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Food & Flavors

A Landmark Dining Experience

The face of Oak Street has evolved over the years. One landmark sits as the face on the street — Esquire Theater. Originally built in 1938, the cinema sat 1,400 when it was originally built. When originally conceived, the movie theater was elegant and modern. The destination date spot lost much of its luster in the middle of what would become Chicago’s high-end retail district. A wrecking ball was looming in the future. Fate, in the form of imaginative developers, stepped to repurpose the building into what is now Del Frisco's.

A dining experience built on another Chicago tradition — steak, Del Frisco's serves up beautiful meals in an atmosphere that is once again modern, swank and sexy. Not exactly an inexpensive dining experience, it is none-the-less memorable and an experience. The top floors of the building look much the same. The street level has undergone a massive renovation. The old signage of the building has been landmarked but a new modern glass façade reflects the nostalgia. On the inside, much of what was on the inside is not gone. The gut renovation took some time and was an engineering wonder by two structural engineering teams: Booth Hansen and Forefront Structural Engineers. The second floor of the theater was completely removed. It converts the first floor into dramatic two-story retail spaces. A newly designed concrete transfer system was developed to eliminate 5 structural support columns to enhance the remaining floors and provide open retails spaces. These now house the uber-chic Tom Ford, shoe guru Christian Louboutin, Buccellati jewelers and Venezuelan designer Carolina Herrera and Italian-based Dolce & Gabbana. The upper levels of the building required the leveling of the floors. The floors were built to be previously sloped for theater seating. An outdoor terrace was installed on the upper floors to be incorporated with the restaurant. The inside was opened up to the sky with a multi-story dining room the circles around a wine tower and massive skylights. The interior feels spacious if not Vegas/brat pack hip and modern. It has a lively vibe and today with a modern look of the traditional steak house. Del Frisco’s Chicago is one of the largest steak houses in the country with a staff of over 300. The New York hub of Del Frisco’s is the busiest steak house and sells more steaks than anyplace else in the world. Chicago’s Del Frisco’s has quickly coming up right from behind. These are the same people that own Sullivan’s on Dearborn as well as in the suburbs. The company has three restaurant chains under their belt. Del Frisco’s Double Eagle with 12 locations in most of the major cities and is the upscale side of their portfolio. Del Frisco’s Grille is a more casual dining experience and has 18 locations. It hasn’t come to Chicago as of yet. The third is Sullivan’s with 19 locations around the country. It is a cross hybrid that sits between the two. This location has been a Chicago hot spot for some time. It’s Thursday and Sunday specials are hard to beat with a live music combo on those nights. I adore it. So I wondered how this new experience would compare.

The interior of the restaurant seats over 560. On a typical night, the dining room is buzzing with many large parties of 10 or more. This is a group place. Special occasions and business meetings are oftentimes occurring in one of the four private dining rooms. By business meetings, I also include the group dinners for the Blackhawks when they are around or rehearsal dinners for some upcoming nuptials.
The top floor dining room can also be used as a private dining room to accommodate 180 people. The smallest private dining room accommodating 10. This intimate private room also has access to the patio overlooking Oak Street. It is one of the most lovely, private dining rooms I have seen in the city.

Architectural wonder in wine
The tone of the place is warm and relaxed. It has a rugged masculine feel with warm woods, dark metals with orange and aqua hued fabrics and finishes. This steak house feels lighter and more polished than most older steak joints. A wall of glass in the main dining room overlooks Oak Street and the 70-seat patio for outdoor dining. This restaurant is a mecca for wine lovers as much a steak. It has one of the best wine collections of wine in the city — or for that matter, the state. The center core of the restaurant revolves around a two-story atrium that has a fifty-foot glass wine tower. This tower houses three floors of wine that are connected by an interior spiral staircase. At first glance, one is in complete awe of this wine tower… and incredibly thirsty. What makes it a marvel is that that it is suspended from the ceiling! The concrete supports from below were removed for the interior retails space. This wine cabinet required supports to be built from above. The multi-storied wine cabinet is suspended from the room’s roof supports. This is only part of the 1,700 labels of wine collection of this restaurant. There are 12,000 bottles of wine in the central collection in the tower. There is another 8,000 bottles of wine scattered throughout the restaurant for a total of over 20,000 bottles housed in the restaurant at one time. On a typical week, Del Frisco's will go through over 100 cases of wine. There is a million-dollar wall of wine lining the upper floor dining room that houses the best-of-the-best as all of the private dining rooms also have walls stacking the ceiling wine storage. I haven’t seen anything this spectacular outside of Napa, California. It is a seductive interior space that inspires one to relax and enjoy the dining experience… and order a second bottle.

