Friday, October 7, 2011

Dining Out in Chicago: GT Fish & Oyster

My sister and I recently enjoyed dinner at the hip River North seafood eatery, GT Fish & Oyster. I first heard about the restaurant through Tasting Table, which gave the establishment rave reviews and later invited owner and head chef, Giuseppe Tentori, to New York to participate in the 2011 Lobster Roll Rumble. GT Fish & Oyster sat at the top of my list of restaurants to try for several months, until my sister planned her first solo visit to Chicago, finally giving me an excuse to check it out and get my hands on the scrumptious sandwich I had heard so much about.

"It was a bold man that first ate an oyster." Source: Popsugar

I was a fan from the moment we walked in. The vibe is effortlessly cool and just the right mix of hip and unassuming. The decor is modern with a nautical theme that is tastefully done in a simple palette of blacks, whites and woods of different shades. Walking in, you feel as if you have just boarded the yacht of a well-to-do East Coaster. While at first glance, the interior doesn't seem like much, a closer look reveals the accents that subtly convey the space's maritime feel—the gigantic boomerang-shaped wood table in the front room, the sharks' jaws and oil paintings of sailboats hanging on the walls, and the enormous fish skeleton print adorning the back wall above the quote 'It was a bold man that first ate an oyster.'

The menu is divided into four sections—cold, hot, oysters, and not fish. Plates vary in size, but are generally small and intended for sharing. The drink menu boasts an ample selection of wine and beer, as well as a variety of inventive custom-crafted cocktails, such as the Waitlist (Grey Goose, St. Germain, Lime, Grapefruit, Bitters) and the Dark n' Stormy (Plantation 5 year Rum, Gosling's Ginger Beer, Lime, Cruzan Blackstrap).

The service was excellent. Our waiter was extremely knowledgeable and friendly, but not overly attentive or intrusive, offering his recommendations as needed, but otherwise giving us space to enjoy our dinner. The rest of the staff were equally friendly and professional. Plates were delivered and cleared promptly, and the moment we needed something a staff member seemed to materialize out of nowhere to lend a hand.

And, of course, there was the food...

Our menu consisted of:
Basil gnocchi • mussels • shrimp • sepia • cherry tomatoes
Grilled sea bass • crispy polenta • truffle corn sauce • roasted pepper vinaigrette
Lobster roll • lobster salad • toasted roll • fried onions
Key lime pie • key lime curd • gingersnap crust • toasted marshmallow meringue

Sea bass & crispy polenta paired w/ a roasted pepper vinaigrette & a truffle corn sauce

I can't say our menu had any highlights, because that implies there were lowlights, which is far from the case. All four of our dishes were outstanding and if you asked me to pick a favorite, I don't think I could. The flavors were spot on and the presentation was creative and visually appealing.

We started out with the basil gnocchi dish, which was made up of melt-in-your-mouth potato and basil dumplings served with mussels, shrimp and cherry tomatoes, all in a light seafood broth, finished with coarse breadcrumbs. I had read rave reviews of this dish on Yelp and it still managed to exceed my expectations.

For our next dish, we opted for the grilled sea bass, a recent addition to the menu. It was served with two squares of crispy corn and mushroom polenta atop a duo of sauces and garnished with roasted red peppers and corn. The dish was light and heavenly. The fish was cooked perfectly— its thin crispy crust housing a succulent, flaky interior. The polenta added complexity, enhancing the texture of the dish, and its intriguing mushroom flavor was delicious enough to win over even the most avowed non-believers (including me, since I usually hate polenta). The duo of sauces—a delicious combination of a roasted pepper vinaigrette and a truffle corn sauce— brought everything together beautifully. A truly amazing dish.

Our last savory dish was the restaurant's highly acclaimed lobster roll— the dish that initially drew me to GT Fish & Oyster. It was made up of a hearty portion of lobster salad—succulent Maine lobster chunks tossed with homemade mayo, beer mustard, celery, basil, parsley and chives— sandwiched between two thick slices of deliciously buttery Labriola bread served with a side of crispy onion strings. The lobster was cooked perfectly, the salad was wonderfully seasoned, the bread was fluffy but still had a nice crisp exterior, and to top it all off, the portion size was generous. Amazing. In the words of my sister, "I could eat these all day."

The highly-acclaimed lobster roll- the photo doesn't do it justice. Source: GT Fish & Oyster

For dessert we opted for the key lime pie, because what dessert goes better with seafood than key lime pie? It was the perfect finishing touch to a truly fabulous meal. Both the presentation and the taste of the dish were spot on. It consisted of three layers served in a glass jar. On the bottom was a layer of refreshingly tangy key lime curd, topped with a gingersnap crust for some texture and spice, and finished with a light and airy toasted marshmallow meringue. One bite of those three delicious layers and I was in heaven. The proportions of the ingredients were perfect and allowed the tang of the lime to shine through without overpowering the palette with sourness. A great end to a great meal.

GT Fish & Oyster's take on key lime pie— a stunning and delicious dish

So, what are you waiting for? Get on OpenTable and grab yourself a reservation, before I beat you to it. Seriously...go!

The rundown
Price: $$$ ($31-$60 per person, including one drink, tax and tip)

Final verdict: I'm in love. Can't wait to go back and try more of their stellar dishes.

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