Thursday, October 18, 2007

Old Chicago style brings class to this Gold Coast spot

OK, so the parents (or grandparents) are coming to town, dinner is on the agenda, and that trendy new place with the loud music and fabulous tuna tartare is probably not up their alley. Instead, take them to 200 East Supper Club, where you’re guaranteed a good meal, excellent entertainment, and an out-of-the-ordinary, memorable experience.

Located right off Michigan Avenue in the Seneca Hotel, 200 East aims to resurrect the classic supper club concept, and so far it succeeds. The room oozes old-school class. The dark colors and wood molding give the room the vibe of an English professor’s study, while the black and white photos of Humphrey Bogart, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and other legends provide a splash of cool nostalgia. A small dancefloor and stage area connects the bar -- complete with sports-centric television -- to the dimly lit, white tablecloth-filled dining room. The sounds of a jazz band and singer accompany the meal at a conversation-friendly volume, and it’s this detail that truly makes you feel as though 200 East has entered a time warp.

Unlike the trendy new spots, 200 East does not come with a specialty drink list. Instead they simply offer a full bar, relying on the guest to request their favorite classic cocktail, as well as a small but well-rounded wine list. On the server’s recommendation, we started with the Chestnut Street salad, a blend of mixed greens, strawberries, caramelized walnuts and gorgonzola. Each ingredient added a unique element to the salad, but the honey mustard vinaigrette was the highlight. Its nectarous and tangy flavor united the sweet and savory elements of the salad harmoniously. I couldn’t resist a bowl of the chicken noodle soup (on special that night), which tasted just as homemade as what my mom cooks up at home. The chicken was chunky, and the celery and carrots were nicely sized and soft but not mushy.

Their entrée selections are hearty and no-frills. The salmon was grilled to perfection with a hint of lemon and not a trace of fishiness. But the Brickhouse chicken vacillated between flavorful and overpowering. The whole chicken, which is de-boned, marinated, seasoned and pan-seared, often left my mouth tingling from the overuse of herbs and spices, which was disappointing, as the good bites were crisp and lively. Most entrees come with a choice of sides, and while the sautéed spinach expertly walked the line between too cooked and too raw, the garlic mashed potatoes were slightly cold and too dense. But the potatoes were hardly on my mind after a bite of the tiramisu. Each element of the dessert melted in the mouth, and the tiny crumbled pistachio nuts on top added a very slight textural contrast.

The guys behind this supper club, which opened in February 2007, want to provide guests with the classic old Chicago dining experience, and they’ve chosen the perfect location. Not only are they right near one of the quintessential Chicago streets, but also their location in the Seneca Hotel adds to the whole VIP experience. As we were leaving, the valet noticed that one of our tires was pretty low. He got back into our car, drove around the corner to a garage, filled it up and came back. And since that’s the kind of service that impresses even the most jaded Chicagoan, imagine what an experience that will be for those out-of-town guests. - Molly Each