Steadfast Is Elevating The Loop's Fine Dining Scene
By Anthony Todd in Food on Aug 16, 2016 2:57PM
A selection of dishes at Steadfast. Photo by Kaitlyn McQuaid.
The Loop, not one of the neighborhoods known for its great dining scene, is having something of a moment. Revival Food Hall is bringing independent restaurants from all over the city to downtown. Latinicity brought new life to Block 37 (though not without some hiccups). And now Steadfast, the new restaurant in the Kimpton Gray hotel on Monroe Street, is elevating the fine dining scene.
Steadfast's awesomeness comes from an unlikely place: the Fifty/50 restaurant group, a group known more for pizza and sandwich joints than a high-end restaurant that garnishes dishes with perfectly tweezer-placed edible flowers. Well, they've come out of the gate swinging, because Steadfast is unapologetically fancy, complicated and, it turns out, pretty darn delicious. Chef Chris Davies, formerly chef de cuisine at Fifty/50's under-appreciated rooftop spot, Homestead, is sending out some seriously interesting dishes—though not without a couple of swing-and-a-miss disasters.
The dining room at Steadfast. Photo by Kaitlyn McQuaid.
The dining room at Steadfast is pretty, cool and calming, with more shades of gray than you can find in your crayola box. This befits the location inside the not-yet-open Kimpton Gray (see what I did there) but also manages to elevate the tone inside this street-level hotel restaurant from "drop in for a drink" to "once you're in here, it's a little bit more formal." Cocktails are designed by the Fifty/50 group's rockstar mixologist, Ben Schiller, and you'll find his signature Weston (which I've occasionally called my favorite cocktail in Chicago) on the menu.
I don't think I've ever said this about a restaurant before, so brace yourself: The best thing on the menu at Steadfast is bread. That would normally be an insult ("It was all downhill after the breadbasket hit the table") but the bread service at Steadfast, run by pastry chef Christopher Teixeira, is freaking ridiculous. For between $8 and $10, you get to choose from a wide range of breads, from a surprisingly floral lavender pretzel to the greatest, most addictive garlic cracker ever made by man. On my first visit, i went with a gluten-free diner, and she almost started tearing up at her inability to eat this bread.
The bread service at Steadfast. Photo by Anthony Todd.
There's a selection of pickles, oils and butters to accompany your bread, the service is substantial enough that it required the waiststaff to pull over an additional table during one of our visits, and it's definitely worth ordering the "Large" version just to get more accompaniments. I can still taste the savory saffron butter, and the violet-pickled cauliflower tastes like you just swallowed a whole field of flowers. Before you scoff at $10 for bread service, give it a try.
Steadfast is a share-plate focused restaurant, which helps to balance the formality of the room and the complexity of the food with a hint of conviviality. Wood grilled kale is a funky, delicious take on this now-standard, served with a decadent bacon vinaigrette and pears. A small plate of wood-roasted suckling pig (actually more of a pulled pork, pressed into a cake and seared) is easily the best thing on the small plates list, served alongside an acidic homemade giardinera and bitter frisee. The dish seems bland, until you get all the elements in one bite and then it shines. Beef tartare is extra-savory with the addition of oyster and garlic scapes, and fried chicken skins with mustard seeds are going to become my new after-work bar snack.
Suckling Pig at Steadfast. Photo by Kaitlyn McQuaid.
If you can handle any more carbs after all that bread, go for the "laminated brioche" off of the snack menu, a caviar-and-egg strewn pastry that my date during one visit called the best ham and cheese croissant she'd ever had. Newly-introduced homemade charcuterie options come out individually plated, rather than on a board, and are accompanied by delicious tidbits like pickled watermelon rind. Cheeses are often served with accompaniments, but charcuterie is usually plopped down along side a blob of mustard, so it's nice to see creative flavor pairings being applied to meat.
And if you think my comment that their bread is the best was a shocker, try this one: The best entree is ... chicken. Yup, that thing usually plopped onto the menu for picky eaters is, at Steadfast, a total treat. The chicken is rolled and stuffed with spicy chorizo and topped black truffle and braised carrots, complete with a perfect row of flowers marching down the carrots. It's both beautiful and delicious, and will be a go-to once winter comes (it's a tiny bit heavy for 80 degree days).
Unfortunately for Davies, there were some serious misses. On one visit, I was in the mood for something cool and ordered their take on a little gem salad, which mentions "truffle" twice in the description. What I got was a salad that tasted like absolutely nothing at all, let alone truffle—more like crispy paper. The fideo, which sounds promising (black garlic squid!) is a cake of undercooked and inexplicable noodles swimming in a sauce that tasted like savory barbecue sauce from a bottle. Total fail. But the failures were rare amongst the successes, and the restaurant is still very new. Another note to the manager at Steadfast: Your dining room is also way, way too cold. Turn down the AC.
Is Steadfast a fine dining game-changer? Ok, probably not, if we're going to be honest. But for people looking for an after-work date night spot or a place for a memorable business dinner, Steadfast is rapidly going to rise to the top of the list. And for those of you who don't live or work in the Loop, Steadfast is definitely worth the trip.