Eating out often really reminds us of the fact that there are many different types of people out there. Everyone has different dining intents with equally different expectations. We have been to Gilt Bar more than five times now and only at the last time did we sit at the kitchen counter table. In general, advanced reservations are strongly recommended for Gilt Bar unless you don't mind getting stuck with a 10:30pm seating. So on one of our previous visits, we asked our server how do we get seated specifically at the kitchen counter table and she gave us some tips: reserve early, request it at the time of reservation, and if we pick a non-busy time, more likely there would be availabilities. We went home that night and T made an advance reservation and requested to be seated at the kitchen counter. The hostess who called to confirm our reservations a couple days prior said they would try their best to accommodate our request. And they did. So we got an entire night of kitchen action before our eyes.
The kitchen counter table accommodates four people. Halfway through dinner, two female companions were also seated at the kitchen table. From the constant chats and hugs they gave to some of the servers and chefs working in the kitchen, we gathered they were part of the insider network of Gilt Bar. Going back to what I said before that there are different types of diners out there, awhile after the two female companions left, a couple was brought over to the kitchen counter table to be seated. At first glance towards the female I sensed a quiet displeasure on her face. A few minutes passed and T could not help but overhearing her tell her boyfriend/husband in an irritated tone, I thought you made a reservation. Why are we here?! She probably saw themselves as being very unfortunate to have been seated at the worst area that anyone could possibly get at a restaurant. Who wants to be shoved into the back of the restaurant among the kitchen chefs? Some slight argument ensued. Oh dear. Or, from our perspective, they probably lucked out at the last minute and got seated at an action-filled location because the seating happened to open up. A few more minutes passed and they got up and left Gilt Bar, probably never to return. It was 8:45pm then. I don't know if they are from the city or if they were familiar with the dining scene in Chicago, but if you are attempting to do a walk-in at any other restaurants at that time of the night, I would say you'd be looking at a 2-hour wait for a table.
Clearly the kitchen table attracts a different population of diners. When we were seated at the kitchen table at Emeril's in New Orleans, we were surrounded with diners who were as equally enthusiastic diners who were there not just to eat but to be part of the whole food journey. At Next in Chicago, the kitchen table only has one seating per night and tickets are at premium pricing.
Gilt Bar is the first of three projects of Brendan Sodikoff. Given the equal success of his three projects (the other two are Maude's Liquor Bar and Doughnut Vault), it is not surprising that he was a nominee for the Restaurateur of the Year 2011 by Time Out. News confirmed that a fourth project by the ambitious Brendan Sodikoff is set to open this year, The Ox Diner.
Located in the River North area, there is naturally a lot of competition considering the myriad of dining options in the area but Gilt Bar has nothing to worry about. It has an alluring charm that is rustic and yet relevant to today's dining scene. Tables and chairs are made up of unvarnished solid wood. The lighting is very dim with majority of the light source coming from the table candles. A beautiful chandelier in the middle of the dining room ceiling poses more as a decorative item than as a light source. The noise level is loud. People are there to have a good time. Gilt Bar is serious about its food. The menu offers truly good and well thought-out dishes that do not come with pretensions. They're just, well, simply good in pairing various ingredients and making the marriage of combined flavors work. Dishes are meant to be shared around the table. They also have a beautiful cocktail list and if none of the cocktails, wines, beers, or whiskeys float your boat, you can't go wrong with the $4 per glass of red and white table wine.
One of our top favorites at Gilt Bar which is a must-have for us each time we're there is the roasted bone marrow. A petite spoon is used to scoop out the delicate marrow which is sprinkled with coarse salt. The marrow is eaten with house made red onion jam, flat leaf parsley, and the generous amount of toast bread.
Another consistently good item is the tenderloin steak tartare with poached egg yolk. A bottle of Sriracha hot sauce is brought to the table as an accompaniment to the steak tartare. It sounds like an odd combination but hey, it works. I'm a big fan. Steak tartare is easily on my list of top favorite foods in the world; Sriracha is a must-have accompaniment when I have Thai food. So when I get to have steak tartare and Sriracha, it's like a perfect marriage made in food heaven.
The fava bean salad is tossed with feta cheese, chopped toasted almonds, and mint. The flavor of the salad is light but the beans definitely will fill you up quite a bit. I really liked that the toasted almonds adds a nice crunch to the salad. The mint also brings it up a notch from being a regular bean salad to a dish with refreshing hints.
The coal fired ribeye is limited in availability every night but if you're there early, you will be in luck. It is priced by the ounce and depending on the day, the kitchen prepares one or two different pre-cut sizes to choose from. In line with the concept of shared plates, the cut of steak is meant to be shared. Our medium rare steak, seasoned with steak salt and served with bearnaise sauce, was done to perfection. The piece of meat was tender at every bite. As expected in a ribeye, there were streaks of fat at the edge of the piece of meat. We did not eat the fat but it certainly enhanced the flavor of the entire steak from the cooking process.
The smashed red potatoes with chicken jus and roasted garlic is so smooth in texture that it feels like puree. How much flavor can the smashed potatoes have? The trick is probably the chicken jus. As we inched our way deeper into the potatoes, there was some remaining chicken jus at the bottom of the dish that was intentionally not combined with the rest of the potatoes in order to keep the potatoes moist. I also fell in love with the vintage enamel saucepan that was used to serve the potatoes.
The grilled asparagus with chili and drizzle of Meyer lemon is more of a light dish that is certainly welcoming after some of the more heavy dishes.
The bouchot mussels are prepared from a combination of white wine, herbs, and smoked paprika. Reflecting its freshness, the mussels were one of the softest and most tender we've had.
The desserts at Gilt Bar have never disappointed us during the the times we've been there. The offering of classic and old-fashioned ice cream flavors at Gilt Bar have been sorely lacking in contemporary restaurants these days with pastry chefs clamoring to let their dessert skills shine through. Sometimes you might just want to settle for a good old fashioned ice-cream for dessert and Gilt Bar has the answer ranging from cookie dough to mint chocolate chip. My personal favorite is the cookie dough ice-cream. Bonus points for serving the ice-cream in a frozen and frosted goblet.
On the dessert menu are also baked desserts and pies. We asked our server for recommendations and in her words, the sticky date cake with coffee ice-cream is the unsung hero among the dessert items. We could not agree more. The sound of a sticky date cake might conjure up images of a heavy and dense fruit cake but the sticky date cake was nowhere near dense. It was not airy but it was light and even a little spongy.
Other items on the menu that we are in love with are foie gras and pork liver mousse and hand rolled pasta that comes with a variety of preparations.
230 West Kinzie Street
Chicago, IL 60654
2011 Best Restaurateur Nominee, Brendan Sodikoff
2011 Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand