If I were to send a single new restaurant out to pasture, or maybe throw it back in the ocean, it would be C Chicago. The 8,000-square-foot River North seafood lair from the folks behind Chicago Cut Steakhouse gets so much wrong that a traditional review of it would only sound horribly bitchy. So let’s try something different. Here’s why C Chicago, after five months in business, exemplifies everything that is wrong with restaurants, and humanity, as seen through the seven deadly sins.
Sloth: On one busy Friday night, my group is told the table is not ready. After 40 minutes of waiting underneath a giant metal shark sculpture in the bar with an iPad cocktail list—the most depressing phrase in the English language right there—we’re finally seated in a cavernous, empty overflow area that looks like the soul-sucking rooms where Days Inn serves its free continental breakfasts. It turns out former governor George Ryan arrived around the same time we did and got our table. At C Chicago, apparently an ex-con trumps the rest of us.
Greed: Here is a restaurant so cynical about the expense-account crowd that it never tells diners prices for the whole fish and then sends out a $74.25 black bass that has been methodically eviscerated into a mealy, miserable carcass. At which point our supremely awful waiter has the temerity to announce, “The sides are really per person.” So if you want to share that $10 plate of English peas, you may as well get two. Or better: zero. When I order the pommes aligot (mashed potatoes with butter, cream, garlic, and melted Roth Grand Cru), our waiter asks if everyone at my table is going to be eating it. No. “OK,” he says. “Then we’ll just stick with one.” Or here’s an idea: You could just bring us one because that’s what we asked for.
Lust: C Chicago’s desperate desire for respect leads to some questionable tactics. Our server declares the house-butchered A5 Miyazaki in the surf and turf “the best beef on the planet,” then shows his reverence by pouring an ocean of citrus demi-glace onto it as if the cow that produced it had insulted his mother. And someone thought it was a great idea to slice the flavorless butter-poached lobster into mushy quarter-size hunks.
Pride: Our waiter is really jazzed about C Chicago’s fish, which are amazing because the chef is from New York! And he has relationships with real fishermen! Mr. Supremely Awful is so psyched about the fish that he makes us all get up and go stare at a big pile of ice showcasing red snappers, turbot, branzino, and the rest of the gang. “Come on, it’ll be fun!” he says. And it is, if your idea of fun is getting shoulder-checked by exasperated food runners trying to pass through while you listen to every detail about items that aren’t all that complicated as your cocktail turns lukewarm at the table.
Wrath: Any self-serious restaurant that puts diners in a balcony with a ginormous curved flat-screen TV right at eye level and then makes certain every item arrives tepid, even the ones that aren’t terrible, must hate us all. Or at least me.
Envy: The runner, who I could only assume was jealous of the employees across the street at Harry Caray’s, came in like a bat out of hell with the boneless herb-roasted Amish chicken breast, sending the chicken sliding dangerously around the plate. After hate-plopping the dish on the table, he took out his frustrations on the carrots and celery, which he couldn’t extricate from the little saucepan of jus and so decided the best course of action was to dump the whole thing on the chicken, making the plate look like a damn slaughterhouse floor. This was my favorite dish at C Chicago.
Gluttony: Bigtime, at Taco Bell on the way home.
Similarly pricey, Prime & Provisions may as well have a dollar sign in its name instead of an ampersand. The 12,000-square-foot swagger palace from the hit makers behind Siena Tavern and Public House includes an illuminated two-story wine tower, river views, and a dry-aging facility, a rarity in Chicago despite the town’s ridiculous multitude of steak houses. But for all the pomp and gilt, a passionate hospitality flows through the four-month-old operation. It never once feels like a rip-off.
The staff, as polished as the room’s wrought iron and leather, uses all the right catchwords. “Seasonal.” “All-natural. “Local.” “Niche sources.” And chef Joseph Rizza’s menu, stylized to look like a bill of fare from an olde-tyme saloon, hits familiar notes. But it hits them hard and true. Terrific fresh oysters span both coasts: briny Kusshi from British Columbia, minerally Naked Cowboy from Long Island Sound. Judging by dishes such as the thick-cut bacon with Michigan maple syrup and a bittersweet chocolate smear or a brûléed sweet potato side with Vietnamese cinnamon and housemade cajeta butter, the kitchen obviously knows how to please a crowd. Not sure about the wisdom of serving fried chicken as an appetizer, but I can’t help admiring the spirit—not to mention the juicy meat, abnormally thick and crunchy skin, and drizzle of maple syrup made with chili and bourbon. A pinch of salt would’ve made this downright heroic.
Rizza’s kitchen dry-ages the outstanding bone-in porterhouse for two on a salt rock and serves the 500-degree plate at an angle so the sizzling Wisconsin grassfed butter and juice pool at the bottom, the idea being that you’ll want to dip your steak. You will. It’s impeccably smooth beef with a great char and perfect ratio of fat, and it comes with a roasted garlic bulb and a bowl of seasoned salt, so every bite can be a little experiment. The boneless New York strip, the bone-in rib eye, a maple-glazed Duroc boar chop—they are all moist, tender, and uncomplicated. And pure pleasure. On one visit, the menu boasted that the Dover sole meunière had been “expertly fileted,” and it had indeed. (The menu neglected to mention the giant puddle of thick “sweetcream brown butter,” which turned the whole affair slick and unappealing.)
The staff pace the meal wonderfully and find time to crack a few jokes. “Just ignore the obnoxiously large pepper grinder,” a server says while seasoning rich and chunky white chowder with a mill the size of a Louisville Slugger. He may push the tableside s’more, a thin chocolate orb atop scorched marshmallow fluff. The runner melts it with hot chocolate sauce to reveal a chocolate cake with marshmallow on a graham cracker crust. It’s more fun than satisfying; I’m a sucker instead for the chocolate and peanut butter pie topped with cocoa nibs.
Adam Sweders, the knowledgeable wine expert, must roll his eyes every time someone orders an old fashioned or a Hemingway daiquiri from among the retro cocktails instead of exploring the wine list. Plenty of affordable boutique treasures there, such as a 2013 Soléna Pinot Gris from Willamette Valley.
DineAmic Group has pulled off a sound addition to the steak scene in Chicago—no mean feat in a field crowded with more cows than a downstate pasture.