After my trip to David Burke’s Primehouse in Chicago (which I chose because of this review) last March, I have learned two things. First of all, Primehouse has an unbelieveable burger. And secondly, when I go to restaurants by myself, I need to decide what I’m going to order before I enter the restaurant.
Primehouse started with off with a tasty popover and salted butter. It reminded me why I love fine dining — I receive little treats throughout the meal. The popover was quite good, and the presentation was eye-catching, but the butter was completely solid and incapable of being spread.
I was then served an amuse that was supposedly a Thai salad with shrimp and scallop. Frankly, while I enjoyed having an amuse-bouche, I thought it was mostly noodles and had too much cilantro (of course, I can’t stand cilantro). Even more so, it was average. I feel like I’ve had similar flavors elsewhere, and even then, they weren’t interesting.
My biggest disappointment was the Surf & Turf Dumplings (“angry lobster and braised short rib”). I wish I hadn’t ordered them — they were forgettable and overly pricey. The braised short rib dumpling on the left was tasty — crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside, but the lobster dumplings felt doughy. I hadn’t actually intended to order anything other than my burger, but the server was pointing out the appetizers, and I’m just not great at saying no to potentially delicious food.
And now, the pièce de résistance — the 40 Day Dry Aged Prime Steak Burger. It was absolutely like no burger I’ve ever had before. It was topped with garlic spinach, crispy shallots, and bacon mayonnaise, and it was served on a toasted potato bun. That was very good, but it’s not what made it special. No, it was special because it was dry aged for forty days.
I ordered it “rare plus” (between rare and medium-rare), and it was almost like tartare. It wasn’t the least bit bloody; it was actually cool in the center. It was not juicy, but I didn’t miss it — it was amazingly tender. It had an almost smoky. It was just outstanding. The Truffle Asiago French Fries were good (and I’m a sucker for anything truffley), but not amazing.
“Kickin’ Donuts” — it sounded like fun (“fill your own”). Twelve little donut holes, three sauces (apple, vanilla, and caramel) in little squeeze bottles. There wasn’t an easy way to fill them. The donuts were piping hot, fresh from the fryer, but they were a bit dense for my tastes. The apple filling tasted like apple sauce, and I didn’t do more than taste it. The vanilla was decent — a bit like pudding, or maybe pastry cream. The caramel was actually really tasty; it had depth, like burnt sugar.
The check came with petit fours (while I was still on my second donut) — lemon sponge cake and a blueberry pâté de fruit. The sponge cake was crispy on top and nicely flavored, but again, it was forgettable. The pâté de fruit had a kind of fun texture, but the flavor reminded me of fruit leather.
Frankly, I’m disappointed. The burger was phenomenal, no doubt about that. But the rest of the meal was mostly average, at prices that were definitely higher than average. I had high hopes, and Primehouse didn’t live up to them. I should have just stuck with the burger.
The service was too rushed — my burger, dumplings, amuse, and popover were all on the table at the same time. Granted, I did put my order in for my burger before the order for the dumplings. But it seemed that the amuse, dumplings, and burger all appeared within five minutes of each other (all three within five minutes, not five minutes between each course). The server was unfailingly polite, but I’m not sure that it felt genuine. Of course, that could be just because he kept calling me “Miss,” and it was about enough to drive me up the wall. Next time, I’m going to tell the person to not call me “Miss” (maybe I won’t press for a “sir,” but I’m at least not going to put up with a “Miss”).
It wasn’t anything he said specifically, but I just felt that he wanted me to order more, and he was still trying to get me out of restaurant as soon as possible. In a sense, I can understand that; if I just have a burger, an 18% or 20% percent tip isn’t going to be as much as if I have that burger, plus an appetizer and a dessert (or if I were a different party, with several people ordering lavish steaks). On the other hand, the restaurant wasn’t busy, I was a paying customer, and if I’d just had the burger, I probably would’ve tipped more than 20% because of feeling guilty about ordering so little.
Ultimately, I overreached. I was craving a burger, and I thought I’d splurge on something a little nicer in celebration of legally changing my name. And if I’d stuck to my plan and gotten just the burger, it would have been great. Pricier than going somewhere like P-Co, yes, but not really more than going for sushi at Sushiland in Bryn Mawr. Since I gave into the pressure to veer off away from my plan, though, I ended up feeling guilty about spending way more than I should have on food that simply wasn’t worth it.
My lesson, I suppose, is twofold. Firstly, if I go somewhere with a specific intention, I should stick to that. And secondly, I should only indulge in spur-of-the-moment additions to my meal at places I know will be excellent (Cosmos in Minneapolis, anything by José Andrés, etc.). Lesson learned. And anyway, it could have been worse (and the burger could have been bad — that would have really made the meal disappointing).