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Inside Chicago’s Sexiest Steakhouse: Great Steak, Terrible Scene

By Anthony Todd in Food on Oct 22, 2015 4:29PM

The sexy dining room at STK Chicago. Photo by Kailley Lindman.
The steakhouse scene in Chicago is completely out of control. Every week we get another new meat palace, and it's hard to see the end of it. Some of these are locally grown, like Swift and Sons, the epic new spot from Boka Group and B. Hospitality Co. Others are out of town imports with big egos and bigger ambitions. When STK Chicago, a new branch of a national restaurant group that opened two weeks ago, announced its entry into the Chicago market, it bragged that it would be the "sexiest steakhouse experience you've ever had." Does the reality live up to the hype?

It should be noted up front that I, your loyal reviewer, am not this restaurant's target audience. While I maintain a corporate facade by day, I'm much more comfortable in a hip storefront restaurant with reclaimed wood, Edison bulbs and local cauliflower than in a trendy River North steakhouse. Heck, I managed to violate the (absolutely insufferable) dress code without even realizing it: "For the ladies, throw on a LBD and a pair of your favorite heels. For the gents, grab your blazer, throw it over a collared shirt and add the final touch with dress shoes." I guess I was wearing dress shoes, but i'm lucky they didn't throw me out for my slightly worn hoodie. By the way, if you wear tank tops or ball caps, you won't be allowed in— so check yourselves, bros.

The bar at STK Chicago. Photo by Kailley Lindman.

That being said, the space is impressive. After entering through a hopping bar and past an elevated DJ platform (because of course there's an elevated DJ platform), you reach the back of the restaurant, which is filled with, I hate to say it, sexy curved white leather booths, perfect for cuddling up with your date. Even in such a bumpin' spot, the design allows for a surprising level of quiet intimacy, and as I slide in, I have to give the designer some grudging respect. Verdict: Pretty darn sexy.

STK's menu hits every modern corporate steakhouse cliche. There are sliders (called "Lil' Brgs"), tuna tartare, a fancy casear, an extensive raw bar, and a large selections of different cuts of meat. They're transmitting "Lux" so hard it hurts, with lobster, wagyu and truffles all over the menu. The place is also screaming for tourists—in fact, the first question I'm asked upon sitting down is "Are you from Chicago?" My hoodie must have given off that Cleveland vibe.

That being said, sometimes cliches exist for a reason, and when they are well executed, you can have a perfectly delightful meal. Oysters, including an east and west coast variety, are absolutely perfect, fresh and well shucked. The "Not Your Daddy's Manhattan" was ... well... exactly my Daddy's Manhattan, but was strong, good and a perfect start to my evening. Verdict: Very sexy.

The totally awesome skirt steak. Photo by Kailley Lindman.

The central question of any steakhouse is: Can they make a steak? The answer at STK is yes, in spades. The steak was absolutely, 100 perfect—and moreover, they paid attention to detail. I ordered a rare skirt steak, and a manager-type with an earpiece came out to make sure I actually wanted that, since rare skirt steak can sometimes end up chewy. This is just the kind of service you want when you're ordering pieces of meat that can range up to $70. Pair it with a side of crisp broccolini (to make you feel better about downing 40 ounces of meat) and you've got a heck of an evening. Verdict: Super sexy, if a bit fattening.

Tuna tartare at STK Chicago. Photo by Kailley Lindman.

Unfortunately for STK, most of the non-steak menu was a total disaster. A jumbo lump crab salad tasted like it had been frozen, defrosted and left to sit - utterly without flavor, like a sort of crab-shaped protein bar. The tuna tartare inspired memories of my childhood salt addiction, when I would occasionally furtively tongue the dispenser on the Kikoman bottle - it was basically sitting in a puddle of pure soy sauce. Verdict: Not sexy at all.


So here's the plan, River North diners: If you want to go to STK, dress in your finest, order raw seafood, a large round of cocktails, a few steaks and a few sides and ignore everything else on the menu. Except dessert. Oh my god, the dessert. Their signature dish (which is, admittedly, a bit cheesy and mall-like) is a set of cake pops served in ice cream cones. But it's freaking delicious, and sometimes snobbery should be set aside for a good bite of cake. The real standout was the chocolate bar, the absolute platonic ideal of a candy bar, combining peanut butter mousse, caramel, chocolate and chocolate ice cream. Verdict: It was definitely the sexiest thing about the evening.

Oh god the candy bar. Photo by Kailley Lindman.

In a town with so many awesome steakhouses, can STK Chicago survive? That's the big question that I'm not so sure about, but as long as the music keeps blaring, the drinks are strong and the food continues to be passable, I suspect that the downtown crowd will keep them full for at least a year. Just remember to wear your LBD.