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Dining Out

Chicago 2011 Part 4 - Gibson's Bar & Steakhouse

by Michael Chu
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During our June 2011 trip to Chicago, I wanted to make sure we ate at one of Chicago's famous steakhouses. Gibson's Bar and Grill kept showing up in different people's lists as the number one steakhouse in Chicago, so that's where we went.

After a day at The Field Museum we took a bus back to the Water Tower on Michigan Avenue. From there, we walked over to Gibson's Bar & Steakhouse (1028 North Rush Street, Chicago, IL) about seven blocks away. We were a little concerned at first about clothing because we weren't wearing anything nice (I was wearing a T-shirt and REI convertible pants with tennis shoes) and the woman at the information desk of the Chicago Visitor's Center had recommended both reservations and business casual clothing (neither of which we had at the time). It turn out that neither of those were a problem. When we arrived at 6pm (on Monday night), we were greeted with smiles and immediately shown to a table in the main dining hall.

Our server, started off by telling us that they are the only restaurant group in the United States to be "awarded" their own USDA Prime certification. (But, Harris Ranch has a USDA Prime certification and they have a restaurant...) The corn fattened beef is wet-aged for 40 days providing "maximum flavor and tenderness". When I asked, they told me they don't serve dry-aged beef. Sounded like a sales pitch or pep talk, but all I was looking for was if the beef really would be flavorful and tender. (I eat a lot of steak... I have probably prepare a steak dinner every week or two for the last several years and have learned to cook it perfectly several different ways. One thing that I've learned over the years is that the quality of meat isn't as important as how the meat is cooked. Of course, when cooked the same way, a USDA Prime rib eye will be richer and a little more full flavor due to the distribution of fat through the muscle. We're always wary of eating at steakhouses because they tend to disappoint us.) She even asked us where was the best steak we've had before, and, when we said the best steak we've had was at Peter Luger's in Brooklyn, she said, "Well... I'm sure you'll find ours better." We got the distinct impression she wasn't familiar with Peter Luger's, but I wouldn't have expect that (except for the fact that she asked us where the best steak we've had before was).

We ordered the W.R.'s Chicago Cut (a 22 oz bone-in ribeye steak) cooked medium-rare ($43.75) to be split between the two of us. For starters, we chose the Split Pea Soup and a House Salad (both included with our steak). We then ordered a baked sweet potato ($6) and a half order of sauteed spinach & mushrooms with garlic ($7.50).

Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse - Split Pea Soup
First to arrive was our Split Pea Soup. We found it to be flavorful and delicious. This meal was looking up and we were getting excited about having a nice steak dinner from a restaurant that knows how to cook steak.

Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse - House Salad
The salad was dressed in a tangy, acidic dressing that was refreshing.

Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse - W.R.'s Chicago Cut
When the bone-in ribeye arrived, it looked beautiful. Their 1800°F broiler put a wonderful crust on the exterior.

Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse - Medium Rare Steak
The center was cooked medium rare (as I ordered it), but a good portion was well-done and chewy. Some bites had 40% well-done while others were 50% or more well-done. I took the picture on the left immediately after cutting into the center of the steak (before I had a bite). You can see that at this position in the steak, the top 30% and the bottom 10% is cooked to or past well-done. That meant each bite was a mix of chewy and dry along with tender and juicy. A good steak should be nicely browned (a well browned surface layer provides a lot of flavor) with as little of the meat overcooked as possible. Otherwise, you end up with what we got - an unpleasant (not at all tender) mouthfeel. Their reliance on the 1800°F broiler allows them to get a nice sear on the steak, but is also their downfall. After a certain point, browning no longer provides any additional flavor. Only a very thin layer of the surface ever gets browned; the area under the surface just gets cooked dry and tough. Using a high temperature burner means the exterior cooks rapidly, which is great, except the heat takes time to penetrate into the interior. To warm up the center to medium-rare, they have to leave it under the heat source long enough for the heat to penetrate, but with such an intense heat, more and more of the exterior meat overcooks. It is extremely difficult to cook a perfect steak without using two heat levels - a high heat source to provide browning and a lower heat source to cook the interior evenly. With just a high heat source, you get a lot of overcooked meat; with just a low heat source, you might not get adequate browning to have a nice flavorful crust.

The next problem was that they failed to season the steak with salt or pepper (at least not enough that we'd be able to taste it) and a lot of salting was needed at the table. (Later, when I examined the photographs, it looks like there is kosher salt on the steak, but we really could not taste it.) If their meat really is as good as they claim, then it's a shame that it wasn't prepared better.

Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse - Half Order Sauteed Spinach & Mushrooms with Garlic
The sauteed spinach and mushrooms was a great side. It was flavorful, but not overly rich and heavy. I much prefer this over the traditional creamed spinach side dish found at many steakhouses.

Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse - Baked Sweet Potato
The sweet potato was waterlogged and a bit flavorless which was disappointing. I normally don't use the butter and sugar that often accompanies sweet potatoes, but I had to use quite a bit of the brown sugar to augment the bland potato.

Based on this meal, I would recommend skipping Gibson's Steakhouse.

For ease of navigation and to keep the page sizes down, I've split the trip report and reviews into multiple pages:
Chicago 2011 Part 1a - Overview
Chicago 2011 Part 1b - Overview
Chicago 2011 Part 2 - Shui Wah, Santa Anna Bakery
Chicago 2011 Part 3 - Pizzeria Uno, Giordano's
Chicago 2011 Part 4 - Gibson's Bar & Steakhouse (this page)
Chicago 2011 Part 5 - Frontera Grill, Xoco
Chicago 2011 Part 6 - Noodles by Takashi Yagihashi, Frontera Fresco, Marc Burger
Chicago 2011 Part 7 - Alinea
Chicago 2011 Part 8 - Vienna Beef Factory
Chicago 2011 Part 9 - Girl and the Goat

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Written by Michael Chu
Published on August 14, 2011 at 10:00 PM
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