Quay Restaurant & Bar

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Photograph: Martha Williams

Fish fry at Quay

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Photograph: Martha Williams

Marinated chicken thighs at Quay

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Photograph: Martha Williams

Upside-down key lime tart at Quay

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Name a dish that you expect a “contemporary American” restaurant to have on its menu in 2011. Seared scallops? Quay has it. Beer-steamed mussels? Check. Round two: Name a dish you expected a “contemporary American” restaurant opening in 2004 to have on its menu. Beet salad? Something labeled flatbread? Grilled ahi tuna? Quay has those, too.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with this type of food. These dishes are popular for a reason: People like them. It’s just that Quay’s menu feels as though it were written by a focus group, and therefore lacks personality and authenticity. Unfortunately, that trait is in sync with the redesign of the former DeLaCosta space, which has turned the front room into a sports bar with blinding TVs and the back riverside room into a clubby lounge. Aside from having to walk through a sports bar to get to it, the main dining room retains a sense of decorum, with a variations-on-white, Sex and the City set-piece color scheme.

In that room on a recent weekend night, plenty of women who are likely still fans of that show were drinking from the pitiable mass-market wine list and nibbling at steaks. (You guessed there would be steaks, right?) The New York strip came out a perfectly even medium-rare, shyly but sufficiently seasoned. The halibut was dry and overcooked, a fate that a pairing of starchy beans and bitter rapini did not help. Scallops, too, had that rubbery edge from too much heat, while a Caesar salad was 100 percent average. And though our waiter clearly had never been trained on how to open a bottle of wine, I still took his recommendation for the dense-as-a-brick banana tres leches cake, which was not nearly as good as the “upside-down key lime tart,” key lime curd topped with oatmeal streusel, which was a refreshing, puckery ending.

All in all, it was neither a bad meal nor a good one. Which, come to think of it, is exactly what you’d expect.

By Julia Kramer

Venue name: Quay Restaurant & Bar
Contact:
Address: 465 E Illinois St
Chicago

Cross street: between Lake Shore Dr and McClurg Ct
Opening hours: Lunch, dinner
Transport: El stop: Red to Grand. Bus: 2, 3, 29, 65, 66, 124.
Price: Average main course: $25
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