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an out-of-towner's Custom House review

jnovgirl | Nov 29, 200507:55 PM

Last weekend this L.A. hound was in Chicago for the holiday and decided to treat the family to dinner at Custom House (500 S. Dearborn), which sounded like something the whole family would enjoy, and was close to our theatre/shopping/hotel plans.

I was pretty impressed on the whole. The space is lovely, though a bit cold and staid -- but in a way that completely makes sense given the down to business nature of the neighborhood.

The service was fantastic from top to bottom -- midwesternly friendly (I miss that on the coasts), professional, and knowledgeable. I felt like the whole staff was really trying to make us as comfortable as possible, even the busperson (there must be another name for this) who offered to escort people to the somewhat hard to find restroom. He shall forever be referred to in our family as the "bathroom sherpa."

We didn't get too adventurous with the wine, but the list looked interesting -- there were several things I would have liked to order if my family were wine people.

On to dinner. It's sort of a chop house style menu with firsts and entrees a la carte and a large selection of sides that can be shared. There were a lot of choices, none of which sounded like duds, so it was hard to decide. Here are the dishes I recall, along with the reactions I recall (sorry, they're a bit cursory):

First Courses:
- sweetbreads with bacon and chanterelle puree: I love sweetbreads, and these were quite good, though I don't think the chanterelle puree added much.
- butternut squash soup with bleu cheese: Dad said it was very tasty.
- mussels (as first course): Mom loved them. She wouldn't share.
- my sister and brother-in-law had some crab dish as a first course. I don't remember what or what they thought, but they certainly didn't complain.

Second Courses:
- Ribeye: Mom loved it. Cooked perfectly. Again, she was stingy, so I didn't get to try.
- Scallops: Very well cooked, but I didn't think there was anything too interesting about them. My sister loved them though.
- Marlin special: Dad sent it back because the fish was cold, but I think that was more his taste than a restaurant gaffe -- the mushrooms served on top were cool by design, and frankly I think my father is used to eating overcooked food held under heat lamps. I tried it after they brought it the second time and it was a bit overcooked to my taste.
- Duck breast and leg with pumpkin-stuffed lady apple: The flavor of the breast (which was seared and rare) was good, but it was a bit tough. The leg, which was braised, was fantastic.

Sides (all of them sounded good -- so hard to decide!)
- risotto: unusual, but lovely, lemony flavor. Mmmm.
- potato gratin with sheeps milk cheese: Yum. Could have eaten two orders myself.
- roasted fingerlings: really just plain roasted potatoes, yet surprisingly tasty.
- chanterelles (special, not on menu): well, they were chanterelles, so they were good. There was a creamy sauce with them, can't remember what, but it tasted good.

- Passionfruit cream: Granted, I adore passionfruit in all forms, but this was really really good. A little taste of creamy tart custard. Yum. The little financiers that came alongside were good, but the biscotti were a bit blah.
- some dark chocolate concoction: Adored by all who tried... didn't make it around the table to me.

All in all, a very pleasant evening. If this place were in L.A., I'd certainly go back.

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