Closed. Enjoy the memories…
What’s in a star or two? With all of the hubbub over the recent release of the Chicago Michelin Guide, I couldn’t help but wonder. So I made my way to Ria last week for the first time to see what it means to dine in a place that gets a two-star rating in the guide. Located in the posh Elysian Hotel/condo complex, Ria is an upscale sister to Balsan, one of our favorites that’s in the same building.
From start to finish, the dining experience at Ria drips with crystal-clad class, and it is no doubt a restaurant that takes the business of good food and excellent service very seriously. But not so much so that it’s pretentious or unapproachable. In fact, the elegant gray-toned dining room features comfy chairs, simple but beautiful play-settings, and lots of room, making it easy to literally sit back, relax and enjoy your meal. In some ways the space reminded me of a friendlier version of the Tru dining room.
My friend Jane and I found it easy to get a last-minute reservation after work, although I’d wager that that particular luxury won’t last, and we found that the food echos the atmosphere — simple and clean with the meal preparations showcasing high quality. Sauces here are classic and are meant to enhance and complement tastes, rather than mask them, and they do just that. The portion sizes are satisfying too — but again, they are based on quality not quantity.
We were visited by the champagne chart first and were offered three choices — two of which were surprisingly affordable. So we launched the evening with some bubbles and worked our way up.
Food wise, we started with the alba truffle brioce, a delectable dish that is on the more pricey side of the menu ($65), but with an overly generous shaving of fresh truffle added on top, it’s worth it. This truffle was like nothing I’d ever tried. It tasted earthy and fresh, and its flavor was mild compared to the intense truffle oils I’m used to.
For main dishes we had the lobster tail — a creamy buttery dish that was perfectly prepared — and the wild striped bass with trumpet mushrooms — which was excellent, but not at all in the same catagory of goodness as the lobster.
For dessert we had gingerbread with cranberries, figs, ricotta, and maple ice cream and Honeycrisp apples with sour dough, red quinoa and olive oil. Both desserts were interesting, but they were too “deconstructed” and fancy to be really good. The homemade chocolates and cookies they brought us to close the evening were much more on-the-mark and in line with the tone of the rest of the meal.
So does Ria stand out among the other restaurants of its ilk, say Tru or Schwa, which both got one star instead of two? Does it rise above Zealous or Moto that didn’t get any stars at all? Yes and no. The food is pristine, but so are dishes at the other places I mentioned. So what’s the difference? My best guess is consistency in quality and service. The dining experience at Ria is solid and well-rounded, and it looks built to stay that way. I’ve had more creative dishes that “wowed” me elsewhere, and that leads me to believe that a Michelin star is less about the “wow” factor and more about high-end dependability. Never once did I question the quality of what I was eating at Ria, and what I was eating was mouthwatering. If you like fine dining certainty, somewhere in the $100 to $150 per person range, Ria’s a good bet. You’ll get something fantastic there, but it won’t be an adventure.
11 E Walton St
Chicago, IL 60611-1408