Sunday, September 13, 2020
Whimsy and good steak at Gene & Georgetti
Early in the pandemic—April it was—the boys had been home a few weeks, we were enlivening up Friday nights and supporting our besieged restaurant community by ritualistically ordering takeout. The boys, both sent home from their schools, realized we could, by ordering out, put normally wildly-expensive Alinea chow in our mouths for a fraction of the price—1/10, by my estimation, with the duck confit cassoulet dinner costing $39.95, about a dime on the dollar of eating it in their Lincoln Park dining room.
The food was fantastic. I did something I had never done before. In cleaning up afterward, I took the little round transparent plastic lid from the raspberry vinaigrette and, glancing around guiltily, licked it clean. That's good salad dressing.
But something was missing. If you have eaten at Alinea, you know that, as great as the food is, there is also sense of drama. Small clever flourishes of conception and presentation. Dinner there is like watching a magic show. How, I wondered, would they translate this whimsy to the carry-out experience? I expected a rolled note tied with a ribbon. An enigmatic seashell. A clever token. Something fun.
And the answer was, they weren't. Just excellent food, period. In regular aluminum containers with cardboard lids. Which was fine. But I had expected something more from one of the best restaurants in the world. Something was missing.
That something was found when we pulled into Gene & Georgetti for our anniversary earlier this month, before I even sat down I smiled at the little clear "stash your mask" envelope. Score one for old school. Michelle Durpetti will never be featured on "Chef's Table." But she figured something out that Grant Achatz' couldn't (Actually, she tells me, she borrowed the idea from a restaurant in LA. That works too).
The flourish couldn't have cost much. A nickel for the opaque envelope. A dime for the sticker. But somebody had to think of it, a mask holder which, I rush to observe, nobody really needs. I dutifully slipped my mask inside, taking it out when the waiter approached. They are very, very COVID conscious at Gene & Georgetti. We felt safe. And coddled.
Our first dinner in a restaurant in six months was excellent. We sat for two hours, outside, enjoying the 'L' occasionally grinding by, the passersby on the street. Service was friendly and impeccable. Our opening course, shrimp dejonghe, came in a butter sauce of such excellence that my wife asked for some bread to sop up every last drop up. She ordered a brace of lamb chops that were first rate. Our older son—we weren't going to leave him at home—was interested in the aged steak. Aged steak is like aged blue cheese—a very distinctive taste. He liked it very much; let's leave it at that.
I have a favorite meal at Gene's that I've been ordering for decades, which they call a "steak sandwich" which is actually a filet mignon on a piece of toast. But since this was our 30th anniversary, and we were not in Spain, where we had hoped to be, I threw caution to the wind, and ordered their top-of-the-line $78 t-bone steak, medium rare.
Let me re-iterate. I adore Gene's, have been going there for 20 years and hope to go for 20 more. But I do have a fidelity to truth, and the truth is, while the steak looked fantastic, was perfectly grilled, and I finished every morsel, it was not indeed fantastic steak. At least not fantastic a way that I could comprehend. If it was superior from what could be picked up at Costco and slapped on the grill, I was blind to those superiorities. My guess is that it is a supply chain issue, due to the current crisis, and completely out of Gene's hands. I trust they'll forgive me mentioning it; I couldn't write about the experience otherwise. In fact, I know they will; you don't stay in business for 79 years by getting upset over a little loving criticism from a regular customer.
That mild disappointment—good, not great steak—did not detract from an unforgettable dinner, I hasten to add. With the steak was a fabulous dish of roasted Brussels sprouts with apples and chunks of thick bacon, and their trademark creamed spinach. For dessert, we had a first rate tiramisu and something new—an intensely rich chocolate cake. I tipped well and will return happily, assuming they'll still have me, and urge you to dine there soon. Now is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of their restaurants. Nothing is guaranteed in this life, and Gene & Georgetti is one of those special places that make Chicago Chicago.