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Reviews: GT Fish & Oyster, Perennial Virant

THE GOLDEN BOYS: It’s not even fair how many good restaurants Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz own. Here, two more

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GT FIsh & Oyster
GT Fish & Oyster
Giuseppe Tentori smells like fish. In fact, everyone at 531 North Wells Street exudes a maritime tang, which is not meant as an insult but rather a reason for pride. If you’re from the Northeast, you know that briny essence is a sign of something good and true. I came home from my meals at GT Fish & Oyster smelling as if I’d been doing backstrokes in Nantucket Sound, and in a way, I had. With its bustling bar and backslapping dining room, GT captures that salty seaside vibe better than anywhere else in Chicago.

The delicious irony is that it took not an East Coaster but an Italian to do it. Look around the restaurant and you’ll find Giuseppe Tentori’s initials everywhere, from the plates to the jars of homemade hot sauce. Tentori does fine work at Boka, Boehm and Katz’s three-star spot in Lincoln Park, but every nook and cranny of GT (the former Tizi Melloul space) was rebuilt to make him a star. The décor, best described as nautical modern, mixes sailboat paintings, buoy lights, and a massive stuffed tarpon with smart touches like a boomerang-shaped table and an oyster-shucking station. It feels like a cocktail party on a tastefully decorated yacht.

THE SKINNY

GT FISH & OYSTER
531 N. Wells St.; 312-929-3501
FYI Two tiny bathrooms for the whole restaurant? That’s brutal.
TAB $40–$55
HOURS Lunch Mon.–Fri., dinner nightly

Tab does not include alcohol, tax, or tip.

“Do you want me to get some oysters started?” the server asks once you’ve settled in. The staff is smart to push the kusshi from British Columbia and the Fire River from New Brunswick, smaller Canadian varieties packed with clean flavors. From there, the meal goes in familiar but mostly pleasing directions. A clam chowder is chunky with Nueske’s bacon and house-made rosemary oyster crackers, and the spicy tomato sauce with top-notch Prince Edward Island mussels gets the perfect soaker-upper: a long, buttery grilled ciabatta.

You’d expect the lobster roll and mahi tacos to be slam dunks, too, but both disappoint. In fact, GT’s finest dishes are the ones you might normally overlook. The impeccable snapper carpaccio is a beautifully composed tableau sprinkled with pickled ginger, shiso, and hearts of palm, grounded by four deep-fried lotus root wheels. I’ve never been crazy about halibut, all too often the Limbaugh of fish—dense and unyielding—but here it’s a stunner, simply roasted with apples and served between a crisp fried-potato nest and yuzu whipped potatoes. And the showstopping ten-ounce strip loin feels imported from Boka: eight thick, tender slices of Allen Brothers steak with a heap of tongue-popping “puffed mustard,” three colonies of silky mashed Yukon Gold potatoes, and super-rich dollops of black garlic purée.

If there is any rivalry between the Boka Restaurant Group’s newcomers, the folks at GT can feel smug that Kady Yon’s laser-focused desserts, such as the magnificent huckleberry-topped panna cotta cheesecake with a graham cracker crust, are way better than the ones she does for Perennial Virant. The comparisons end there. Other than the gaggle of well-trained servers bursting with personality, you wouldn’t know these two were part of the same family, and that’s the whole point. Boehm and Katz built two very different places to suit two very different chefs. “It’s important,” says Boehm, “not to cannibalize your other restaurants.”
 

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