The Rosebud chain opens another steakhouse, but who needs it?
At the risk of the suits loosening their ties to use as nooses, we have to say that the steakhouse situation in Chicago has gotten a bit out of hand. The city is flooded with overpriced carbon copies sporting staid dining rooms of dark wood, brass fixtures, and red or maroon banquettes. There’s no well-known chef at any of them because there’s no need for one—every menu is the same. And apparently those $65 porterhouses make people so sluggish that a steakhouse is needed on every downtown block. The local Rosebud empire claims a handful of them.
With an Italian backbone and a loyal clientele of thick-fingered cigar-chompers, the Rosebud restaurants have their place. Sinatra’s crooning seems right at home; in fact, if Alex Dana had started his Rosebud chain a couple of decades earlier than his 1977 launch, we’d probably still be hearing about a prized “Sinatra booth.” But it’s not 1977 anymore, and while there’s something to be said for nostalgia, the classic steakhouse model has to be executed perfectly to compete against the dozens of other acts in town. The new Rosebud Prime simply doesn’t.
It isn’t that it’s any more expensive than other local steakhouses (Gibsons’ steak and side prices pretty much match up); it’s that what you get for the money ranges from “fine” to “hmm” to “serve only to an archenemy.” The most creative thing on the appetizer menu is peppercorn-crusted ahi tuna in a pool of gingery sesame-soy sauce, but there’s enough pepper on it for three T-bones, squashing the tuna’s flavor and making each chomp akin to eating Pop Rocks. The lamb-chop starter gets a whisper of oregano and olive oil, and it’s properly seared to medium-rare, but the one-bite chops are tiny, the meat not much better than at mid-priced Greektown relics.
We took a cue from other tables’ pale iceberg salads with pinkish, underripe tomatoes and saved room for the main event: a bone-in rib eye and the $48 king crab legs. The steak was quite good, the highlight of the night—expertly cooked, flavorful and served with roasted marrow alongside. But the crabs. Billed as “Dejoghne,” they swam in a garlic-butter sauce that congealed into bits of gloop within seconds, but it did serve to momentarily conceal what awaited. The first two bites of a crab leg were fine, if not merely mouthfuls of garlic butter and toasted bread crumbs, but as soon as a forkful of claw meat hit my mouth, all I could smell and taste was ammonia. (Crustaceans produce ammonia when the flesh deteriorates from age or mishandling.)
The server noticed that I looked as if I’d swallowed roadkill (for the record, I didn’t swallow, I spit), and he instantly came over. I explained, he disappeared into the kitchen with the crab, a manager quickly followed and through the tiny window we could see a kitchen conference. To his credit, the manager apologized, comped the crab along with our first round of drinks and later bought dessert. But the rub was that no one would acknowledge the crab was bad—I kept hearing, “We’re sorry you didn’t like it.”
Even on the return visit, when the manager remembered our incident and came by, he jokingly commented, “Now this dish isn’t too salty for you, is it?” An aversion to decomposing crab is a bit different from having a low tolerance for salt. But since you ask, I should have replied, the famed burger (Rosebud Steakhouse’s version topped the TOC burger list earlier this year) could use more salt, maybe some pepper and anything else lying around to perk up the blah beef flavor. Minutes later, we were again treated to dessert, this time a grainy key lime pie topped with three inches of fake-tasting Cool Whip–like whipped cream. As with the crab, the restaurant shouldn’t give this stuff away.
1 S Dearborn St at Madison St (312-384-1900). El: Blue to Monroe. Lunch (Mon–Fri), dinner. Average main course: $33.