Would you pay $21 for a green tea? Well, if you were cultured, you would, you goddam heathen. But since we can't take you out anyplace nice, let's instead swig our swirled leaves with Ryan Sutton, the food critic for Bloomberg News and enjoyer of one fat night in Chicago.
Sutton's got an enviable job; having graduated from reviewing fast-food fries (Shake Shack and Five Guys rule Ryan's yard), he's lately been on the hunt for haute fare that says: "Our white-shoe client is dropping us next week, run up their frigging expense account!"
He appears to have found it in "Grace, an often interesting, usually enjoyable and sometimes weird West Loop eatery that happens to be Chicago's second-most-expensive restaurant"—opened, Sutton explains, by a chef who left Chicago's most expensive restaurant:
When Grace's menu price rises to $205 in March, dinner for two, after wine pairings, tax and tip, will cost $861. If those numbers are unexpected, it's because Grace publishes neither its beverage-pairing prices nor its wine list online.
Tea can easily push things closer to $900. But the good news is, fellow aristocrats, that neither Israeli caviar nor Burgundy truffles command supplements here.
Oh, thank goodness! One really hates paying a premium to dine with one's rare peers, then having to pay yet more for the Kobe beef. Doesn't one.
So, like, how's the food at a restaurant that costs more to feed two for one night than most couples spend in a month? Surprisingly meh, even if offered with nice production values:
An army of servers glide through the dining room. A captain approaches with a canopy of juniper leaves holding flora, fauna, and a geothermal cooking device.
"Do not touch the hot rock," the waiter warns, an exhortation more common at venues hawking sizzling fajita platters. The rock is used to sear piece of tuna so aggressively that you burn your hand when you pick it up. For that injury you're rewarded with an overcooked, under-salted piece of fish.
Cool your palate with a few sips of satsuma orange juice infused with Jasmine tea. Then enjoy a one-bite amuse of king crab. It's been paired with warm butter that's been magically liquefied into a translucent, gumdrop-sized sphere. The sweetness of the shellfish and milk fat are distinct at first, but when the sphere bursts, everything comes together in gorgeously unctuous bliss. Such a transcendent preparation is a threat not just to your arteries, but to plastic ramekins at fish shacks throughout the world.
Believe it or not, this is a superb review, by Sutton's high-end standards. Consider last month's lukewarm report:
I had flown 820 miles to spend more than $700 at Next, a temporary steakhouse in Chicago... was it worth it? Well, that's a more complicated question.
Not really, after he suggested the place was guilty of "culinary scalping."
That came on the heels of a mild disappointment at a Boston tasting that set Sutton (or, his Bloomberg accountants) back $462:
I waited 159 seconds for a waiter to pick up and deliver a ready-to-eat piece of chu-toro nigiri. I should've walked across the room and picked it up myself. Alas, my good manners resulted in mediocre sushi.
Any restaurant can have an off night. It's just unfortunate that such oversights can happen at O Ya, with its destination status drawing diners in from out of town, and with one of America's most expensive tasting menus. So for now, I'd say O Ya is superb for a quick bite, not for dropping mad coin.
What gives here? Two months and thousands of dollars traipsing from Michelin-rated joint to joint, and all we learn is that they're all... just... restaurants?
But there's the genius of Sutton's beat. He serves two purposes: First, to paint a lovely picture for you of a place you will never, ever eat; and second, to confirm to you that you really wouldn't want to eat there for the money.
How well is he executing? Four and half moldy street falafels out of five. Bonne chance, mon ami!
[Photo credit: M. Cornelius/Shutterstock]