Can we talk about the croutons at GT Prime? The perfectly formed golden-brown cubes of brioche dissolve in your mouth after their initial crunch, releasing their buttery goodness. They’re delicious on their own and even better in the new steakhouse’s riff on a Caesar salad, which pairs shredded kale marinated in a tart dressing with white anchovies, confit baby tomatoes and a generous dusting of Parmesan around the pretty circle-shaped dish.
It might seem odd to open a steakhouse review with a discussion of croutons or even a salad for that matter, but they serve as a glimpse into the culinary prowess of the chef behind them, Giuseppe Tentori. Given a stellar résumé that includes his current gig as chef at GT Fish & Oyster down the street as well as 10 years as Charlie Trotter’s right-hand kitchen guy, it comes as something of a surprise to learn that the Italian-born Tentori is, as he puts it, “a huge meat-and-potato guy.” Still, that bodes well for River North’s GT Prime, his newest venture with Boka Restaurant Group. Fitting a chef of his experience, Tentori isn’t afraid to shake up the traditional steakhouse model.
Once you step through the giant dark-wood door—a tipoff, perhaps, that what lies behind it is going to be impressive—your first clue it isn’t business as usual is the open kitchen in the back of the 5,600-square-foot space on the ground floor of a new condo building. Grab a spot at the 12-seat bar in the lounge for the best vantage point of the beautiful wood-burning grill and the dozen or so chefs working in the tight space. The whimsical, hunting lodge-like decor from Studio K’s Karen Herold features faux fur-trimmed stools, a huge custom chandelier, dainty jewel-toned velvet couches and two animal heads perched above the host stand (dubbed Chuck and Tenderloin, in case you’re wondering). Or, as Boka partner Kevin Boehm says, “It’s like a beautiful Game of Thrones episode, except no one dies.”
The most dramatic differences, however, can be found on GT Prime’s menu—first with what you won’t find (towering seafood platters, shrimp cocktail, gut-busting potatoes) and then with what you will, including a variety of meat, both exotic (bison tenderloin, and venison and lamb loin) and traditional cuts (beef tenderloin, strip loin), available in 4- and 8-ounce portions to encourage sharing. Odds are, once your meat arrives in its cast-iron plate, a steak knife won’t be needed, since the cuts are served sliced and medium-rare—unless otherwise requested—and butter-knife tender. That’s what we experienced at my table with the venison and skirt steak, which had hints of smoke from the wood-burning grill. Decision-phobes can get The Carnivore, which includes four cuts, including American wagyu, and is available in two sizes.
Personally, I’d rather save room for more of Tentori’s nonred-meat dishes like the crab and avocado starter. The baseball-shaped dish is studded with dots of refreshing mango and red bell pepper purees. “The crabmeat jumps right into the driver’s seat,” said my dining companion. My thoughts exactly.
Balance shines through, too, with the seared foie gras. A thick slice of housemade brioche serves as the perfect base for the slab of foie gras. Candied hazelnuts add crunch and sweetness, while the sherry vinegar gastrique and wild blueberries add acidity, offsetting the offal’s richness.
Fitting his background and experience, Tentori’s pasta dishes at GT Prime are terrific. Like with his take on the conventional steakhouse, these, too, get a subtle kick in the pants. His Bolognese sauce features beef, pork and veal heart. Tortellini includes not only tender short rib meat, but edamame and tripe, a cut I’ve never liked before but did very much here. “We go through 60 to 80 pounds of tripe a week,” says Tentori. I guess I’m not alone.
Sweetbreads, on the other hand, are something I’m always glad to see on a menu. Tentori thoughtfully pairs his “chicken nuggets for adults” with tender pillows of gnocchi, a watermelon-and-basil pesto, green beans and tomatoes. Sides offer wonderful surprises too, including cauliflower, which is roasted on the wood-burning grill and served with pine nuts, peperonata and whipped ricotta.
When it came to dessert, my tablemates and I agreed we were too full. Yet moments later, we demolished pastry chef Andrea Cote’s brownie with hazelnut gelato. Despite what you might think, it wasn’t overly sweet. No, really.
Like at any great steakhouse, wine plays an important role here. GT Prime ups that pleasure by offering both 3- and 6-ounce pours. Go ahead and treat yourself to that 2013 Chateau Paveil de Luze Margaux cabernet blend ($13 and $24) you’ve been wanting to try. On the cocktail side, I opted for the funky, smoky Golden Ticket (mezcal, yellow Chartreuse, yellow pepper and saffron threads), a favorite of my helpful bartender and now, it seems, me too.
“It was a challenge for me to do a lighter steakhouse in Chicago,” says Tentori of his experience creating GT Prime, “since people tend to think bigger is better.” You know what they say about making assumptions.
707 N. Wells St., 312.600.6305
Open for dinner nightly
Hot and cold small plates, $11-$26; meats, $14-$56; fish, $29-$42; sides, $13-$16; dessert, $6-$10
Originally published in the March issue of CS