Review: Fulton Market Kitchen
311 N. Sangamon St. 312-733-6900
Rating: 3 (out of four) Off to a good start
A mix of art galleries and big-name restaurants mixed in with meatpacking plants is what makes the West Loop a destination. After living in the neighborhood for nearly a decade, Daniel Alonso (of Wicker Park tapas bar Black Bull) partnered up with former Victor Hotel owner Relu Stan to turn that space into his own mixed-media creation.
Victor Hotel was a club, not a hotel, and Fulton Market Kitchen is on Sangamon Street, not Fulton, but stay with me here. When it came to filling this massive, high-ceilinged, multi-roomed bar and restaurant, Alonso enlisted a legion of local artists and was inspired by everything from the '80s art scene in New York to the Wynwood Walls, a series of street-art murals in Miami, he said. I dropped in on opening weekend to see whether the ideas came together.
"What I was naturally fearful of is … [oftentimes] when artwork is displayed in a cafe or a bar or a restaurant, it feels very decorative," said Alonso. "It's kind of like, four paintings and there's an artist's note underneath … 'oil on canvas, call for price.' I want it to be a very integrated part of the overall design." By combining forces with Alex Morales of Smartmouth Designs and Franklin Riley of FM Gallery, Alonso managed to make the space and art feel one and the same, from a massive mural by graffiti artist Erni Vales to a trio of works by Hebru Brantley above a pair of massive wooden carriage doors. At a trendy art gallery opening, sometimes the scene—with creative types mingling and wine flowing freely—is just as interesting as what's on the walls. That's how it felt here after dark, as the dinner crowd gave way to cocktail dresses and cleavage, fashionable dudes working leather blazers and an appearance from party scene fixtures the Landan twins.
I can forgive the cutesiness of the naming the courses first, second and third "canvases." I can even tolerate the cocktail menu being sectioned off into "Renaissance" for classics and "Modern: First gallery showings" for funky creations such as the beet juice-based Beetlejuice Beetlejuice ($12). But I don't think the owners were quite thinking it through when they glued the menu pages inside art history books from the '60s. Novel idea in theory, but what actually happens is the whole table smells like an old, dusty library every time you open a menu. There's nothing less appetizing than your hands smelling like eau de old book when you lift your cocktail to your lips or snatch the last fry from the table.
Our server recommended that each person order a first, second and third course for dinner, which will run about $50-$75 per person, not including drinks or tip. If you're not in the market or mood for a full three-course dinner, as my table was, you can share and snack on a handful of plates instead. Executive chef James Gottwald (former Rockit Ranch Productions culinary director) is behind the food menu; like a stroll through an art museum, some things dazzled while others just didn't do it for me. Scallop crudo ($12), with its thin slivers of ruby beet and coral grapefruit plus a sprinkle of pink peppercorn, looked like a work of art but lacked the zing or zip that makes a good crudo. I actually dug the other scallop appetizer—which the kitchen mistakenly sent out instead and our server apologized for on the spot—much more, with its deep-fried nuggets of bay scallop and sweetbreads matched with lemon, rich truffle aioli and salty tobiko. A too-heavy char on the grilled octopus ($13) overpowered the tomatoes, vinaigrette and frisee it was served with, but rye-crusted salmon with braised red cabbage, pickled onions, fried capers, dill and creamy yogurt ($24) had my whole table raving.