1. David Burke’s Primehouse

Photo: Anna Knott

The ground floor of the James smells so strongly of steak—glorious prime dry-aged steak—that you half expect to see the bellboy schlepping porterhouses and T-bones instead of Samsonites. What you sniff more than beef is the aroma of confidence. David Burke’s (which abuts the hotel’s lobby lounge) doesn’t emanate the studied indifference that competitors like Gene & Georgetti perfected years ago. Rather, it exudes the knowledge that the steaks coming out of the kitchen are the finest in Chicago.

In 2013, rib eye is king, and chef Rick Gresh has a menu that features not one but four options. He ages them anywhere from 28 to 75 days in the now-legendary cellar room tiled with Himalayan rock salt. (There’s also a special rib eye aged for 130 days, but according to one waiter, it’s so gamy it barely tastes like beef anymore.) The transcendent 40-day bone-in rib eye ($51) hits the sweet spot like no other steak in town: rich, beautifully marbled, almost nutty. The Kansas City strip, aged 35 days, isn’t far behind, producing a flavor explosion near the bone that can’t be explained by science.

The rest of the experience here is delightfully unexpected. Unconventional sides, such as the indulgent yet light lobster scrambled eggs with caviar and crème fraîche, share space with standards (a wonderful tableside Caesar salad) and irresistible conceits (a warm baked-to-order red velvet cake preceded by batter-dripping beaters).

This colorful reinvention of the steak house—courtesy of Burke’s New York– based restaurant group—seemed like a novelty when it opened in 2006. Now it feels like a template for the future.

Perfect for: Anyone reading this

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8 months ago
Posted by A Real "Foodie"

While in line at the grocery store, I grabbed and subsequently bought the Chicago magazine that featured the “Chicago’s 20 Best Steakhouses” on the cover. The steak looked delicious. I immediately read the article and found that I have eaten and really enjoyed many of the other top choices suggested by Carly Boers, Penny Pollack, and Jeff Ruby-authors of the Chicago magazine article. Having a stay vacation coming up, I called and made a reservation at David Burke’s which was the BEST in the city. I checked out the website and even made a reservation for an overnight stay at The James Hotel. At The James Hotel’s website there was a special offer called “Chicago Foodies @ David Burke’s Prime House.” It included a three-course tasting menu of the chef’s choosing. It had wine parings and a private tour of the Himalayan salt-tiled dry aging room. Excitedly, I made the hotel reservation and had them upgrade our dinner reservation to the “Foodies.” When I received a call to confirm the reservation, I was told there was required dress attire. My guest and I made sure that we looked the part. When checking in at the hostess stand, the atmosphere was quiet, almost dull. Typically, when walking within the entrance of a restaurant, your mouth starts salivating because of the delicious aromas coming from within. There is usually the comment of, “Oooh, I can’t wait to eat-it smells so good!” Strangely there was no smell at all. There was nothing in that first impression to make us feel that we were about to experience “Chicago’s Best.” After we were seated, I noticed men in ratty sweatshirts and jeans and women wearing gym shoes at the tables near us. This was baffling, as the restaurant clearly informed us that there was a dress code. Overlooking these three negative first impressions, we received delicious pop overs for our bread. Our “bite” appetizer was a cherry tomato, mozzarella ball, a piece of basil with a drizzle of balsamic on a tooth pick. The first two selections set the stage for something really good, but nothing that we hadn’t already experienced at other restaurants. Next, an arugula salad that was oversimplified to the greens, pine nuts, and a goat cheese spread under the salad. We were not impressed. A lamb pot roast followed. It reminded me of a meal from a local Greek restaurant-not spectacular. Our expectations for the steak are growing since the rest of the meal had been just mediocre. The steaks arrive! But wait, we only received one steak. This explained our confusion when the waiter asked how we wanted the steak cooked and were corrected when we both said something different. It was the 55 day ribeye. They cut the steak in front of us. I took one of the strips. I almost choked on the dryness. I decided that I should try another slice from the center of the steak-still inedible dry. Maybe the salt room aging is supposed to make the steak dry and leather tasting. Maybe I’m an amateur/naïve about fine dining. Dry aging is supposed to intensify the meat flavor, according to the research that I did. We finished our meal with a s’more version of a dessert in pie form-average. The wine pairings were just ok. I usually ask for suggestions from the waiter or sommelier. I usually am jotting down what was recommended to purchase later. Not the case at David Burke’s. Also, we were not offered the private tour nor did we ask to go on it after eating such a disastrous meal. I’m not sure what I am most disappointed in: the Chicago Magazine’s referral, the actual restaurant-David Burke’s, the “Foodies” package deal, or the misrepresentation of the experience from the website and from the hostess on the phone. I am disgusted that I spent the money that I did on a dinner whose steak reminded me of a $10 local grocery store cut, which was prepared by forgetting it on a grill. David Burke’s is, in this Chicagoan’s opinion, the WORST steakhouse in Chicago.

7 months ago
Posted by dinerout

I also went to David Burke's on the advice of the Chicago Magazine. Given the number one spot over the steakhouses I love warranted a visit. I was also put off by the cheesy decor and clientele. It seemed that there were no women in the joint, only large groups of stockbrokers intent on impressing one another with who could wolf down the largest steak. I take that back, there was an older man in the booth to our right with a 20 some Oriental. The waiters were indifferent. When I ordered the ribeye, I was told that the more aged cut was "highly recommended" but I didn't want a year old steak at twice the price of a regular ribeye. I wanted a regular ribeye. My fiancé ordered two side dishes, the carrots and the asparagus and a glass of wine. I decided on a glass of beer. 10 minutes later our drinks were served. 10 minutes after that I asked the water boy to ask our waiter for bread. When the meal was served, it was a disappointment. The vegetables were lukewarm at best and both had been swiped with a salty, smoky sauce and hideously burned on a grill. The smoky, salty character was not appreciated.
The steak was decent. It was the size of a petit filet only heavily marbled.
In short, this is not the best steakhouse in Chicago. When the menu boasts that the owner is the only chef in Chicago with his own bull, I believe it. Chicago Magazine should not have been cowed by it.

7 months ago
Posted by dinerout

I also went to David Burke's on the advice of the Chicago Magazine. Given the number one spot over the steakhouses I love warranted a visit. I was also put off by the cheesy decor and clientele. It seemed that there were no women in the joint, only large groups of stockbrokers intent on impressing one another with who could wolf down the largest steak. I take that back, there was an older man in the booth to our right with a 20 some Oriental. The waiters were indifferent. When I ordered the ribeye, I was told that the more aged cut was "highly recommended" but I didn't want a year old steak at twice the price of a regular ribeye. I wanted a regular ribeye. My fiancé ordered two side dishes, the carrots and the asparagus and a glass of wine. I decided on a glass of beer. 10 minutes later our drinks were served. 10 minutes after that I asked the water boy to ask our waiter for bread. When the meal was served, it was a disappointment. The vegetables were lukewarm at best and both had been swiped with a salty, smoky sauce and hideously burned on a grill. The smoky, salty character was not appreciated.
The steak was decent. It was the size of a petit filet only heavily marbled.
In short, this is not the best steakhouse in Chicago. When the menu boasts that the owner is the only chef in Chicago with his own bull, I believe it. Chicago Magazine should not have been cowed by it.

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