Have you dined with us before?” asks the server. I have, but my guests haven’t, and truthfully I’m happy to hear the spiel again. When staffers introduce you to Smoque Steak, the new Avondale steakhouse from Smoque BBQ owners Barry Sorkin and Mike McDermott, they do more than explain the plates meant for sharing. They make sure you understand the unusual process by which the steaks here are cooked — a method that brings together modern technologies for both smoking barbecue and cooking thick cuts of meat.

Each cut of beef, from prime rib eye to shoulder-cut chuck, goes through a three-step process. First, it’s smoked until the flesh is imbued with the essence of smoldering oak. Then it’s vacuum-sealed and cooked in a sous vide water bath until the internal temperature reaches the desired level. Finally, it’s seared over a grill or in a smoking hot cast-iron skillet until crusty. Because of this process, the kitchen offers only three temperatures: “perfect pink,” “pale pink,” or “juicy well done.” Whatever your choice, the steaks come to the table as smoky as your favorite Texas brisket, and they cut, proverbially, like butter.

Fun? Absolutely, as is most every aspect of this boisterous, warehouse-like restaurant that fills to capacity with a diverse clientele every night. It’s the first new place I’ve been to in years that has all the old-school hospitality virtues down pat. The room bristles with energy, yet the tables are well spaced for conversation and the chairs comfortable. The service is prompt, attentive, and friendly, and the eagle-eyed managers are always on the roam. The menu from culinary director Dylan Lipe speaks of good value and shareable portions, and lacks only (and thankfully) coded foodie BS. You’ll have to go elsewhere for your hamachi crudo and caviar supplement.

It’s an easy restaurant to crush on, though for me, not yet one to love. I’ve enjoyed some of the food, but I wish the kitchen were more consistent, and I really wish I could get behind the steak preparation as something more than a novelty. Don’t expect a great steakhouse experience, but do go on a double date, indulge in french fries and martinis, and let the bright points of the evening come as a welcome surprise.

The first of which is a rarity in Chicago: off-street parking. You walk from the private lot through a well-provisioned market offering everything from vacuum-sealed steaks to skillets. Once seated, take a gander at the cocktail list, which specializes in martinis and other classics and includes a few deftly balanced drinks on tap. When I ask to exchange a pineapple mezcal number (too sweet for me), a food runner brings my new drink — a dirty vodka martini garnished with an olive and a cube of Grana Padano cheese — mere seconds after our server inputs it on the magic handheld device. Fresh from the tap, this icy cocktail perks my appetite right up.

And, yay, the food arrives prior to any audible stomach rumbling. Classic sharesies include a by-the-book beef tartare, sharp with mustard and pickle, served with housemade potato chips. We like the roast marrow bones with crostini but love the shrimp cocktail — five two-bite curls spread over ice and sided by a sinus-clearing cocktail sauce. Catch this: The dish is only $15. If this restaurant had a counter instead of a service bar, I’d be a regular for shrimp-and-martini hour.

Yet when the focus turns to the mains, my interest flags. I’ll start by saying the green salad is undone by stale fried shallots, that the roasted carrots are greasy and woody, and that the creamed shishito spinach tastes of little more than butterfat. But let’s get to the meat of the matter.

Cauliflower steak
Cauliflower steak

At all temperatures, sous vide steaks have the texture of a filet cooked to a dull pink, or even Arby’s roast beef. They’re soft and even, not exactly mealy but somehow fiberless. All the cuts, from the $58 rib eye to the $19 bistro steak, have this texture. I find these steaks fun for a bite or two. And with its vibrant chimichurri, the skirt steak frites, a bargain at $30, is the place to start if you want to see if this kind of steakhousery is your jam. But to me, the approach feels unnatural. Searing steaks and resting them the traditional way might make for more uneven cooking, but it gives the finished product textural interest and a kind of heat energy you can taste. When I order a rib eye, I like the way the curled cap usually separates out and sizzles a bit in the streak of fat between it and the meat. I like its ferric red color and its stringier chew. Here, every steak has a nonintrinsic smokiness that hovers over it like truffle oil.

I have the same reaction to the salmon, tender but juiceless, tasty in lemon-scallion butter but with a smoke smell that leaps out like Axe body spray. My favorite entrée, no joke, is the center-cut cauliflower steak with chipotle butter. This two-inch-thick slab was chewier at the core and seared to a crisp at the edges. The smoke lifts its natural flavor.

One night a group of us passed around plates, growing bored with the food, until someone got the bright idea for more fries. They’re great: so hot, so crisp. We dumped the rest of our blue cheese butter over them and let it melt. Then we got dessert, and the mood lifted further. A huge slab of espresso-soaked drunken chocolate cake drowned in chocolate-stout sauce was a perfect finish: four forks could attack it simultaneously and never clink. Finger snaps to the butterscotch pot de crème, as well, a stealth charmer with a nostalgic flavor.

Looking around the room, I could see that everyone was having a good time: the three dudes with their hearty Cabs and fat steaks, the six older ladies gabbing and eating slowly, the young queer couple on what looked like a first date. The food is fine, but as Smoque Steak shows, there’s more to being a good restaurant.