The moment I entered Primehouse I was greeted by a wall of aromas, the most dominant of which was the rich, meaty, charred scent of perfectly grilled steak. My stomach immediately spoke up to remind me that I love steak, especially at a really good steakhouse. As the name implies, Primehouse is just such a place, and what Chefs Rick Gresh and Jove Hubbard had in store for me did not disappoint. It comes as no surprise that Chicago Magazine voted Primehouse the #1 steakhouse in Chicago in November, 2013.
David Burke’s Primehouse opened its doors in 2006, and is located in the chic James Hotel in Chicago’s legendary Magnificent Mile neighborhood. What it presents is modern American steakhouse cuisine, imaginatively interpreted with imagination and playfulness. When it comes to prime cuts of meat, James Beard award-winning chef David Burke believes in serving only the best. In fact, he owns his own 2,500-pound Black Angus Bull, whose name is Prime. Prime roams the rolling green pastures of Creekstone Farms in Kentucky and is the exclusive source of all of the high-grade meats served in all of Chef Burke’s establishments. Executive Chef Rick Gresh heads the kitchen in Chicago, and has created a menu featuring five grades of dry-aged steak. The meat lingers in a custom-built ageing room on premises, its walls lined with slabs of Himalayan salt. The five depths of intensity are accomplished by ageing the beef for 28, 35, 40, 55, or 75 days, far beneath the dining room floor. For especially demanding diners, rumors exist of off-menu steaks which have been carefully aged for 130 days, which are of extremely uncommon availability. In addition to the steaks, the menu also features locally-sourced and seasonally inspired dishes and a phenomenal table-side-prepared Caesar salad.
Primehouse is the perfect place to celebrate a romantic evening or to conduct an afternoon business meeting. It is posh and elegant, with an inviting atmosphere. When I arrived mid-day, there was lounge music in the background, and the mood was perfect for business. Even early in the day the scent of steak filled the air, and the tables are topped with stitched leather echo the attention to detail of the entire dining experience. The bartender is attentive and courteous, if you’re not sure what to order, tell him what you like and he will recommend something you will certainly enjoy. Overall, the service was impeccable. The waitstaff are professional, attentive, and informed no matter what question you throw their way.
In order of arrival;
Wagyu Beef Sashimi served on a slab of Himalayan salt with Mushroom Chips, Truffle Aioli and Croutes.
The freshly sliced Wagyu sashimi was fresh, light, and tender. The freshly ground pepper coating adds a lot of dimension without overwhelming the delicate flavor of the beef. In fact, the combination of raw beef and freshly ground black pepper reveals an herbal quality of the pepper that isn’t apparent in cooked dishes. It is accompanied by truffle aioli and slices of crisply toasted baguette. The flavors were spectacularly clear, and the earthiness of the truffle aioli didn’t compete with the clean taste of the raw beef. But what I liked most about this dish is that it is served on a beautiful slab of pink Himalayan salt, so as you eat the sashimi the level of saltiness increases; I was intentionally taking my time so that the last two or three slices had developed an intensity approaching that of caviar. Exquisite. I’ll be back if only to enjoy this one dish.
Pan-seared Scallops with Roasted Red Pepper, Blood Orange and Red Chili with Shaved Scallions
These perfectly seared succulent scallops were among the largest I’ve ever eaten. The richness of the scallop was sharply punctuated by the sweet tang of the blood orange; the spicy chili and roast red pepper erase any hint of marmelade flavor. I’m a big fan of scallops, and these were perfection. I rarely finish everything on my plate no matter if I’m eating out or at home. With this dish, I had a clean plate just a few moments.
35 day dry-aged Kansas City Sirloin Steak
Let’s get down to business. This is, after all, a steak house. Chef Gresh had selected a 35 day dry-aged Kansas City sirloin bone-in steak, which was beautiful. Over 2.5 inches thick, and spanning my plate from rim to rim; though the outside was thoroughly charred, the interior was medium rare as recommended, and was cooked to perfection. This steak melted in my mouth with a depth of beef flavor surpassing anything I have ever tasted. The fat was crisp at the edges, then tender, buttery and delicious. I almost always trim the fat from my steak, but not this time, honestly I can’t see how a steak could taste any finer than this one. Beyond the flavor of a great cut of beef, you can taste the skill and experience of everyone involved in crafting and ageing the finished product. Of special note are the bites of steak next to the bone; these are the most tender and flavorful so take the time to savor them.
