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The kitchen at Fred’s
Barneys New York doesn’t carry Manolo Blahniks in my size, but I still enjoy gawking my way through the shoe salon before I take the elevator to the sixth floor of this Gold Coast swankerie for a meal at FRED’S. I’m easy. I’ll happily sit on the little balcony, with its views of Rush Street, Oak Street, and the lake, or in the smart white-linen dining room sporting a stone fireplace and blue sheers over expansive windows. Gorgeous, but can a designer-label department store run a credible kitchen, too?
Fred’s at Barneys New York is bustling at lunch, and the waitstaff act as though they are being paid by the mile. One server cruised around and around earnestly offering Parmesan on the pizza, the salad, anything—even once when there was no food on the table. Our main waiter paused long enough to explain that the Flintstones connection is nil: The place is named after Fred, a grandson of the original Barney.
The managing director behind the scenes is Mark Strausman. He helped open Coco Pazzo here in 1992 and has been with Fred’s since its Manhattan inception 13 years ago. Strausman’s lunch menu leans Italian with pizzas and pastas that overlap the dinner menu, along with upscale entrée salads and sandwiches.
The steak salad is more steak than salad: thick slices of medium-rare Angus beef next to a tasty toss of arugula, red onion, and Parmesan. I also liked the fine turkey club sandwich—or much the same thing sans bread in the well-dressed club salad of greens, shredded roasted turkey, double-smoked bacon, and crumbled blue cheese. But my favorite lunch was the crispy ciabatta with rich canned Italian tuna, smoked mozzarella, and fries, followed by mascarpone cheesecake with caramel sauce.
At dinner, the Neapolitan-style pizzas made with King Arthur flour are wonderful, particularly the chewy-crusted number sporting bianco mozzarella and Parmesan drizzled with 12-year-old balsamic vinegar. My friend goes nuts for the balsamic, so after the pizza, we order Parmesan-crusted asparagus drizzled with . . . balsamic. She was happy. I was more than happy with the sautéed chicken livers and shallots in port wine sauce on crostini.
As at lunch, you can get honest spaghetti and meatballs and more interesting cavatelli with broccoli rabe and ground hot and sweet sausage. Osso buco with creamy white polenta is also a winner, but—a first in this town—an Italian dish that needed salt. A lucky organic chicken gets brined, pan flattened, and roasted, then served with pattypan squash and fingerling potatoes. A briar-toned 2007 Easton Amador County zinfandel ($35) uplifted all our entrées, and a warm white chocolate bread pudding with raspberry sauce was light enough not to damage my waistline. Forget the shoes: Fred’s at Barneys is much better than I expected.
FRED’S AT BARNEYS NEW YORK 15 E. Oak St.; 312-596-1111 Model Meal Pizza, osso buco, white chocolate bread pudding Tip Tote in a Barneys shopping bag to signal your status. Hours Lunch and dinner daily; weekend brunch Tab (without wine, tax, or tip) Lunch $40 to $50; dinner $50 to $60
TERZO PIANO Art Institute of Chicago, 159 E. Monroe St.; 312-443-8650 Model Meal Smoked whitefish, What Came First salad, artisanal cheeses (for lunch) Tip Reservations are a must; even then, expect a wait. Hours Lunch daily; dinner Thursday Tab (without wine, tax, or tip) Lunch $30 to $40; dinner $45
Photography: Nathan Kirkman