The hostess wore a minidress and stilettos. Our server disappeared to pour drinks for the crowd forming at the bar. Velvet Revolver blared out of the speakers that hung over a massive steel staircase, and the artwork consisted of dripping candles, a skull-and-crossbones emblem and macabre oil paintings that included a splayed-out rabbit and more skulls. And yet in the midst of all this—a gothy, glam-rock setting that could serve as the set for a Good Charlotte video—we managed to notice that the food was quite good. Make no mistake, the Libertine is a club, albeit disguised as a rock bar, but somehow it landed a talented young chef. It’s just a shame that nobody there seems to notice.
That’s not to say everything on chef Tony Galzin’s menu is great, but given a few definite hits and a sense that he “gets it,” we can say he’s one to keep an eye on. His undeniably scarfable Crabpuppies combine blue crab, sweet corn, hush-puppy batter and roasted red pepper rémoulade for such delicious “no-duh” results, it’s tough to believe these aren’t on every bar menu in town. Juicy mini burgers’ smoky bacon and white cheddar play perfectly off the truffle aioli for the crispy fries.
And while Galzin’s pissaladière (flatbread) topped with sweet caramelized onions, briny anchovies and picholine olives isn’t exactly an original, it’s executed pretty remarkably, with a bubbled, crispy crust that could convince you there was an in-house wood-burning oven (there’s not). The chef also shows some skill with one of the easiest Italian creations to mess up—his gnocchi were perfect, plump little pillows swimming in brown-butter sauce with sage and roasted squash. The dish’s only fault was the dry and somehow stringy pork belly. There were also problems with the beer-steamed mussels, whose broth was bitter and unbalanced and whose slivers of celery were a strange detraction. Combining the hits and misses on one plate was the charcuterie: Both the garlicky rabbit and the pheasant and dried cherry terrine were memorable for their rich, savory and balanced flavor, while the dry and gritty duck pâté was, unfortunately, unforgettable.
Before hooking up with the Libertine’s owner, Frankie Fioretti (who also has a stake in Exit, Ruby and Buzz), Galzin spent time under chefs Dale Levitski and Mary McMahon at Trio Atelier. McMahon apparently passed along a tip or two about desserts because both the blood-orange panna cotta in grapefruit caramel and the allspice beignets with caramelized pineapple were simple but tasty endings. And they arrived around the same time as the cell-phone squawkers sporting the popular and strange combo of designer bags, winter tans and spiked belts. Apparently the Libertine has no trouble drawing a crowd of drinkers. But for Galzin’s sake, we hope some of them work up an appetite to let the kid see what he can do.
|Venue name:||The Libertine (CLOSED)||Contact:|
1615 N Clybourn Ave
|Transport:||El: Red to North/Clybourn. Bus: 8 Halsted, 72 North.|
|Price:||Average main course: $12.|
|Do you own this business?|