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Brasserie Ruhlmann Steakhouse, located in the former Montgomery Ward headquarters, with its soaring ceiling and beautiful hand-laid tile floor, is dramatically appointed in the style of Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann—a famed art deco designer of the 1920s—with details such as crushed red velvet banquettes and alabaster chandeliers.
Its owners include Miae Lim and Rick Wahlstedt (the folks behind Japonais), as well as Jean Denoyer, a collector of Ruhlmann’s work. The place is as breathtakingly expensive as it is lovely, but offers very good food by star chef Christian Delouvrier, whose résumé includes New York temples of gastronomy such as Alain Ducasse and Lespinasse, where he won four stars from The New York Times.
In typical brasserie style, there’s a shellfish bar and seafood platters in various sizes. Our $55 assortment held oysters, huge shrimp, mussels, cherrystone and Manila clams, and Taylor Bay scallops. Our cherrystones had some distracting grit but the steamed mussels won the approval of a Belgian companion, who should know. The puffy cheese soufflé is eminently shareable, as are other yummy starters like a well-seasoned steak tartare topped with a quail egg to mix in, and a welcome side of crisp frites. The tartare also comes as an entrée, which makes sense if you want an awesome mound of raw meat for yourself. My favorite appetizer, however, is duck confit rillettes packed in a traditional glass jar and served with crisp toast, grainy mustard, and pickled onions. So good—and so rich. A medium-bodied 2004 Château Grand Village Bordeaux Supérieur ($48) nicely cut the rillettes’ intensity.
Brasserie Ruhlmann bills itself as a steak house, and the broiled Black Angus New York strip is certainly respectable, served with three sauces, béarnaise, Choron (tomato béarnaise), and cilantro garlic. But for a truly memorable French steak, choose the retro chateaubriand: It’s a beautifully grilled tenderloin for two, served in thick slices over Yukon Gold potatoes cooked in duck fat with a fragrant sprinkling of garlic and chives along with the same three sauces. I wasn’t so taken with the bouillabaisse made with six kinds of slightly overcooked seafood with saffron aïoli rouille and Parmesan crostini. It was difficult to spoon up from the deep cast-iron cauldron, and the broth tasted oily. Delouvrier redeemed himself, however, with lamb navarin, a wonderful stew served in a cast-iron kettle with root vegetables and topped with a grilled lamb chop. Sautéed skate with haricots verts, diced bacon, capers, croutons, and lemon butter sauce excels, too.
The raspberry napoleon with thin layers of pastry, raspberries, and pastry cream melts in your mouth. So does the chocolate marjolaine, a cross between icing and chocolate whipped cream, topped with praline ice cream and garnished with lines of thick chocolate sauce capped with gold leaf—a perfect accent for these sumptuous digs.
OLD TOWN BRASSERIE 1209 N. Wells St.; 312-943-3000 A model meal Artichoke and hearts of palm terrine, nage de homard, soufflé Tip Bar turns cabaret on weekends. Hours Dinner nightly Tab (Dinner per person, without wine, tax, or tip) $45 to $50
BRASSERIE RUHLMANN STEAKHOUSE 500 W. Superior St.; 312-494-1900 A model meal Duck rillettes, chateaubriand, raspberry napoleon Tip Make an excellent meal out of big appetizers and dessert for less. Hours Brunch Saturday, Sunday; lunch Monday-Friday; dinner nightly Tab (Dinner per person, without wine, tax, or tip) $50 to $55
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