Chicago is home to some of the best steakhouses in the world but few can match the vibe and aesthetic of Maple & Ash. Upstairs on the posh second floor dining room, you’ll spot groups of 20-somethings celebrating birthdays, couples on date nights or power brokers doing business. Chef Danny Grant’s menu aims to please with delicacies like caviar, fire-roasted seafood towers, dry-aged beef and truffle agnolotti. Oh, and save room to build your own sundae for dessert.
The following review was published in 2015.
The Gold Coast steakhouse marries irreverence with spot-on takes on classic dishes.
I didn’t expect to find myself in the middle of a clubby lounge in a steakhouse at midnight, but Maple & Ash inverts expectations. You enter the Gold Coast restaurant through a crowded bar, then take the elevator upstairs to a lively lounge before being whisked into the calm, elegant dining room. I also didn’t expect the chef's choice option to be called "I Don't Give a Fuck” or the “Baller” seafood tower, but I did expect classic steaks and sides from chef Danny Grant and exceptional wines from sommelier Belinda Chang.
The dichotomy places Maple & Ash in line with other new steakhouses, like RPM Steak, Swift & Sons, STK and Boeufhaus, which update classic dishes while offering a cooler ambience than old-school spots. The meal begins with a round of freebies—a mini gin cocktail, citrus-cured olives, nubs of Hook’s cheddar and radishes with butter—to snack on while you peruse the menu. Seafood is a good choice to start. Pile refreshing salmon tartare atop pieces of fried phyllo dough and order coal-roasted seafood, available in a tower or individual pieces. Fat, sweet crab legs are rich and spicy from garlic butter and chili oil, and the half lobster with the surf and turf has the same presentation. It’s perfect, though the accompanying filet is mushy rather than tender. The bone-in rib-eye is a better choice, with a juicy center, mineral flavor and charred edge. Nearly every table in the dining room ends with sundae service, a $19 tower of ice cream toppings—hot fudge, salted caramel, nuts, candy and fruit—that’s $4 for each extra bowl of ice cream. It’s whimsical and large enough to feed an entire table.
The food satisfies, though rushed, smothery service feels at odds with the cool vibe. Let’s all relax—the night is young.
Atmosphere: The dining room is gorgeous, with candlesticks on the tables, patterned fabrics and attention to detail, like the Maple & Ash logo in the window design. On Friday night, the downstairs bar and upstairs lounge were both packed with 30- to 50-somethings; despite the party, the dining room is fairly quiet.
What to eat: Roasted seafood, dry-aged rib-eye, sundae service.
What to drink: Bartender Cristiana DeLucca explores the history of the martini, from an 1848 recipe to her present-day takes on the drink. The list includes a vesper and a Martinez, though the modern expressions are wonderful—the herbal, cucumbery Savory is made with St. George Terroir gin, dry vermouth and cucumber bitters, while the gentle M&A Reverse brings dry vermouth to the forefront, then accents it with Bombay gin and Angostura orange bitters. It’s a great cocktail list (non-martini options are available as well), so it was disappointing when a server recommended I order a cocktail that doesn’t taste like booze, but directed my male date to something stronger.
The wine list is huge, but asking for help yields warm service and lots of smart choices. The sommelier brought over three wines to sample before we settled on a crisp muscadet to pair with seafood. All wines are available by the glass, thanks to the Coravin system, which opens the wine without removing the cork, so if you don’t spot something you want on the wine list, just ask.
Where to sit: With a downstairs bar, upstairs lounge and large dining room, Maple & Ash has options for each type of diner. For more casual options, pop by the bar; for a full sit-down dinner, the dining room; and just drinks (or dancing), the lounge.