***** (5 stars)
The term “hidden gem” is overused, but is the perfect description of the Cherry Circle Room. Hidden away at the very, very, back of a very, very rowdy second-floor space in the Athletic Club (not a club anymore), this oasis of calm recalls fine dining of the Mad Men era, except that the restaurant and its cuisine are far newer.
First off, the wine list is one of the best in town, with great producers and a broad selection, if not a lot of depth of vintages. Best of all, pricing is reasonable, and there are some real gems for those who explore.
We started with a pretzel baguette, a perfect choice to prep for that first taste of wine. Then we moved on to some appetizers.
The foie gras pate was an absolute home run, an elegant ribbon studded with interesting accompaniments and served with the perfect toast points. This was the best dish in a very fine meal.
The caviar was a reasonable portion of superb osetra, made all the better by the reasonable $30 cost. The presentation is interesting although I don’t think it improved the caviar. It’s served atop what is essentially an omelet sphere filled with runny egg yolk.
Big Eye Tuna was another good appetizer, not quite a tartare or a poke, but something in between.
Grilled octopus was very tender, and served in a Spanish tapas style sauce. I would have liked a bit more char on the octopus, but it was very good.
Steamed mussels were in a delicious coconut curry broth, and served with a perfect French baguette.
The simple green salad was just as it says. The Caesar salad had unfortunately succumbed to 1999’s deconstructionist trend, and was served as a whole head of romaine. Our server steered us wrong on this one, because we even asked before ordering it if it was tossed in the kitchen. Fortunately the plate was big enough to cut it up, but that’s really the kitchen’s job. I wish this fad would go away.
For our main course we shared the leg of lamb, which was perfectly cooked, carved tableside, and plated in a marvelous reduction. It was some of the best lamb I’ve had.
Desserts were a bit less to my liking, but your mileage may vary. Both were again deconstructed, and I thought would have been better not. The ingredients for a nice carrot cake were strewn across one plate, and a bowl held small bits of what could have been assembled into a mint chocolate sundae, but wasn’t. Both seemed to be priced more for their appearance than the actual content.
Service was informative and efficient, but not at the level one might expect given the old-school setting. This might be a good thing, because there was certainly no hint of snootiness, and I would be comfortable coming back to this restaurant anytime. In fact, I’m looking forward to it.
Cherry Circle Room
12 S Michigan Ave
Chicago, IL 60603