The wine list is a 40-page, spiral-bound book complete with a table of contents on the front page. There are wines from $40 a bottle to $7000 each and hitting every price point in between. There is also a large (OK… huge) variety of wines by the glass. Michael Taylor is the king of wine at Del Frisco’s. He has an extensive career with a vast knowledge of wine — particularly Italian Reds. Part of his career was spent as the sommelier at Chicago’s Italian Village and Vivere in the Loop. The wine list is his baby and something he is very much proud of. He was pretty much-given cart Blanche to get what he wanted. He took his task very seriously. The wine list standing up against any other restaurant across the country. It is perfect, if not a bit overwhelming. No fear about ordering the wrong wine with your meal. There are 3 to 4 sommeliers on the floor at all times to help you find your way.

For the cocktail lover in all of us, there are TWO bars. There is no waiting. The main floor bar greets you as you walk in and is next to the host stand. The top floor lounge is more hidden and alluring. If you want to watch a game on television and plan to spend some time, this is the spot… and do plan to do so. It is a lovely experience. Should you not be a wine lover but love a good cocktail, they do a nice job. The cocktail menu has many classics done with a nice twist. They pour a lovely Blackberry and Ginger perfection with a Woodford Reserve Bourbon base and a splash of ginger beer — Yum with a capital Y. The signature cocktail is the VIP — a Svedka Clementine vodka drink that has been infused with fresh pineapple. It is very refreshing. I found the cocktail menu a bit heavy on the vodka. If you’re a gin lover or like some of the other spirits, it is a bit lacking. Some thought does need to be put into this list. This was my only qualm. This is a wine destination so go for the wine. I would say the cocktails are pleasant. The bar staff is exceedingly knowledgeable — but this is THE place for wine.

Much of Del Frisco’s Chicago location has the official stamp of the General Manager Troy Smith. Troy started as a server and quickly became an Assistant Manager at Sullivan’s in Chicago. He later became a General Manager at the Naperville location before embarking on a Del Frisco’s location. He was involved in all steps of planning the Chicago Del Frisco’s from menus to the artwork. He runs a tight ship and is very cordial. Speaking of artwork, check out the enormous painting called “The Bow” on the mezzanine. The 132” x 192” canvas painting is by James McLaughlin Way of a horse. McLaughlin Way’s style takes inspiration from the work of Michelangelo, Rembrandt, and Caravaggio. He is a master at showing muscle structures, form, light and shadow. The painting has the Chicago skyline faintly displayed on the horizon. This was at the request of Troy. It is that kind of attention to detail that makes this restaurant and his leadership truly interesting and noteworthy.

The Food
Oops — There is so much going on visually that I almost forgot the food. Yes! They serve food, and it’s good. This is a steak place, and it is sitting on the high-end retail Oak Street shopping corridor. Many of the patrons during lunch and cocktails are women who are looking for new options to dine. This is a fun and new destination, particularly in warm weather. The patio will be the go-to spot to refresh after a long day of shopping at Carolina Herrera.