Tempura Green Beans
The tempura fried green beans are a great alternative to french fries, and if not healthier, they certainly are more flavorful. They were crisp, not a bit greasy, and came served in a deep fryer basket lined with parchment. The lightly breaded, crisp beans paired perfectly with the teriyaki sauce.
Mac N’ Cheese with Mexican chorizo, Charred Jalapenos, Aged Cheddar Cheese, Cilantro, and Corn Tortilla Strips.
It’s hard to think of many dishes as familiar as macaroni and cheese. When it comes to comfort foods, Mac N’ Cheese is the gold standard but when you add the spicy Mexican flavors, it suddenly becomes exotic. The creamy combination of aged cheddar, savory chorizo, and spicy charred jalapenos will get your attention, and result in a creamy kick that melts in your mouth. Golden baked and topped with tortilla strips to add crunch, macaroni has never had it so good. Great choice as a side for a great steak.
The work that Pastry Chef Jove Hubbard produces at Primehouse are surprisingly sophisticated for a steakhouse, but then again, this isn’t just any steakhouse, this is Primehouse. Rivaling the finest France has to offer, his beignets, financiers, and Tarte tatin are spectacular. His desserts feature flavor combinations that are complex but extremely well thought out. As each arrived at my table, I felt a wave of regret for ruining his exquisitely composed plates with a dull spoon, but as each featured delicately flavored ice creams there was no time to waste and so I had to dig in!
Apple Cider Beignets with Apple Confit, Smoked Vanilla Ice Cream and Dehydrated Apple Cider
I haven’t had beignets like this since I was in France. Beignet is the French word for bump, which are made of choux pastry dough. The decadent deep-fried cream puff was golden, light, buttery, and crisp. A light dusting of powdered sugar added just the right amount of sweetness, and was balanced by the tart apple confit. The ice cream was flavored with smoked vanilla, which was a surprising addition, melting on the tongue, revealing smoke, leather, and cream. Vanilla as a flavor usually takes a back seat to other flavors, but this full-bodied, well executed example shows off what vanilla can be when it grows up. The rich vanilla flavor adds a creaminess to the beignet and smooths out the tart apple flavors; a sweet finishing touch of dehydrated cider was a whimsical addition, and brings the apple to the front of the palate.
Bosc Pear Tarte Tatin with Sassafras Ice Cream, Lemon Cream, Puff Pastry with Crystalized Ginger
I anxiously awaited this dessert. In our interview Chef Hubbard mentioned that he was developing a pear tarte tatin, I was excited as I have studied these in my French cookbooks, and tarte tatin is one of my favorite French desserts. Chef Hubbard nailed it, renewing my devotion to this particular dessert. The distinctive spiced flavor of Bosc pears, with sassafras ice cream and crystallized ginger flowed together beautifully, and the first bite reveals his true intention, to evoke the flavors of gingerbread on the tongue. A hint of lemon cream cuts the sweetness without being tart, and a hint of speculoos flavor lingers on the finish. What a complex dish, and a great variation on a French classic!
Chocolate Pecan Financier with Madirofolo Chocolate, Coffee Ice Cream, with Whiskey Caramel and Whiskey Pecans
The description sounds overly rich but thankfully, it has the perfect balance of rich chocolate and doesn’t make you reach for a glass of milk. This is the kind of chocolate decadence I love, one that doesn’t make me reach for a glass of milk. The financier is traditionally cooked in a madeleine bakeform, but Chef Hubbard wisely chose to make them on a waffle iron, which adds a delicate crispness that the traditional sort lack. It was rich and buttery, with grape-sized, whiskey-laced caramel eggs that melt in your mouth. The sweet chocolate and caramel flavors are balanced by a jolt of coffee ice cream. The addition of salted, candied whiskey pecans add crunch and a nice counter to the espresso flavors of the ice cream, and I could honestly eat this dessert for breakfast. Every day.
So which is the best steakhouse in Chicago? You could debate this for hours, but I agree with Chicago Magazine. For an elegant meal, an incomparable steak and sophisticated desserts I’ll book my table at David Burke’s Primehouse. Stay tuned when ACooksCanvas visits Burke’s Bacon Bar and Jimmy, for a martini-fueled evening of fun!