If diners were blindfolded, had cotton balls stuffed in their ears and judged a restaurant merely on the execution of its food, Brasserie by LM would be a place to recommend. The runny yolks of the egg, the ample lardons: This is a flawless lyonnaise salad (if no different than one you can get at a dozen other places). The perfectly medium-rare cut of steak, the crisp fries: This is a perfectly executed (and perfectly expected) steak frite. And if these diners judged the chef, Bradford Phillips (ex–Pump Room), solely on his roast chicken, theirs would be reviews rich with praise: The skin could not be crispier, the meat could not be juicier, the portion could not be more generous. To taste this food (much of it, anyway) is to imagine yourself in a dim, crowded bistro. Okay, it’s not quite transformative—you won’t be taken to, like, Paris. But at the least, you’re at a decent bistro à la Mon Ami Gabi.
Then you open your eyes. Take the cotton out of your ears. And…dear Lord, what is this place? This is the restaurant at the Essex Inn, a lonely room that had a brief life last year as the contemporary American spot Tribute. There’s something vaguely “mod” about the look, something that does little to express the warmth of the current brasserie style of cooking. And there’s a dopey server who couldn’t have cared less if the dishes he was bringing to the table were Big Macs or El Bulli snacks.
True, it helps that there’s a whole wall of windows looking out onto Grant Park. And it might help if you were a traveling businessperson, because (save the dry bread pudding), this place would more than sate your requirements for a dinner for one. But as a sentient local, what you’re left with is not much of a dining experience; you’re left with only the food.