RL Restaurant - Chicago
Right next door to the world's largest Polo store, RL Restaurant is Ralph Lauren's first foray into the dining biz. Since 1999, the restaurant has reflected the vision and décor of Ralph Lauren with what their site refers to as “modern city-club cuisine.”
The atmosphere at RL Restaurant is distinctive, as noted in no less an authority than the Michelin Guide: “If you swoon for tartan and pine for the posh life Ralph Lauren represents, head for the boîte attached to the flagship Michigan Avenue store. Like a stylish private club but without the centuries of stuffiness, RL offers options for a quick solo lunch, cocktail at the mahogany bar, or full dinner. The odd Blackhawks jersey here and there doesn't detract from the overall aura. The menu is as classically American as the name, featuring bistro favorites like Waldorf salad and raw bar offerings alongside well-prepared dishes like sweet and plump pan-seared scallops with white balsamic-crème fraîche. The thin, flaky crust of a goat cheese- and caramelized onion-tart nearly steals the show from the rich atmosphere of the wood-paneled dining room.”
Like the Lauren line, the food is classic and it sets itself apart from here-today-gone-tomorrow fads, fashions and trends. With that in mind, there is no formal dress code, though “smart business casual” are the watchwords, so leave the thong and tank top at home. Baseball cap, too.
So, what’s to eat?
RL Restaurant offers a large menu at both lunch and dinner, though if it’s steak you’re looking for (and we’re assuming you are), you’ll want to come for dinner: that’s when the steaks come out to please. The red meat focus is on Prime Angus filet mignon, New York strip and bone-in rib eye.
We recommend the bone-in rib eye. Considered by many to be the most tasty of all the quick-cooking cuts of beef (long-cooking cuts would be, for instance, brisket and ribs) the rib eye comes from the front end of the rib section. It’s a highly marbled cut of meat, which means it’s tender and delicious. It’s believed by some (including us) that the bone contributes some flavor, but even if you don’t agree, you can bring home the bone from this rib eye and have the happiest dog in the world.
Are you tired of reading over wine lists that contain hundreds of wines you’ve never heard of at prices you have no idea are close to being reasonable. RL Restaurant makes it simple for you by focusing on about half a dozen reds and half a dozen whites, all by the glass and all (but one) under $16. The makes it easy right. Have a glass for a relatively small monetary commitment, and if you like it, have another. Easy.
Or course, all this old-timey sophistication is not right for everyone, but even the Chicago food media skeptics have been won over by the discreet charm of the place, as Anthony Todd wrote in Chicagoist: “RL’s concept isn’t just retro – it’s a total jump back in time. Old supper-club standards of the 40s and 50s have been resurrected here: Steak Diane, Bananas Foster, Crepes Suzette and Dover Sole, all with some element of tableside preparation. They’re also very delicious – reminding you why many of these dishes have been standards for almost 100 years. For instance, take the Steak Diane, a pounded slab of prime sirloin cooked in a sauce made of veal stock, mustard, shallots and Worcestershire sauce that was easily on par with any steak dish we’ve had in Chicago. The best appetizer on the menu (if you have 3000 calories to spare) is the “Baked Cheese,” a wedge of Saint Andre Triple Cream baked in phyllo dough and drizzled with maple syrup.”
There’s a lot to like about RL Restaurant, and location is certainly one of those things to like. If you’re shopping along Michigan Avenue, and it’s getting near lunchtime, you can throw the dice and try to get into hip (and very worthy) places like The Purple Pig, or you can stroll into RL Restaurant, perhaps after purchasing some fine Polo products next door, and sit yourself down in a well-appointed room, suitably shaded from the sunlight and busy streets outside, and be served by professionals who will treat you like English aristocracy. Have a steak, have a hamburger, it’s all good, and you’ll have a good time.