We recently took a food-centric trip to Chicago to experience all of the Michelin-starred restaurants we could fit in a long weekend. The airline tickets were cheap, the weather was great, and the time was right. We were off. Unfortunately, that meant we were "off" with a 6:00 a.m. Saturday-morning flight. But who needs sleep when there's great food to eat??
Seeing as how we had been up since 3:15 a.m. to shower and get to the airport for our 6:00 a.m. flight, we wanted our first restaurant of the trip to be casual. Neither of us wanted to bother with fancy since you can't get much sleep on the plywood that Spirit calls an airline seat. A pub sounded like a good choice! A Michelin-rated pub sounded even better. Chicago has such a place called Dusek's--a cool gastropub-centric restaurant in a hip neighborhood. Aside from a 1-star rating in the Michelin Guide, it was also recommended by a Chicago-born somm friend. What could go wrong?
We pulled up and were immediately impressed by the swanky build out. The restaurant had a dark color scheme, and exposed brick walls, with the natural wood and light from windows on all sides really brightening things up. It was versatile - bright for brunch and dark for dinner, with a fantastic wood-burning double pizza oven in the secondary dining room, and a nice little patio off to one side.
They had a pretty extensive craft beer list, and everything on the menu looked good, so we quickly made our selections and were excited to dig in.
We often form our first impressions of a brunch/lunch spot on their bloody mary. We're pleased to say, Dusek's version of the classic was excellent. Their homemade mix provided enough heat to give a subtle burn, which was countered by vinegar notes and rich tomato. Accompaniments included a carrot that had been pickled in a ginger brine, and a Miller High Life pony bottle chaser (interesting, but no thanks).
We also tried a glass of the Great Noon Whistle Brewing Gummy IPA. It was very fresh and floral without a lot of hops--allegedly a New England style IPA, and perfectly refreshing on a warm Saturday.
We started the meal (ordered off of their lunch menu, not their brunch menu) with a half-dozen oysters. They came with a dill mignonette (essentially a homemade dill pickle brine) that was delicious, and not vinegary at all. And we don't even like mignonette. Unfortunately, they brought two different types of oysters without disclosing that fact (they looked fairly similar until the shells were flipped over), so Natalie enjoyed three of one type of oyster (kunamotos), while Cameron enjoyed a completely different type of oyster (sweet petites). Natalie's were buttery, briney, dilly, with hints of onion. Pure bliss, and some of the best she'd ever tried. Cameron's were light, floral, pleasant with good contrast to the mignonette. We would each have loved to try both types of oysters, but that wasn't in the cards thanks to the server's lack of disclosure.
Once we determined we were served different types of oyster, we flagged down our waiter and asked about it. His response was "oh, they usually serve the same oysters, and I didn't notice. I'll ask." Our entrees came via a different server, and went once we were done, and yet our server was nowhere to be seen. When we were only a few minutes from leaving, we found our original server, and asked again about the oysters. Sure enough, he said the kitchen had messed up and served two different types of oysters. But, no apologies. No ask whether we wanted to try one of the other types. Nothing of the sort. If we were talking about a cheap seaside oyster bar, we would have no problems. BUT, this is a Michelin-starred restaurant. It has the same rating as Bouchon in Napa (an excellent experience last time we were there, with fabulous service). We didn't think the response was appropriate for this type of restaurant.
For our entrees, we ordered the Burger and the Reuben Benedict.
Honestly, we were just not that impressed with the burger. It was a tiny patty (we're talking hockey puck sized), stuffed with American cheese, much as you would do if you bought a plastic burger-stuffer gadget from Williams-Sonoma. Was there even a point in asking what doneness we wanted? Not when you have to overcook the outside of the patty to get the cheese melted on the inside. Once again, not what you would expect from a Michelin-rated burger. The bun was fluffy, and the bacon onion jam was a tasty counterpoint to the richness of the cheese. But, we could've used much more than the rough teaspoon of bacon onion jam smeared on the bun! On a side note (pun intended), we ordered a salad in lieu of fries. When we weren't asked about a dressing choice, we assumed it would be dressed in a house dressing of some sort. However, it was served completely undressed on the side of the plate - just a sad pile of slightly wilted romaine. Almost as sad as our hearts, at this point withering away with disappointment at the dining experience.
The Reuben Benedict was the better entree of the two we ordered. The egg on each serving was beautifully poached and it was a perfect dish for sharing. Although, each serving was really small--essentially the size of a slider. Not quite what we had expected size-wise. The open faced sandwich used a rye puff pastry in lieu of the typical English muffin, which was a really nice touch, counteracting the richness of the egg and corned beef. the pastry really was buttery, crispy, and delicious. The shredded corned beef short ribs melted in your mouth, and the sauerkraut was fermented in-house and had a great acidic bite--especially when combined with the mustard-seed relish on top of each slider. However, we both agreed that the ratios were off, and the dish could have used more beef and more sauerkraut. There was probably 1 heaping tablespoon of each per serving--probably 1/2 to 1/3 of what should have been present. The Russian dressing-inspired hollandaise sauce squirted on top was a bit flavorless and provided color more than meaningful flavor. This dish was a solid concept, but frankly was too small to equal a single meal, with most of the plate filled with tasteless, unsalted, chunky-fried potatoes acting as a cheap filler. The dish certainly needed a few tweaks to make it great.
Overall, we didn't think Dusek's was at all deserving of a Michelin star, and, frankly, isn't really worth going out of your way to visit. Was it a decent brunch/lunch option? Sure. Was it any better than some of the burger spots we frequent in Dallas? Absolutely not. The food was OK, the service was honestly sub-par in many ways, and, other than a couple of fancier staple drinks, the menu wasn't that inventive. We certainly won't be going back next time we're in Chicago, and wouldn't recommend it to others. There are much better, well-deserved 1-star spots in Chicago for the same price. Do yourself a favor and pick one of those instead.