3-STAR DINING REVIEW
Giuseppe Tentori displays his nautical chops at his latest hit
June 16, 2011|Phil Vettel | Food critic
Eventually, the restaurant team of Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz will open a restaurant that fails to live up to expectations. Mostly because expectations for this everything-touched-turns-golden duo keep rising.
How can they not? From Boka to Girl & the Goat to Perennial ( re-christened Perennial Virant, and I suppose — sigh — that will be terrific as well), these guys have been on a roll. Make that a lobster roll, now that GT Fish & Oyster (which takes its name from chef Giuseppe Tentori) is playing to capacity crowds.
The room is gorgeous inside, evocative, Tentori likes to say, of a yacht belonging to a James Bond villain. Polished ivory wood slats adorn the walls and ceiling; the teakwood floor in the dining room resembles boat planks. There are free-standing tables, a banquette backed by a chalkboard wall and two massive dining-room tables used for communal seating; over in the bar/lounge area, a boomerang table seats another dozen walk-ins, which helps explain why reservations are so hard to get.
The small-plates menu is a nifty balance of the expected — required elements such as clam chowder, crab cakes, smoked salmon — and the wholly unexpected. Snapper carpaccio falls into the latter category, a silky slab of pink fish topped with curls of heart of palm, pickled ginger and fried lotus root; so do the brandade croquettes, tiny, mustard-aioli-dabbed nuggets topping a fennel-orange salad like so many meatballs. A foie gras and shrimp terrine, laced with Sichuan peppercorns and paired with apricot chutney, is as interesting a surf-and-turf combo as I’ve encountered in some time.
The king crab legs presentation is, well, genius. The legs are cut into 2-inch segments, resembling shell-coated crab medallions, and cooked in a bamboo steamer. The steamer’s lower section contains orange, kafir lime, lemon and lemongrass, and when the lid is removed at table the fragrance is wonderful (the citrus notes don’t penetrate the crab meat; it’s strictly an olfactory treat). At $42 (which was market price that day), the crab is far and away the priciest item on the menu (the next highest is the $22 lobster roll; everything else is $16 or less), but arguably worth the splurge.
Another indulgence, though a mere $9, is the lobster mac and cheese, featuring firm lobster nuggets amid orechiette pasta, English peas, a three-cheese cream blend and toasted brioche crumbs with a bit of lemon zest. The portion’s rather small, but there’s no dearth of richness.
Mussels, served in a cast-iron pan set into a hardwood plank, are delicious, as is the roasted-tomato and basil broth supporting them; happily, there are pieces of ciabatta ready to soak up the yummy liquid. Perfect-texture crawfish frolic among cannellini-bean tortellini, pieces of prosciutto and lobster creme fraiche. Fish tacos — sometimes mahi, sometimes rockfish — benefit from a smoky chipotle aioli slathered onto the corn tortillas, while a sprinkling of powdered chicharron is reminiscent of an exotic sea salt.
Now that soft-shell crab season is upon us, I’d be remiss if I neglected to mention GT’s fine version, which bathes the crab in a sweet miso vinaigrette, over a sweet and peppery strawberry-arugula salad.
The good news for frustrated fans (tables are tough to get here) is that GT has added lunch hours, serving a truncated version of the regular menu augmented with such sandwiches as a tuna BLT, and even a burger.
I rarely sound the “save room for dessert” alarm, but pastry chef Kady Von’s creations so perfectly match the GT concept — small, light-tasting, familiar with a slight twist — that it would be a shame to skip them. Key lime pie arrives in a jar, the layers of lime-lemon curd and soft, torched meringue separated by a gingersnap-crumble middle. A cube of panna cotta, fortified with a little cream cheese, rises above a scattering of graham cracker crumbs and fresh peach and cherry garnishes. Strawberry shortcake, made with creme fraiche and basil-macerated strawberries, picks up extra tartness from a quenelle of strawberry sorbet.
The meal ends with lovely parting gifts — bottles of Tentori’s signature green and red hot sauces (“Burn” and “Smoulder,” respectively). “They’re my version of mignardises,” the chef says.
These are less fattening. And they last a good deal longer.
Watch Phil Vettel’s reviews weekends on WGN-Ch. 9′s “News at Nine,” CLTV and atwgntv.com/vettel.
GT Fish & Oyster
531 N. Wells St., 312-929-3501
Tribune rating: ✭✭✭
Open: Dinner Monday-Sunday, lunch Monday-Friday
Prices: Small plates $8-$22
Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V
Reservations: Strongly recommended
Other: Wheelchair accessible; valet parking
The Boka group scores again with GT Fish & Oyster
By Mike Sula
- GT Fish & Oyster
531 N. Wells
One late night last week the fat togarashi-vinegar-and-malt-powder-dusted steak fries that accompanied an order of battered cod fingers at GT Fish & Oyster came to the table in a cone tightly folded from page 22 of the April 14 Reader, which happened to recommend 15 of our favorite seafood spots.
I’m not sure if that’s a comment on the value of the print medium or a confident statement about the competition. But it so happens that the same issue contained my review of Lakeview’s new Fish Bar, and I wish the timing had been right to review both side by side. That’s because it and this latest project from the ever adaptable Boka Restaurant Group are very similar in concept, but oceans apart in creativity and execution.
