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New brasserie in the Ritz-Carlton; the chef is Mark Payne.

Our Review

The Ritz-Carlton Chicago has been trying to get its lobby restaurant right for years, but the latest incarnation, Deca Restaurant + Bar, isn’t any more likely to attract locals than the last cafe. The 12th-floor location is among the problems, along with intrusive white noise from the lobby’s iconic fountain, the less-than-welcoming ambience, and a design confusingly poised between casual and semiformal. It’s probably no accident that the bar, which replaced the Greenhouse and has a separate menu, was doing brisker business on our visit: it benefits from comfy seating and expansive skylight windows with city views. High expectations for what is now the ritzy hotel’s only dining option may also play a role--if I’d had the same meal at the same price in a neighborhood bistro, I'd have been happy. True, the steamed mussels with white wine, saffron, and bits of tomato were cooked until shriveled and came without the french fries listed on the menu, but our cold appetizers were terrific. The chicken liver and foie gras mousse, in a canning jar under a skim of sauternes jelly, was as silky, flavorful, and delicate as could be, and the warm, lightly toasted brioche buns transformed it into comfort food for adults. Perfectly prepared leeks vinaigrette paired with Fourme d’Ambert blue cheese and caramelized walnuts--as well as a drizzle of olive oil and barely a hint of vinegar--will go on my year’s best list. Flame-grilled marinated quail didn’t make the grade because we kept hitting pockets of salt, but the glistening birds with wild mushrooms and soft polenta otherwise passed muster. Grilled lamb "cutlets" turned out to be four little chops and also quite salty, but they were cooked as ordered and arrived atop decent ratatouille. Our desserts also were hit or miss: pear tart tatin suffered from a rock-hard crust and oddly grainy fruit slices, while I’d return just for the aptly named Deca-dent chocolate cake, ten espresso-moistened layers finished with chocolate frosting. At $7 it was a deal, but I’d skip the $5 coffee next time. Wines currently are half price Sunday through Thursday, which makes sampling from the more than 40 available by the glass affordable rather than astronomical. Service wasn’t as attentive as it should have been.

Anne Spiselman

Features: , , , , , ,

Price: $$$

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