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The Purloined Menu 

Redfish

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It had been a miserable week of fraying friendships, snarling colleagues, trenchant headcolds. Finally we shucked our ratty sweaters and ventured out, leaving behind a crisis of pizza boxes and orange-juice containers. Scrubbed and dressed we felt nearly human and mightily hungry. We threw ourselves upon Redfish--rumored to serve excellent BBQ sandwiches at lunchtime--only to add insult to injury.

Redfish was swimming against the tide even before it opened. Ghosts of restaurants past--Vietnamese, Surf & Turf (the previous Roger Greenfield/Ted Kasemir operation to surf this turf)--haunt the corner of State and Kinzie, victims all of some hostile hex. Inside, the down and dirty decor--neon EAT, ads of yore--looks as though it were lifted directly from Bub City, surely a portentous sign. Gamely we pressed on.

A basket of bread selected for southern roadhouse style smiles from each brown-paper-topped table. The biscuits aren't bad, unless you're familiar with Wishbone's feathery delights, in which case they're sheer disappointment. The cakey cornbread, though brightly studded with peppers, doesn't begin to compare to Wishbone's tender, buttery, slightly gritty muffins. The honey butter does help wash it all down.

The adjacent Voodoo Lounge is happy to send over bar standards, along with a few spicy concoctions meant to keep the "Looziana" theme kicking. I ordered the Margarita, a convincing imitation of limeade. The waiter also delivered a Cajun Martini--straight into my sweetheart's lap. Later, we switched to iced tea, which comes in sweet and not-sweet versions. While offering refills, a different waiter stuck his nose in each jug and finally concluded, "I'm not sure which is which."

New Orleans BBQ Shrimp: The first appetizer on the specials card was fried iceberg lettuce. Fried. Iceberg. Lettuce. Too disastrous to contemplate. We tried this instead. Four neat little shrimp mark time on a bed of rice, knee-deep in butter.

Southern Vegetable Plate: Hankering for greens (other than fried iceberg lettuce), and perhaps thinking wistfully of Wishbone's perfect garlic-lemon version, we ordered this alongside. It's awful in that terribly old-fashioned way, the way lunchroom ladies and pre-enlightenment moms prepared it--a dark, limp, overcooked, musty mass. The kitchen must have unearthed the original recipe that gave spinach its dirty name.

Crawfish Macque Choux: The steaming bowl arrived graced with a small crustacean that appeared less cooked than dead. We inquired as to the proper crawfish-cracking technique and were informed the critter was purely for show--it's actually out of season. Which led to the inevitable question regarding the contents of out-of-season crawfish stew. The answer: chicken, shrimp, bits of frozen crawfish tail, uninspired all.

Blackened Redfish: Dull. The side gritcake, however, was quite tasty.

Smoked Chicken Etouffee: Blandly comforting, like chicken-pot-pie innards The lump of risotto side, however, flaunted a sour personality.

BBQ Plates: If you find yourself held hostage here, insist on barbeque, which isn't native to Looziana, but isn't bad at Redfish. It comes shredded and doused with pleasingly sweet sauce. Squeeze tubes of other Redfish-made hot sauces stand at the ready tableside, some of which are very good, and very handy for perking up the otherwise ho-hum fare.

Redfish, 400 N. State, is open 11:30 AM to 1:30 AM Monday through Friday, 5 PM to 1:30 AM Saturday, and 5 to 11 Sunday. Call 467-1600 for more.

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