In contrast to the cramped and schlocky Fish Bar, which is seemingly designed to maximize turnover, GT is a smarter abstraction of the panregional seafood shack that contains subtler references to the nautical cliches associated with the form (well, let’s say someone opens one more—then it’s a form). It’s candlelit and carefully appointed with wood paneling hung with shark’s teeth and framed oil paintings of tall ships in distress, and though it’s perpetually mobbed by a spirited crowd taking its time at having a good time, there’s plenty of room to breathe.
For former Trotter’s chef de cuisine and current Boka exec Giuseppe Tentori—who supplies the G and theT—it’s a significant step away from fine dining, but not an overstep. The complex, even challenging dishes familiar to his fans are balanced by smart updates of domestic and international classics, ranging from clam chowder and crab cakes to squid paella and miso-glazed cod.
He doesn’t mess so much with the most hallowed of these—a modestly sized $22 lobster roll, which abounds with sweet chunks of shellfish in a buttery roll next to buttermilk-battered frazzled onion, nested like a disassembled Awesome Blossom.
But even most of the familiar dishes have tactical improvements that don’t let you forget you’re not dealing with mere journeymen. Deep-fried brandade nuggets yield to an almost fluffy interior of steaming salt cod and potato sitting atop bracing fennel-orange salad. Grilled mahimahi—dressed in chipotle aioli and a sprinkling of chicharrons and swaddled in corn tortillas—successfully straddles the political divide that separates partisans of crispy and soft fish tacos. And a glistening red puck of tuna poke—as luxurious as formed fish butter and freshened with translucent sliced cucumber, drops of mango puree, and pickled mango shavings—barely resembles the old warhorse .
Even unadorned sea creatures are accompanied by careful accents. Terrifically fresh and skillfully shucked raw oysters in three varieties from each coast come with cocktail sauce emulsified with sweet apple; steamed Alaskan crab legs are perfumed with lemongrass, oranges, and lemons.
Some snacky small cold plates show the kitchen’s creative range: for example, a vertical construction of crispy taro chips meant to scoop up dollops of cool, smoky haddock dip sprinkled with radishes and pine nuts, or a deep-sea-green sunfish ceviche brightened with jicama and chimichurri.
It doesn’t get anymore beautiful—or heartbreaking—than a foie gras and lobster terrine that falls apart as soon as it’s disturbed from its bed of bone-dry brioche. And the potential seasonal springiness of fava beans and crawfish tossed with creamy cannellini-bean-stuffed tortellini is lost amid all the salt imparted from aggressive additions of prosiciutto.
But for the most part the more ambitious dishes are every bit as appealing as the simpler ones. The real reward of ordering a whole chorizo-stuffed squid is a saffron-stained bed of rice you couldn’t find in any paella pan in town. And you have to admire the sheer cojones of putting out something as visually challenging as the pitch-black squid-ink gnocchi and fiddlehead ferns, a primordial-looking bowl of pasta and greenery I’d throw down in front of anyone with even the slightest taste for confrontation.
This willingness to create a menu that blends near-provocation with beautiful simplicity extends to the dessert menu by Boka pastry chef Kady Yon, whose key lime pie is a sweet-and-sour Molotov cocktail in a jar containing lime curd layered under crumbled gingersnaps and meringue. It’s an aggressive but terrific version of the classic, on the opposite end of the pastry spectrum from the rounded fattiness of her broken-up carrot cake with candied buttered pecans and cream-cheese gelato.
Repeatedly lassoing talent like Yon in support of its stars is one of the Boka group’s greatest strengths, and this extends to the army of crack servers and barkeeps, such as head mixologist Benjamin Schiller, whose cocktail program ranges from old favorites like the warm-toned, spicy, bourbon-based Old Money to the fruity, boozy Italian Ice, apricot eau de vie, Bols Genever, and fresh mint layered in a tall collins glass like the Italian flag. His range matches that of the restaurant—see what he does with seaweed in this week’sCocktail Challenge, our new drinks feature.
Pollack’s Dinner at GT Fish & Oyster in Six Bullet Points
GT Fish & Oyster (531 N. Wells St.; 312-929-3501), the instant River North hot spot from Rob Katz, Kevin Boehm (Boka, Landmark, Girl & the Goat, Perennial Virant), and Giuseppe Tentori (Boka), opened March 31st.
• The décor: Like a Cape Cod fish house—albeit an awfully spiffy one.
• The vibe: Hipster heaven, but happy rather than hallowed.
• The noise: Tolerable.
• The service: An army of friendly, knowledgeable, helpful staffers.
• The prices: For the quality and the portions, as friendly as the wait staff.
• The food: OMG. Specifically, tuna poke with mango, barbecue eel with wasabi, sunfish seviche with chimichurri, lobster roll with fried onions, carrot cake with cream cheese gelato. Crab cake, meh.
Last Friday the GT crew packed the restaurant, from the kitchen to the dining room, for an all-out marathon tasting of the opening menu. Live tweets of the menu rolled out for hours and had people salivating through the weekend, even catching the eye of Grub Street. And tonight, while the restaurant is serving its very first official guests, you’re laying your eyes on our very first official menu. This is so of-the-moment, we can tell you GT just tweeted, “GT is finally open. I have butterflies.” And if you’re reading this, that means you’re not here with us tonight… so here’s the next best thing. The food.
Hope you’re hungry. We want to see you soon.