitely worthy of a 4.5 rating!
Starters/Sides: 4.0…Sweet Potato Pancakes with Bacon Jam and Truffle Butter, Sauteed Spinach, Roasted Cauliflower Heads, Wild Mushrooms. Mushrooms and Spinach didn’t have a ton of flavor sadly as those are my goto sides! While the rest of the guys didn’t care for the Sweet Potato pancakes, these were right up my alley! Sweet Potatoes…GOOD! Bacon Jam…GOOD! Truffle Butter….GOOD! All i needed was some maple syrup and I would have been all set. The movie quote “That Hansel…He’s So Hot Right Now” (Zoolander) can easily be converted into “That Cauliflower…It’s So Hot Right Now” as we see cauliflower being the new rage in steakhouses. And CFR nailed it. If I could go back and tell 6 year Josh that someday i’d love Cauliflower, i’m sure his mind would be blown! They were cooked perfectly and had an amazing taste! Definitely their star side dish. Mushrooms and spinach are staples and these need to be hit out of the park as well in order to get the points up.
Ambiance: 4.50…When the owners discussed bringing back this classic restaurant post its closure in 2014, I’m sure they were able to look at the space like a blank canvas and make some updates that they had always wanted to do. The first being the revamped bar area…they rocked it. Beautiful interiors, large expansive rooms and tons of loaded history. The fire pole had not been put in place again yet, but you could see the “opening” on the ceiling for where it will be going back to soon. The subway tiling on the wall remained from v1 of the restaurant, and I can only assume this was a carry-over from the old firehouse days. The restaurant is very long in fact, and in a way is 3 separate rooms. We sat in the far back room adjacent to the outdoor patio (which was closed of course). Nice clean/bright finishes and the high ceilings make the feel very open and “freeing”. Really loved the look and feel. A small knock in points only because I felt the acoustics were a bit off…lots of hard surfaces and nothing to absorb the sound. Maybe something that can be improved upon over time. Also the knifes had the look of being heavy weights but ended up being almost balloons they were so light weight. A steak knife goes a long way…invest in some and get your logo laser etched in the handle.
Drinks: 3.0…When we arrived we headed straight for the new bar area to order some Old Fashioned cocktails…when asked for a bourbon menu the bartender said they did not have one and in fact, that their bourbon options were pretty lackluster. I agree’d. However, he was able to turn the well bourbon options into not a bad cocktail at all! While seated at dinner, we had two bottles of wine. I know I sound like a broken record but I will never rate the wine as I just do not have that pallet. Beer list could use some work as well. I’ve never been in the bar/restaurant business, so it’s probably easy for me to say “they should have a menu of all craft beer”, as I have no clue how working with a liquor distributor works…but…they should have a menu of all craft beer! People love craft beer. People also “like” Stella, Coors and Bud Light…but if you are out paying $60+ on a cut of meat, a Bud Light just doesn’t quench my thirst. After dinner drinks…I love sweet wines…so we ordered a round of Moscato and it was PERFECT. Ok, now the After-After dinner drinks. Our waiter John could not have been more generous by offering us a digestif on the house…I cannot stress that enough…thank you John! But, wow do I not have the tastebuds for Fernet Branca! Some background on Fernet Branca: it contains 27 herbs from four different continents and then ages for at least one year in oak barrels. Again, thank you John for this very kind offering. Some background on what Fernet Branca tasted to ME: it contains 27 different combinations of Robutussin and Mouthwash and then ages for at least one year in draino containers. Again, super kind of John the waiter to go that extra step. One benefit, i’m no longer coughing, my breath smells great and I got that hairball dis-lodged. But again, very kind gesture. Bourbon and beer menu lackluster knocked the points down for me though.
Steak: 4.5…Pomatto, now this is what a 4.5 really tastes like! Bone-in ribeye medium well just like god intended!
Starters/Sides: 3.0…I lost the vote on starch and we end up with sweet potato pancake and it did not do it for me. Cauliflower: plus on the taste , minus on the portions. Mushrooms were solid. Sauteed spinach could have used some more seasoning.
Ambiance: 4.0…Steak in an old firehouse (that burned down), doesn’t get more classic than that! Beautiful remodel and smart layout changes. Points lost on not having the fire pole installed and the hideous tree wallpaper in the 2 dining space. You don’t get 4.5/5.0 if you don’t have personalized steak knives (and the handle was not heavy enough).
Drinks: 3.5…I’m not sure how to rate this because there were a couple unusual factors. The 2 bottles (Oregon and Chianti) we orders were good not great. Our waiter caught an error in getting charged for 3 bottles that none of us saw (hence the +$100 on our bill total Price is Right game). We learned a good rule of thumb: if someone asks you if you want Fernet Branca, the correct answer is “no thank you”. Holy hell that cough medicine was rancid! Dropped from 4.0 because of this. Last impressions……..Shout out to the glasses of Moscato though.