With this in mind, the menu is much lighter and fresher feeling than most steaks houses. Troy Smith was very conscious in planning a dining experience that attracts a wider audience and not just rolling out the typical steak joint. There is a variety of seafood. The lunchtime menu has many salad and sandwich options. No — there are not any vegetarian or vegan options. It is a steakhouse. There are a couple of chicken options but these are only available at lunch. In the evening, these are less available. This is a spot for those who love red meat and seafood. That mentioned, you will find it exceedingly easy to make a meal on a couple of appetizers if steak is not your thing. PORTIONS ARE NOT SMALL. This is really a sharing experience.

A great starter would be the Cheesesteak Eggrolls. OMG – Love this. These are tasty variations on Asian fare that have wonderful flavor and texture. A heftier rendition on an eggroll, these are more substantial. A glass of dry red is excellent with these. The flavor has a little bit of a kick without excessive heat as they come with sweet chili and mustard sauce. The Shanghai-Style Fried Calamari also has a bit of heat tempered with bean sprouts, crushed peanuts, and scallions. The crab cake is nice and comes with a Cajun lobster sauce. If you like the crab cake, you will be delighted to know it comes in entrée portions as well. You will note that some of the food has a spice – but not heat. This food is flavorful without setting your mouth on fire.

The sides were a big surprise. There were many options to select from — almost a dozen. The first pick will undoubtedly be the Lobster Mac & Cheese. Wow. This was fabulous. Del Frisco’s doesn’t skimp on the lobster. It is very easy to have this an entrée as it is a nice size for sharing… or not. Not being a fan of Brussel sprouts, I decided to try them on a whim.  They have become a favorite. I would come here just for the Brussel sprouts. They are nicely chopped and not big golf balls. They have a delicious flavor enhanced with bacon.

The steaks come in a variety of sizes (8 oz. to 32 oz.) along with a variety of cuts. They offer lunch-size portions that are nicely priced. My fillet was done very nicely with a crisply seared crust that was moist and juicy on the inside. It was perfectly cooked and had quite a bit of flavor. It has a peppery finish that was perfect with a dry cabernet. The service was excellent and quite personable. The waiter can steer one in the right direction regarding cooking temperatures and what I like in a steak. He was also able to steer me clear of things that I would not enjoy but was curious about. He gave good suggestions without a sales pitch. I also wasn’t being directed to the most expensive thing on the menu. I appreciate that.

A Heads Up:
This is a special occasion dining spot. I would be remiss in not saying it is an expense. Yes — it is expensive. Appetizers will start at $13 (Cheesesteak Eggrolls — I would get these always) to a Shellfish platter that feeds two or four guests ($79.50 – $153.00). That price seems a little scary to me. Most appetizers will hover around $17.  Sides will average around $11. Seafood entrées are close to $38 with steaks starting at $41 but going up to $90 for the 32 oz. Wagyu Longbone. Again, this is not an inexpensive place but one that you want to enjoy a meal or special occasion. If a party of two arrives and each has an appetizer, entrée with sides, and dessert with a couple of glasses of wine each — one is looking at a tab of over $200 without the tax and tip. Both will most surely walk home with dinner for the next day and have some lovely memories. If you are on a budget and want to experience Del Frisco’s or want to splurge on yourself, lunch is an excellent option. They offer a business lunch special that comes with a choice of side for $25. Another option (which is a fabulous deal) is the Sunday Special. This is a prix fixe that comes with a choice of salad, side, an 8 oz. fillet accompanies with a choice of either a crab cake, BBQ-spiced Shrimp, or Lemon & Garlic Scallops. The Sunday Special is $55 per person. Both of these deals are quite tasty, and the tab won't scare you.

This place is quite popular and busy. It seats over 500, and THEY FILL IT. A reservation is REALLY recommended. You will want to spend some time enjoying the wine list and the atmosphere. Make a point to get a table on the patio as the view is lovely at sunset. If it is a tad cold for the patio, enjoy the warm glow of the interior, and order another bottle of wine.

SAD NOTE. Covid killed this spot. The weeks of closure and social distance rules was too much for this location. It is truly sad. It will be missed.


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