Unless you're vegetarian, you'd think choosing between three New York strip steaks prepared by an esteemed chef would be a no-lose situation--except maybe for the cow. I'm faced with this carnivore's dilemma at Table 31, Chris Scarduzio and Georges Perrier's Comcast Center extravaganza.
I've nabbed a spacious leather booth on the second level, where intrusive kitchenspeak follows the staff out the nearby service door. Below me, the snug, sleek bar area hums with the privileged esprit de corps of a first-class transit lounge, where execs sip organic tobacco Manhattans before dashing off to catch the 3:10 to Bala.
Table 31 toes a dangerous high-wire act between international bistro and American steak house. Think Peking duck, cavatelli, Nicoise salad, short ribs, gazpacho and 10 expensive steaks, classified into a butcher shop-style chart, cross-referenced by beef type, size and price. Paging Dr. Favre! Table 31 can't make up its mind, and the decidophobia is contagious.
Which brings us to the New York strips: 14-ounce USDA Prime ($46), 12-ounce American Wagyu ($58) and a 20-ounce bone-in chop ($60).Scarduzio and Perrier want to give diners options but the breadth of choice can be paralyzing.
Wishy-washiness is only one of the problems, though. Twenty minutes tick away before the fine frilly-edged ricotta and Parmesan ravioli arrive, touched with creamy leek fondue. The chopped salad follows a half-hour later, not chopped. Caramelized shiitakes and the dressing--mushroom reduction blended with white balsamic--overwhelm the salad with a heavy, beefy fungus funk.
The Wagyu strip, sourced from Boise's Snake River Farm, appears right after a vigilant busser mercifully whisks away the remains of the not-chopped salad. My knife slices into the buttery Yankee-bred Kobe like Michael Phelps through a reflection pool, but soon encounters two inches of telephone-cord sinew. It's painful to have to cut around it, leaving about $14 of scraps on the plate.
The more affordable Angus filet mignon ($39 for a 12-ounce cut) out of Chicago's Stock Yards Meats is smooth all the way through. For a steak that notoriously lacks flavor, this one's got it in spades. No need for sauce, though Table 31 thoughtfully supplies b�arnaise, cognac-peppercorn and three other dips at no additional charge.
Desserts run from the traditional (good and boring chocolate cake) to the out-there (an un-frozen mango "popsicle" dipped in dark chocolate), bringing the check to $266 with two cocktails, two glasses of wine and tip.
Fortunately, Scarduzio and Perrier have incorporated a less expensive entity into their enterprise. Situated on the southside concrete savanna beneath a sleek pergola of glass and steel, the Plaza affords a pretty summer scene. Synchronized fountains splash on the patio. Ladies who lunch seek shade and lemonade under the tangerine umbrellas.
The casual menu reflects the weather with smoky grilled shrimp skewers and pineapple salsa; braised pulled-pork shoulder sandwiches as delicious as they are messy; and sweet cavaillon melon soup topped with baby basil and Serrano ham.
Dessert features a clear lychee-and-rosewater consomm� surrounding a scoop of strawberry-lychee sorbet. Sliced berries float in the broth like red heart-shaped lily pads. Even better are the cute ice cream cones fashioned from almond and raspberry tuiles, capped with black cherry and creamy coconut sorbets.
Speedy servers wearing black sunglasses and white polos bumblebee about the rattan bistro chairs. Here I can see what the buzz is all about. On the hunt for empties, one guy patrols the patio with a pitcher of lemonade, freshly squeezed from the Zumex juicer recycled from Brasserie at Boyd's. When he asks if I'd like a top-up, it's a decision that requires no hesitation.
Dinner with Luke Palladino