a silver bowl with handles on either side is filled with black mussels sitting in a pale tomato and garlic sauce and topped with herbs, obscured from view is thick cut slices of sourdough bread perfect for dipping in the sauce

Gilt Bar – Chicago

I was impressed.

Bubby and I started our dining adventure on Sunday evening after failing to get a Friday or Saturday reservation. The place is pretty large by city standards so we were a bit too confident in getting a table, only trying the Monday before.

We quickly procured a reservation for Sunday and since both of us had early morning meetings on Monday we decided on an early dinner giving us plenty of time to return from the city and sleep off our culinary delights.

The reservation for 5:30 pm on a Sunday was a bit of an overkill, as we nearly had the place to ourselves for the first hour. However, it then quickly filled up so maybe it’s better to be safe than sorry.

The menu is simple with a cocktail list that out numbers the dinner offerings, not even taking beer and wine into account. Don’t get me wrong, those are available as well, but in a separate book. We didn’t bother. Right away we were taken in by the cocktails and decided on a 1 drink, many course kind of evening. My poison was a Tequila Sour and Bubby went with the Tokyo Old Fashioned. Mine was perfectly balanced between sour and sweet. Bub’s was a bit syrupy but delicious, as the ice melted it thinned and came into its own. Both options perfect for sipping, but if I am being honest, I could easily have put back many Tequila Sours.

As mentioned above, we decided on multiple dishes. This is the first time in the evening our waitress wowed us. So far, unless it has been a tasting menu, the restaurant just brings all the dishes out at once, depending on their menu listing. So if I order 2 apps and 3 dinner plates. 2 apps will show up on the table, quickly followed by 3 large plates of dinner. This creates a spectacular show, often overwhelming the table. I’ve gotten used to it. Gilt’s waitress was quick to address the situation by immediately offering to stage our dinner, bringing the courses in succession rather than placing it all before us like a buffet. I immediately agreed. Would I appreciate the dishes when served individually? The answer is yes!

While Gilt Bar not only offers a spectacular selection of salads in addition to a vegetarian menu, there were just too many options and something had to give. Out with the salad, in with the bone marrow.

Bone Marrow was, in my experience, very rarely order-able on a common menu until cooking shows introduced the idea to the casual diner. We were very excited to delve into this luxury at a relatively decent price. It did not disappoint! Hearty slices of toasted bread, perfect for piling and dunking. If you’ve never had it before, it’s like eating a very tender piece of steak fat, crusted over the top with best flavor of the steak. You then scoop this onto your bread for a meat butter experience. The first bite is weird, kind of like sushi, but then the flavor brings you back for more, until 2 of you have polished off an entire plate that is meant to share with 4 people and still have another 3 dishes on the way.

Here again the staff came out on top. After removing our plates, the waitress took a wet cloth to the butcher block style table to remove any offending marrow drippings.

With fresh plates and our tiny spoons removed from the vicinity, we were now armed with tiny forks to enjoy our Steamed Mussels. We’ve both been hesitant to order these slimy looking wonders brought to the table still in their house, but today was for trying new things! This was on recommendation from the waitress and she did not steer us wrong. Garlic, lemon, herbs, alcohol, and a bit of chili to bring some heat. Served with a perfectly cooked sourdough loaf. We failed to talk the entire time as we came very close to drinking the broth straight out of the pan. Too bad the restaurant was really starting to fill now or I might actually have done it.

We would have been very happy, ready to dig into a large dessert, but our eyes were so big that we still had 2 more dishes on the way. “The pasta will warm up the best, so if we have to pace ourselves, save the pasta for the to-go container.” We hilariously told each other with the confidence of people who have not yet seen their dinner arrive.

Once again the table was cleared and cleaned. In came the Vodka Pasta and since we had passed on the Meatballs in the appetizer section, we added them unnecessarily to this dish. Yes, it was worth it. Yes, we polished it off like children deprived of Halloween candy for a whole day. So much for the to-go container…

As everything was once again cleared, we stared at each other bewildered. Maybe they will forget about the sandwich. Should we sneak out now and pay our bill before the next plate arrived? Certainly no more room could be found inside ourselves? Then we looked back to the table and there was the Steak Sandwich with a tower of Fries. What had we done?? But there was no time to change it, there would be no sneaking out. No, we had to face the music. There was still another dish to consume and it was our duty to give it a wholehearted go.

The sandwich was good. The fries were good. Overall it was a good plate, but it wasn’t amazing. Actually, the sandwich bread was amazing – toasted perfectly with a satisfying crunch without being overly dry or thick. On the whole though, it didn’t wow. Even though they refer to their fries 3 different ways on the menu, all are hand cut fries. Which, while being one of the best attempts I have seen at making a fresh fry be a delicious golden nugget, it still paled in comparison to the fries that come perfectly blanched and ready for the fryer from the freezer. Typically I take a fresh-is-best approach, but not with french fries and these didn’t change my mind. The sandwich was served with horseradish and au jus while the fries came with a side of garlic aioli.

Sufficiently filled, we perused the dessert menu which was limited and, unlike their dinner menu, lacked anything original. We decided to pass. They do have an impressive list of aperitifs to satisfy even the pickiest drinker so if you like a bit of liquid to settle your meal, this is your spot.

Since the whole salad list was completely ignored, we are required to return. A perfect compliment to my much needed New Year’s diet plan?

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