Red Door

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Photograph: Martha Williams

Fried oyster saam at Red Door

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Photograph: Martha Williams

Lemongrass chicken thigh at Red Door

3/4
Photograph: Martha Williams

Fava bean pesto toast at Red Door

4/4
Photograph: Martha Williams

Fried oyster saam at Red Door

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If Red Door were any other space, the story would focus on chef Troy Graves. Graves made a name for himself at Meritage, which was the occupant of this space two restaurants ago (Duchamp came in between). After being unceremoniously booted from Eve when his partners decided to make way for Bistronomic, Graves has made what could be seen as a triumphant return. Coming back home. Back to where it all started. To the good old days!

That’s not a bad story line for a new restaurant. But here, it doesn’t stick. The only thing anybody wants to talk about at Red Door (or Duchamp, or—to perhaps a lesser degree—Mertitage) is the patio. Duchamp turned the huge garden space modern, and the owners of Red Door haven’t changed a thing. Why would they? They know what they have, to the point that whenever I walked into the space and asked for a table, the hostess automatically assumed I wanted to be outdoors.

She was correct. The menu at Red Door appears at a glance to be pretty heavy—steaks, sloppy joes, poutine—and in addition to enjoying the nice weather, I thought being outdoors would provide an airiness I might not find on the plate. But that poutine, layered with chicken confit and spiked with curry, was not nearly as heavy as poutine can get. And some dishes, such as an oyster ssam that paired the crisp seafood with fiery kimchi, and a meaty chicken thigh swathed with lemongrass, were light, bright and summery. When less successful food came to the table, it wasn’t heaviness that was the problem but rather execution: A burger with bacon jam arrived joyless and overcooked. A hanger steak badly needed salt. The octopus was tough and, worse, the sauceless plate of food was dry as sand.

Graves has a few good ideas: I liked his bacon-wrapped artichokes stuffed with chicken liver, which eliminate the dates that are so often overly sweet, and his smoky grilled escarole played nicely off the golden raisins and gnocchi. But on a recent weekend evening, the restaurant’s approach to itself was concerning. The place seemed to be letting the pleasant patio do all the heavy lifting. The service was so off that a check was presented without even a mention of dessert (not that the housemade ice creams were worth flagging down a server for). A cocktail advertised as having crushed ice came with regular ice instead, and was so strong I was tipsy just smelling it. And nobody seemed to care, much less ask, when that cocktail (and the burger, and that octopus) went back to the kitchen practically untouched. Was it nice to be outside that night? For sure. But eventually it’s going to get cold out—what’s Red Door going to do then?

Venue name: Red Door
Contact:
Address: 2118 N Damen Ave
Chicago

Cross street: at Charleston St
Opening hours: Tues-Fri 5pm-2am; Sat, Sun 11am-3pm
Transport: El stop: Blue to Western (O'Hare). Bus info: 49, 50, 73.
Price: Average small plate: $12
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