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Review – Hub 51

By Anthony Todd in Food on Aug 22, 2008 4:30PM

HubSign.jpgAfter catching a movie at River East, we stopped in at Hub 51, the newest member of the Lettuce Entertain You restaurant empire. Run by R.J. and Jerrod Melman, sons of LEYE kingpin Rich Melman, Hub 51 opened in July and was described by our server as dishing out “American fusion” fare. If you’re curious to know what that means, you’re in good company – we’re not sure the owners know, either.

The space is large (seating over 300 guests) with a décor that looks like a Design Within Reach exploded inside of a venerable Chicago steakhouse. Steel and aluminum beams arch over mahogany-colored tables, underneath an art-deco chandelier of thick green glass. The effect isn’t entirely unpleasant, though we suspect it doesn’t accurately reflect the amount of effort (or money) put into making the space appealing. The acoustics of the restaurant made conversation nearly impossible at 9 PM on a Wednesday, when the place was half empty.

Hub51.jpgThe menu is admirably flexible, encouraging diners to order small plates to share, large plates to pass around or mid-sized taco platters and sushi rolls. Yes, you saw that – tacos and sushi. And ceviche, hummus, gazpacho, nachos and ribs. Unfortunately, as so often seems to happen, a large variety of available items means that none of them are particularly satisfying. “Partner Bob’s Famous Smoked Salmon” had absolutely no flavor at all without the accompanying remoulade, and a basic California roll tasted (and smelled) like day-old supermarket sushi.

Hub 51 does have things to recommend. The pulled chicken nachos were quite good, and the house cocktail, the Hub Punch (on tap!), was refreshing and fruity. The menu is witty, the service was attentive and excellent. But the restaurant has dramatically overreached in its concept. If someone happens to bring you to Hub51, stick to standard American bar food, which they seem to do well, and avoid anything more adventurous.

Hub 51 is located at 51 West Hubbard. Reservations are available for large parties - otherwise, be prepared to wait on the weekends. They are open until 12 on weekdays and until 2AM on weekends.