A Squared: Recent Chicago Restaurant Visits: Downtown Seafood Spots

Monday, August 11, 2014

Recent Chicago Restaurant Visits: Downtown Seafood Spots

Not long ago, I shared the first in a series of posts covering seafood restaurants here in Chicago. That post detailed a few great options on the west side of the city. Today I'm heading back downtown to tell you about two great seafood spots there. They're a little fancier than what you'll find in other neighborhoods (it is downtown, after all), but both different in their own right. These are great options for business dinners, date night when you're feeling fancy, or a special occasion.

Hugo's Frog Bar & Fish House
Gold Coast

Hugo's Frog Bar is one of those classic Chicago places that all the locals know about. There is nothing avant-garde or trendy about it, but the food, service, and ambience are consistently top notch. It's a great place to visit if you're entertaining someone from out of town, which is how I found myself there. Recently a new colleague of mine from Turkey was visiting the office so I joined her and our bosses for a very Chicago dinner at Hugo's. 

Hugo's features a ton of great standard menu items, special preparations, and catch of the day options every day and their staff is super impressive. Our waiter's knowledge of each fish on the menu and attention to detail when it came to describing them all really kind of blew me away. A restaurant creature of habit, I spotted Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes on the menu and knew what I was ordering. Hugo's crab cakes are huge and meaty, with large chunks of lump crabmeat and perfectly seared on the outside. They were served with the restaurant's signature Hot Pink Mayo, a tangy and spicy aioli-style dipping sauce that complicated the rich crab cakes perfectly.

I didn't get a photo of them, but Hugo's also has a great side dish menu. They're all available steakhouse-style-- large portions served family style and ordered a la carte. I loved the garlic sauteed spinach and the crisp broccoli was a really nice healthy side dish option.
And let's not forget about dessert! One of the wonderful things to note about Hugo's Frog Bar is that it shares the kitchen with Gibson's Steakhouse next door. This is great news if you're not a seafood lover or you're craving a steak at Hugo's. This is also fantastic if you'll be ordering dessert. All of Hugo's desserts are steakhouse-style-- meaning, they are enormous (just check out the photo and see how small the spoon looked next to it!) and meant for sharing. We ordered the delicious creme brulee and it did not disappoint. The inside was super creamy with great vanilla flavor and the topping had that great sugary crunch. 

Hugo's Frog Bar is the perfect place for a traditional American seafood dinner a classic Chicago restaurant experience. 
Hugo's Frog Bar & Fish House on Urbanspoon

GT Fish & Oyster
River North

While Hugo's is classic and old school, GT Fish & Oyster is a more modern and glamorous option for a downtown seafood dinner. I had been dying to try GT forever, so when it came to selecting a location for a recent girls' night out this one seemed like a no brainer. The ambiance is chic, the wine and cocktail list is extensive, and the food is shareable. And delicious.

Before I tell you about what we ate, let me just preface this by saying that I do not eat oysters. I just really don't enjoy them. So while Mere and Alexis thoroughly enjoyed the selection of oysters on the half shall that they ordered I did not partake, so I didn't feel that it was appropriate for me to tell you about them. If you find yourself at GT though, they are known for these and my friends sure enjoyed them so they are worth checking out!

What I did try was some really delicious food. First up, the only non-seafood item we ordered: Coffee Roasted Beets. These golden beets were-- as the name suggests-- roasted in coffee, giving them a hint of coffee flavor and that great tender texture. The beets were served with mixed greens, prosciutto, toasted hazelnuts and balsamic pearls-- a really cool molecular gastronomy technique which turns liquids into soft bubbles that pop in your mouth. The combination of flavors here was interesting and a really nice non-seafood option to round out our meal.

We also tried the Shrimp Bruschetta: crunchy toasts topped with chilled shrimp, creamy mashed avocado, tart grapefruit, toasted pistachios, spicy peppers, and garnished with fresh cilantro. I loved this combination of flavors and how summery the dish felt topped with chilled fresh ingredients like citrus and avocado. It was such a fun twist on a typical bruschetta.

We had all heard amazing things about the lobster mac and cheese before our visit to GT, so this was on our 'must order' list when we arrived. This did not disappoint and was one of my favorite dishes of the evening. GT uses orecchiette (little ears) for their mac and cheese, which is a great shape for holding their super creamy cheese sauce. The mac and cheese is tossed with chunks of lobster, English peas, and is topped with a breadcrumb topping to add a little texture to the creamy dish. The mac and cheese had great flavor and was really tasty-- I do wish that there had been more lobster in it though, as we found the lobster pieces few and far between.

I'm a little picky about eating octopus, but after trying it at Milos in Las Vegas and having it prepared really well I was excited to give it a go at GT. The preparation here was really wonderful. The octopus was grilled and perfectly tender, but not rubbery-- a crucial part of properly preparing octopus. It was served over chewy delicious farro, thinly sliced asparagus, pickled onions, and a sweet red pepper sauce. I loved that this dish was filled with light ingredients, but came together to create a really satisfying plate filled with complementary and interesting ingredients.

Finally, the lobster roll. I would have wanted one of these anyway, but when we found out that Mere had never tried one we knew this was something that we needed to order that evening. While the menu specifies that they serve a Maine Lobster Roll, we were actually given a choice between two different and classic preparations: Maine or Connecticut-style. Maine lobster rolls are filled with more of a salad-style filling with lobster tossed with mayo, herbs, and sometimes celery or onion. Connecticut-style rolls are simply filled with lobster and butter. We decided on the traditional Maine-style roll and it was delicious-- a buttery grilled roll, big chunks of lobster, and stuffed to the gills. Next time I would really love to try the simple Connecticut preparation too!

And let's not forget the sides! Unlike our other dishes, the lobster roll was served with a few items on the side. I loved the salty crunchy shoestring onions, but the pickled vegetables were one of my favorite foods of the night. They were super simple-- a little briny, a little sweet, and a little spicy-- and included a great assortment of vegetables like cauliflower, beets, carrots, and asparagus. It was so fun and different, and so tasty.

GT is a quintessential River North hot spot: a little pricey, a great location, an inventive menu, and quality food. Make a reservation for your next ladies night-- or date night!
GT Fish & Oyster on Urbanspoon

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