For 30 years I managed to avoid this place, largely because I knew their upstairs-downstairs/ insider-outsider crap would grind my ass. But I had a friend in from out of town who owed me a steak and would be able to laugh at it, and I was encouraged by the photo on the cover of the November Chicago magazine, which named Gene & Georgetti's T-bone the best wet-aged steak in town. So I called. The lout who answered the phone acted as though my wanting to dine there was the most annoying thing he'd heard all day, and things went downhill from there.
When we arrived a few days later -- about 7:00 on a Friday night -- the downstairs was about one-third full. As predicted, we were led upstairs, where three or four tables were occupied. Our server was a friendly, eager guy, but the food he brought us was a joke. My buddy ordered a strip steak medium; it came medium-rare. I ordered the prize T-bone medium rare; it came medium. The steak was entirely undistinguished; the salad and potatoes come with, which is rare for a steakhouse, but they were insipid. This place wasn't cheap, but at this level I'd rather pay another 15 or 20 bucks for sides and get stuff worth eating. We ordered one extra, the sauteed spinach, and we laughed at it. How this restaurant stays in business in a city with several good steak houses is a complete mystery. Now I know why they're so protective of their regulars; when they die off -- which won't be too long from the look of it -- Gene & Georgetti is toast.
Despite a forlorn look at 6 PM -- how can a restaurant be so empty in a neighborhood with so much traffic? -- maybe I just answered my own question -- this was a surprisingly good meal and the service was just right: casual, gracious, competent. The fettucine with mushroom-sausage red sauce was excellent, as was my friend's pasta with cream sauce and ham. There was complimentary pizza bread in addition to the usual bread basket and oil; the wine list had several inexpensive selections, and the Tuscan red blend we drank ($28) was fine. We went because of the location, right across the street from Webster Place, but I will return.
First visit in a long time, but as good as ever. Porc aux oignons was a killer dish, intensely flavorful. More of the staff now seems to be French.
Good but gimmicky, and high-priced. The popover, as noted elsewhere, was pretty good, as was my 40-day-aged ribeye, though Im not sure it was $10 better than any other steak Ive eaten in my life. Hash browns maybe were the best ever, but the side-dish portions here are a little skimpy compared to other first-rate steakhouses. For such an expensive place the crowd was dressed way down on a Saturday night -- lots of tourists who looked like they stopped here on the way to Chilis. This and the gimmicks made for a slightly weird experience. At some point a couple bottles of proprietary steak sauce appeared on the table a revenue opportunity, we assumed, but for $51 this steak better not need any damn steak sauce. They also brought us each a cookie in its own little box. How many trees are dying for this?
Service was spotty. We had a little trouble with the cocktails: one of us ordered a martini with a twist and then said no, wait, make it a gimlet. He got a martini with a twist, and then another. Another of us ordered a more expensive martini and we got charged for two of those. When we asked the waiter to correct the mistake he deleted one of the less expensive ones, whereupon we just gave up and took the difference out of his tip. I think this place would be better in a less-trafficked location with a somewhat more demanding clientele.
Can't say much for the rest of the menu because I always order the burger -- this is where I go when in a burger mood, and everyone I take agrees that it's one of the best they've ever had. Otherwise it's a neighborhood bar that tries a little harder with its menu. The crowd, servers, and owners are friendly and the vibe is just right...for a burger.
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The room is slightly weird, thanks to long, heavy antique wood tables and what looks like a hasty conversion from the nautical Greek theme of Papagus. But it wasn't at all unpleasant, and everything else got good marks from our group of six. The food was quite fabulous: the prosciutto they brought us for starters seemed ultra-high-quality, better than any I've ever had before, and it was followed by a wonderful slice of roast fennel and then a citrusy smoked salmon, also of obviously high quality. For entrees, most of our gang opted for one of the braised meats, a pork shank or short ribs, both of which went over very well. Desserts, which are NOT included in the $36 fixed price, were also excellent. We found two good wines in their under-$40 section. Never could figure out the constantly changing cast of servers, but they were smooth and competent, if perhaps a tad slow with the drinks and wine. The pleasantness of the evening exceeds the sum of its parts; I think it's because of the low-maintenance concept. As the server tells you at the outset, they just start bringing you food, and the meal unfolds with a minimum of fuss and interruption. Plus, this restaurant does not try to impress the gullible with huge amounts of food. The many courses and sensibly sized portions make for a satisfying but very civilized dinner.
What's there to say that hasn't been said a million times before? With all the TV and marketing, I was surprised to see the manic Mr. B himself come out of the kitchen, but maybe I shouldn't have been. Maybe that's why after all this time the flavors still seem startlingly fresh.
Still a very pleasant evening, but the roast chicken didn't wow me like it did a year ago. Is it that that it's no longer a pleasant surprise, or is the execution a little less fine? I dunno. Although the space is very nicely decorated, there are two half-assed "rooms" in the back that they ought to do something with - it's a little like exile back there.
"Wollensky's Grill" is the room downstairs from the main Smith & Wollensky, with a wall of big windows looking directly out on the river. All the upstairs menu items are available, but so are a number of lighter and more modest options. There's less pretense and less fuss down there, and it had a nice, dark, clubby feel. I walked in without a reservation on a Saturday night. If I'm remembering right, it serves late. If you're looking for a drink and a steak without a lot of excess baggage, it's worth a try.
I was a big fan of Villa Kula, which this restaurant has replaced, but I'll take this trade any time. The new management has wisely left the beautiful dining rooms and garden as they were, and the food is in another orbit. My roast chicken entree was the best roast chicken I have ever had in a French restaurant -- the seasoning was unusual (fennel seed, perhaps?), and the meat perfectly cooked, moist and tender. My brandade appetizer was also excellent. My companions had a pistou (pesto) ravioli and roasted salmon, and they were equally uncommon and tasty. Only the desserts were a little lackluster. Service was very polished for a new restaurant. The kitchen was overwhelmed -they were doing pretty brisk business for such a new place - and our main courses were slow in coming, but the servers handled the situation beautifully (way better than they used to at Villa Kula), with several sincere apologies as well as comped desserts. The related restaurant, Campagnola in Evanston, has always seemed a little fussy to me, but this was a truly memorable meal and I will return soon.
I can't in good conscience give this the highest star rating, but I'd sure like to because I can't believe it doesn't rate at least one R. I have been going here for two years and it just keeps getting better. The pizzas are great -- hot wood-fire, crackery crust, first-quality stuff on top -- but they're only a small part of the menu. Pastas are fabulous, especially the ones made with pancetta; meat and fish specials are plentiful; salads deserve special mention, there's almost always at least one real interesting one; the grilled-vegetable antipasto is always amazing -- how do they make cauliflower taste like that? -- and recently we discovered the desserts are special too -- not just the usual cannoli and tiramisu. There's a yellow custardy thing whose name I can't remember, it's sliced off a rectangular loaf, try it, it's heaven. The atmosphere is usually buzzing and the staff is way friendly -- Ivana came around to say good-bye, she had to go back to Italy for a while to finish her degree, she'll be back this summer probably . . . you get the idea. Good place for big groups, they handle it with aplomb.
To beat the wait I got wise and walked over at 5:30 to put my name on the list -- our table was ready at 7 like we wanted. The food was fine but not eye-popping like I always expect -- in that respect this place is a victim of its own fame. But the atmosphere is great. You hardly ever get to eat such famous-chef food in such a casual, fun setting.
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