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Restaurants, Contemporary American Rush & Division
4 out of 5 stars

The revolving door is a century-old invention of nondebatable usefulness. It not only acts as a barrier between the bitter, assaulting Chicago cold and the bitter, assaulting heating bill, but also requires one to exert an absolutely minimal amount of force to pass through it on even windy days.

It’s that infinitesimal degree of exertion that poses a problem for the Elysian. On one visit, three hotel employees were stationed at the door, strategically ensuring it revolved without my so much as touching it. Push the elevator call button myself? I might faint from exhaustion. The Elysian prizes service so pampering it borders on goofy, but it’s all so well orchestrated and gracious that its luxuriousness begins to feel…natural.

So of course you would start dinner at Ria with an aperitif: When the chilled bottles are wheeled over and offered from a cart, it seems ungracious to refuse. And then there are the amuses, which express what I’ve gleaned to be the restaurant’s opulent modus operandi: If it’s not draped in white truffles or smothered in foie gras, what’s the point? There’s a tiny scallop decorated with shavings of black truffles, and next to it, a tiny tartlet filled with creamy foie gras. Don’t act surprised when you lift the shell of the next amuse to find a precious oyster overrun with tiny trinkets of caviar. It starts sweet, ends salty like the ocean, and tastes like clean, pristine bliss.

Ria has achieved a state of transcendence so all-encompassing that having to actually read the menu can seem like…well, work. But it’s not so hard, really. I’m partial to the lobster—cooked to a perfect, buttery, meaty texture—but who wouldn’t be? There are more adventurous dishes: A cock’s comb (the crown of a rooster) braised into gelatinousness accompanies a poached hen egg, which is itself topped with strips of chicken skin so crisp they make bacon irrelevant; langoustines are served over thin cakes composed of pig’s tail; and turbot (pictured) arrives exquisitely seared, with addictive marrow croutons beside it. In this white-truffle world, ordering the Peking duck feels almost pedestrian, but if you do, you’ll be rewarded with a two-course entrée, one of which buries duck confit beneath silky seared foie gras.

There were times when promised flavors could have lent dishes added savoriness: It was hard to get chorizo out of the hen-egg broth supposedly infused with it; more of the promised cheddar would have added contrast to the apple-tart starter. But it’s only the desserts that call attention to how easily this kind of food can slip from sophisticated to silly: What could silver (yes, real melted silver) possibly add to a dessert except dreaded metallic flavor? Who wants apples baked in such a way that they taste of “ash”? Or mulled wine devolved into foam?

This is an experience too delicate and refined to risk damaging: Call it quits after the cheese course, which consists of a spectacular wheel of aged Comté. Which is sliced tableside, of course. Would you honestly expect they’d do it any other way?

By: Julia Kramer


Venue name: Ria (CLOSED)
Address: 11 E Walton St

Cross street: between State and Rush Sts
Opening hours: Dinner (Tue–Sat)
Transport: El stop: Red to Chicago. Bus: 36, 66, 143, 144, 145, 146, 147, 148, 151.
Price: Average main course: $38
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