Photograph: Travis Roozée
At Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House, hostesses clad in miniskirts shorter than a tween’s attention span welcome diners to the celebrated Texas-based steak chain’s multimillion-dollar roll of the dice in Oak Street’s revamped Esquire Theater. Their bosses have flooded three stories with Gold Coast excess: an atrium skylight, a fearsome shimmering chandelier, an 85-inch flat screen in the bar. A 47-foot suspended wine tower is so enormous it has multiple entrances, a spiral staircase, and its own system of governmental law.
An infectious enthusiasm charges the air inside. Stick to meat and you might find yourself equally pleased. The 24-ounce porterhouse is a true world-beater: prime Stock Yards beef that’s been wet-aged for 28 days, seasoned with no more than salt and pepper, and left to self-baste in a 1,300-degree broiler. Sounds comparable to dozens of steaks around town, but this specimen produces a remarkable charred crust that encloses an irresistible tangy flavor.
Steak houses, though, involve so many more factors, and most of them make no sense. Del Frisco’s has a wine list with 1,500 selections few can afford without the aid of an expense account, heaping colonies of greasy onion rings, and ill-advised curve balls like king crab gnocchi and cheese steak egg rolls, both of which I’m fairly certain come just before the hagfish entrails course in Beelzebub’s prix fixe. An overreliance on pepper and chili oil sears too many dishes—though the cocktail-numbed tongues around the bustling room didn’t seem bothered.
In fairness, Del Frisco’s nails a few nonsteak details. Briny Tatamagouche oysters on the half shell hit the right notes, and fresh Alaskan king crab legs, laid to rest in their open shells, showcase that telltale sweet-salty marriage the way it’s meant to be. Thick and toothy wild mushroom and barley soup is a quiet masterpiece; a moist tomahawk veal chop flaunts the same wonderful caramelization as the steaks. Drinks are stiff if blunt, and the eager staff is charmingly self-deprecating—a blast of pure oxygen in the usual stagnant air hanging over meat palaces. Just don’t believe your server when he pushes Del’s Delight, a tyrannical slushfest of soupy vanilla ice cream, crème de cacao, and hazelnut-and-walnut-tinged Nocello in a humiliated-looking martini glass.
“We’re like steak house No. 50 in this town,” said our waiter at one point. He’s responding, unprompted, to the customary question when an outsider like Del Frisco’s comes to town: Does Chicago need more steak houses? That’s the wrong question. What we should be asking is, When will we start holding them to the same standards as every other restaurant? Call me crazy, but, except for the setting, I can’t tell Del Frisco’s apart from No. 49, nor probably from whatever No. 51 turns out to be. But happy people jam these mercurial places night after night, so even if Chicagoans don’t need another steak house, they obviously want it.
Still hungry? Check out our list of Chicago's 20 Best Steak Houses.