Sable Kitchen & Bar

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Photograph: Martha Williams
Buttermilk-fried quail
River North
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To evaluate Sable Kitchen, there first needs to be some clarification of terms. First up: the flatbreads. These are bulbous and puffy rounds of dough, cut into wedges before being served. Which means that it’s not a flatbread at all. It isn’t even flat. It’s a pizza.

To evaluate Sable Kitchen, there first needs to be some clarification of terms. First up: the flatbreads. These are bulbous and puffy rounds of dough, cut into wedges before being served. Which means that it’s not a flatbread at all. It isn’t even flat. It’s a pizza.

Sable isn’t the first to confuse the two (see Crust in Wicker Park) and, really, anybody would be hard-pressed to finger the definitive difference between them. But Sable’s flatbread is not even in keeping with the sentiment of a flatbread. The word suggests that something different is being attempted, that these pizzas will be distinguished enough to warrant a name less pedestrian than pizza. But it’s not. The prosciutto-olive-fried-egg flatbread is many things: briny, salty, rich, chewy. But it’s nothing new. The flavor, and the dough, reminiscent of Boboli, will be as familiar as tap water.

And the spicy buttermilk fried quail? They’re really just buffalo wings, the sauce dominant enough that its vehicle could be chicken. Or halibut, for that matter.

The list goes on, but the takeaway with any of these dishes is the same: The modern restaurant that Sable is trying to be in print is not, in fact, what materializes on the plate.

The restaurant should perhaps do a little less trying. As it stands now, Heather Terhune’s menu is derivative of the gastropubby restaurants of the past decade, and it reads like a greatest hits of the aughts. There are pickled vegetables, and various incarnations of the slider, and that pesky bedbug of restaurant menus, the bacon-wrapped date. These are executed with varying degrees of success: The pork-belly BLT slider sports a thick strip of crispy pig fat but skimps on the lettuce and tomato; the bison short-rib slider is impressively tender, but the root-beer glaze is sweet enough to make it dessert. The crispy artichokes, though, need no caveat—they are as addictive as good steak fries (which they emulate to great success) and as good a bar snack as anybody could ask for. Which brings up another vocabulary issue: By calling itself a “Kitchen & Bar,” Sable is suggesting that it’s both. But really it’s either/or, depending on where you sit. In the bar area, you have full access to bartender Mike Ryan’s cocktails, an impressive list where even a drink called the Bridal Shower is balanced and complex. His cocktails are so good, in fact, that they detract from the food, which benefits from less scrutiny. As mere companions to the cocktails, those sliders are better than fine; ditto for those pizzas.

For those who insist, a three-course dinner can be carved out of this menu, and it’s possible you’ll hit on a few dishes that work. The cod proves that you can pair several strong flavors—pumpernickel, horseradish, dill, smoke—and still end up with a delicious, delicate dish. And the crispy red lentil cake, though perhaps more dense than crispy, is topped with a zesty zucchini salad that deftly balances the cake’s heft. But you’ll likely also come across plates like the oven-roasted chicken, a roulade filled with chicken-liver mousse that comes with dumplings that pull no herbaceous punches. It tastes fine but not good enough that you won’t notice how dry the chicken is. Still, it’s at the end of that three-course meal when you’ll really wish you had stayed at the bar. These last courses are some of the most disappointing desserts in the city: a wet and heavy clafoutis, a stale-tasting batch of whoopie pies, a dense “soufflé cake” that couldn’t be less like a soufflé if it were a salad. They’re just a few of many reasons why Sable should be thought of as a Bar & Kitchen, and not the other way around.

By David Tamarkin

Venue name: Sable Kitchen & Bar
Contact:
Address: 505 N State St
Chicago

Cross street: at Illinois St
Opening hours: Breakfast (Mon–Fri), brunch (Sat, Sun), lunch (Mon–Fri), dinner
Transport: El stop: Red to Grand. Bus: 22, 29, 36, 65, 125.
Price: Average small plate: $11
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