Fisk & Co. flexes its mussels | Restaurant Review | Chicago Reader

Fisk & Co. flexes its mussels 

But this seafood-focused spot in the Kimpton Hotel Monaco needs to work on its public-facing side.

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click to enlarge Coconut curry mussels

Coconut curry mussels

Sandy Noto

A friend I eat with a lot likes to press his nose up against every menu and scan for typos. When he finds one, it's like a rancid amuse-bouche that he's thrilled to alert his server to. But when a menu misspells prosciutto—and menus often do—it's even worse, like he found a fly in his soup. The mistake colors his experience with a bilious yellow filter of lowered expectations.

He's not insane—in fact, I see his point. A lack of attention to detail can be revealing about the essential nature of a restaurant. If you can't get the spelling on your menu right, what else will you get wrong?

At Fisk & Co., "proscuitto" is wrapped around Chilean sea bass. On the dessert menu noisette, the French word for hazelnut, is spelled with an extra s, and the "goats cheese cheesecake" is accompanied by something called meringue "chards." (I'll buy lunch for the first person who spots a typo in this review.)

It did set a certain tone for the way this new "American mussel & beer bar" in the Loop's Kimpton Hotel Monaco operated each time I ate there. Servers seemed outgunned and harried, flitting around a half-empty dining room, rarely available when needed and ill supplied with requisite information once you finally caught one's attention. The way Fisk & Co. presents itself doesn't do the back of the house many favors.

The latter's run by chef Austin Fausett, a newcomer late of Proof in Washington, D.C., and apart from the misspellings, his menu looks good. It's seafood focused, at its core a choice of five different mussel preparations: classic, steamed with white wine and butter; tomato-saffron; beer; chorizo; and coconut curry, the rich broth of the last good enough to spoon up even without the provided grilled bread. Regardless of the presentation, they're plump and fresh and everything you could ask for in an elemental bowl of shellfish.

Naturally these moules and their respective broths deserve frites, and here they're attractively blond and lightly crispy and served with a choice of six different serviceable sauces, ranging from a remoulade to a green-peppercorn aioli to a moodily intense black-garlic ketchup.

Apart from this core shellfish lineup Fausett presents a wide variety of seafood options. Classic oyster service from the raw bar features east- and west-coast bivalves ably shucked with minimal damage to the creatures or their shells. Also adept are more inventive exercises such as squid-ink tagliatelle, sauced with a bright and tangy octopus bolognese more like a loose, spicy arrabiata, and a remarkable pressed mixture of shrimp mousse, whole shrimp, and pistachio "mortadella," sliced thin and dotted with chimichurri and garlic aioli. This is served alongside other "sea charcuterie," including a deathly rich monkfish-liver mousse and mild, creamy, lightly smoked whitefish rillettes, on a chef's sea board, one of Fausett's signatures. He's also adept at porky preserved meats—coppa, saucisson sec—though these aren't touted quite as much.

At other times Fausett goes by the book: lobster bisque, luxuriously smooth if somewhat wanting for shellfish; crab dip, gooey, turmeric tinged, and similarly crustacean poor; oysters Rockefeller, perfumed with Pernod.

Sole meuniere is a respectful treatment, buttery, silky fillets angled atop snappy just-cooked asparagus, a flow of cauliflower puree swooping out from below. The sea bass, its tender white flesh protected by a thin jacket of crisp prosciutto, rests atop charred eggplant puree and is topped with a Basque-style pepper-and-tomato sauce and served alongside roasted fennel and endive.

Fisk & Co.'s commitment to seafood is admirable, especially for a hotel restaurant, which by definition must also offer a burger, here two thin patties, a blend of ground brisket, chuck, and short rib, blanketed in melted raclette and caramelized onion.

The "chards" on the goat cheesecake turn out to be raspberry-flavored meringue shards scattered over a puck of sweet and pungent caprid dairy with a gluten-free base of crushed almonds and dates. A much simpler miniature rum bundt cake with nicely crispy edges and a soft, boozy crumb is far less dramatic but far more memorable.

Kimpton positions Fisk as a beer bar with Belgian leanings, but the selection of actual Belgian imports is rather thin, though bolstered by domestic brands brewed in Belgian styles. Beer does feature heavily in bartender Melissa Carroll's (name misspelled on the website) creations for the cocktail list, some employing brews that have been reduced to cordials, like the Miss Haze, a stiff gin drink sweetened with a reduction of Goose Island Lolita (cocktails are a subject the floor staff were particularly ill-equipped to discuss).

Despite its specialties, most of Fisk & Co.'s business will probably come from within the hotel—I can't see many townies venturing downtown specifically for Belgian beer and mussels as long as the Hopleaf is still open. But Fausett's food shows enough promise that the rest of his menu is deserving of a look.  v

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