Dining Out at Brindille and The Lobby: Haute Anxiety

At two of Chicago’s newest fine dining options, sometimes the high cost of luxury is worth it. And sometimes it’s not.

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Brindille, Carrie Nahabedian’s celebrated new follow-up to Naha, tries for a similar aura of largess but misses the mark. The clean, striking room, with its tree branch theme (brindille is French for “twig”) and aubergine details, may be even sexier than its sister restaurant a block to the south. Would that it shared Naha’s finely tuned expertise.

Instead, meals drag at an atrociously slow pace, thanks to servers who never seem to notice what their diners need. My smarmy waiter was particularly tone-deaf; he spent far more time gushing about the greatness of the dishes than actually making sure I got them or telling anyone what was in them. “Beautiful people! Do you need anything?” he cooed repeatedly at my party, oblivious to the fact that we had been waiting 40 minutes for appetizers or, later, sitting with dirty plates.

THE SKINNY

BRINDILLE 534 N. Clark St., 312-595-1616
FYI After the frog’s legs, waiters deliver rolled-up towels and pour hot water on them until they rise on the plate.
TAB $65 to $75
HOURS Dinner nightly from 5 p.m.

Tab does not include alcohol, tax, or tip.

Too bad, because Nahabedian’s smart Parisian-inspired American fare features lots of surprises, like a deconstructed—and handsomely composed—steak tartare with “flavors of rye,” sorrel, tarragon, pickled mustard seeds, and a quail egg. An omble chevalier, a perfectly cooked buttery-sweet wild arctic char, gets a zap of horseradish, a kiss from Granny Smith apples, and a hidden beefy punch from the shredded oxtail underneath it. The decadent caviar-topped oysters sprinkled with leeks and eggs brouillés are gorgeous, scrumptious, and a total gouge. Four oysters for $19 is hard to wrap your head around, caviar or no caviar.

I’m not sure where Nahabedian is going with all the syrupy tones, though. They crop up repeatedly, as in a Dover sole meunière with asparagus viennoise, grapefruit, and a cloying lemon balm that tastes like lemon meringue pie filling; the ample deshelled Lobster Brindille fares better, with its yin and yang of black trumpet mushrooms and cocoa beans in a balanced coral butter–vanilla sauce. And for every standout such as the tranche of duck breast with foie gras, wheat berries, and a candied orange peel, there’s an overpriced disappointment like a fatty $46 rib of beef with potato tarte Tatin, Tomme de Savoie (cow’s milk cheese), and bone marrow.

Two things you shouldn’t miss: the traditional absinthe ritual with the sugar cube upon which you squirt water from an eyedropper, and a truly wondrous cheese plate that features 12 top-notch French selections served with a multigrain raisin ficelle and an incredible jam made with huckleberries and Meyer lemons.

With time, Brindille could be a great restaurant, but right now it’s an expensive oddity that’s still finding its way. In a city where so many others have found theirs—and charge a lot less for the luxury—it can’t afford to spend much more time getting its bearings.
 

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