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Jun 30, 2008 08:05 AM

Ge: Graham Elliot

I've heard so much hype about this place and we made it in yesterday evening for dinner. I've seen this chef all over the local news and media, who have placed him right there with Cantu and Achazt as one of the most significant chefs in Chicago right now. I guess I'm somewhat confused since some of the food was mediocre at best like the rissotto which had good flavor but was over cooked and just not as clean tasting as I would expect at such a place. The worst part of the meal were the desserts, which left me wondering why such a place would save the lackluster part of the meal for last. This left a bad taste in our mouth finishing on such a bland note: a dry and lifeless peach cobbler which consisted of the tiniest amount of flavorless 'brown sugar' ice cream wouldn't have been able to begin to save the desperate soul of deconstruction. The spiced rice krispie treat with a line of marinated strawberries and sweetened condensed milk ice cream had better flavor overall, yet it was still bland, lacked soul and seemed to be an afterthought. I expected much more from all of the hype (not to mention the prices).

Fortunately, some of the food stood up to all this hype: ceasar salad, which was deconstructed yet in a sensible way. The combination of white anchovy, fresh romaine, parsley cream and stuffed brioche was straightforward and flavorful. The root beer glazed 'prime' pork chop (although slightly over-cooked) was charred and glazed to perfection and was a great base for a refreshing watermelon chutney, containing a couple of ingredients that I couldn't pick out but was tasty none the less. The skatewing was a straight forward preparation containing polenta, spinach and a sweet raisin chutney. Tasty yet somewhat surprised with the large portion. The lack of sophistication of this food (both in flavor at times and definitely lightness/freshness) does not encourage us to try multiple courses. This obviously may not be the intent at G.E. and thats fine but what's all the hype for?!? Anyone been yet and have a different opinion? Maybe Sundays are off nights for the chef and that's just what it was, an off night.

The interior of this restaurant is beautiful with the earth tones and minimal treatment. The servers are out to prove the pretentiousness that many restaurants display and I applaud that. Although, at times they seemed a bit obtrusive. Seriously, how many times do I need my water glass filled after taking two sips! Find something else to do...HIDDEN! It also seems the chef is out to lower his expectations by giving his staff ownership of the menu. That's a nice thought in concept, however, people are eating at G.E. to eat food cooked by G.E. Is this a sort of cop-out gesture by a chef who names his restaurant by his initials?

Regardless of the experience (both good and the bad), G.E., you may want to invest in a pastry chef. Not being from Chicago but having the experience I had at Blackbird on Saturday, knowing what's going on around the city with all the hype (Ge included), I would say last impressions are particularly important.

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  1. i'm going to slightly disagree. i was there on friday night and had really high expectations (i basically salivated over the website for the seven days leading up to it). we decided to give it an 8/10.
    The appetizers were a 9: our table of 3 had the cheezit risotto (nicely made without bacon for me as a vegetarian), the scallops, and the kobe tartare. i thought the risotto was nice, but a little bland. not that color has that much to do with it, but i expected it to be brighter (it was almost beige). friends liked both their dishes- the scallops were perfectly cooked.
    Entrees: 8/10. First of all, I found it a little ridiculous that there is not a vegetarian entree on the menu. Chef made a plate for me that was basically two sides from other entrees: an israeli cous cous with fennel salad and a polenta cake. both were very good, and it was even the best polenta cake i have ever had, but $28 for that just seemed a little ridiculous. The other dishes were the same "meh" experience. Two pieces of lamb, one of which was cooked perfectly, but the other was tough, and the salmon BLT.
    desserts: 9/10. Have to diagree majorly here, and say the PB brownie was probably the best dessert i have ever had. brownies stuffed with PB cream, PB gelato, malted malt balls, and a caramelized brownie. heaven on a plate. the other 2 desserts were slightly less fantastic- the aforementioned peach cobbler, but i thought the spice krispies tasted really good and had a nice strawberry in rhubarb reduction.
    service: 10/10. our waitress was fantastic, they were accomodating to my non-meat eating, and weren't obstrusive at all. the waitress was great help with the wine list, and it was an overall great experience. i would say that when i go back, i would probably sit in the bar area and order from the appetizers/desserts.

    5 Replies
    1. re: lp veg

      I've been there twice and have high hopes for the place. Clearly there are some kinks to be worked out in both the menu and service. I do think it's strange that the chef is always walking around talking to people and not cooking. But I've had some great dishes. The chicken which is a play on chicken wings and the gnocchi are top notch.

      1. re: ems

        Why would Chef Bowles be cooking? He didn't cook at Avenues either. He oversees the kitchen and expedites.

        Anyway, I've been twice and have enjoyed both times. Sure there have been inconsistencies, but this is a new restaurant. This is also a very personal restaurant, which is why I think Chef Bowles can be seen in the dining room so much. He's not just mingling, he's checking up on all sorts of FOH things that he can't monitor from the kitchen.

        1. re: jesteinf

          hm. i dont think its so strange for a chef in the first weeks of his opening to be greeting all the people he knows that have supported him for a long time. also, who knows how much time he spends in the kitch pre-service doing prep/experimenting with dishes. i wouldn't count that as a strike against him.

          1. re: kathleen rose

            Oh, I didn't mean it in a negative way at all. I was responding to ems' comment:

            "I do think it's strange that the chef is always walking around talking to people and not cooking"

            I wouldn't expect Bowles to be cooking. Just like I wouldn't expect Charlie Trotter or Grant Achatz to be cooking in their restaurants.

            I understand perfectly that role he is playing is crucial. No negative tone intended.

            1. re: jesteinf

              ah, totally with you. sorry, i'm massively protective of the big guy...his food never ceases to amaze me.

    2. i don't know where to begin disagreeing with you about the food i tasted during my visit, but i guess maybe you're right about it being an off-night. if you didn't like the risotto there must have been something happening; that is one of the most unanimously admired dishes in his repertoire.
      one major note: the restaurant *is* called "graham elliot", not GE. the letters GE simply appear in the logo.

      also, your critique about service jives with the stuff mentioned in the sun-times review, but i think it comes from a misunderstanding of the kind of service that i & some of my pals that have worked in the service industry desire. i DO want speedy and attentive, i dont want to be patronized or have to suffer the feeling of inferiority that comes from certain service. i really like the balance they are striking there.

      what do you mean by staff ownership of the menu? maybe he has changed something since i visited last?

      3 Replies
      1. re: kathleen rose

        Went to graham elliot and it didn't blow me away - i think our expectations were too high. everything was pretty good, but our lasting impression was a horrible dessert. We had the moist gooey chocolate brownie suggested by our waiter - unfortunately it had the consistency of a puck. We told our waiter and he switched it for another one which was warm, moist and gooey; it's almost as if they forgot to warm up the 1st one before serving it to us. We expected a comp of some sort, maybe even an apology from the kitchen, didn't get either.

        1. re: kathleen rose

          It seems my experience matches that of Liqer. Not only suffering from high expectations, but like I mentioned before, the food wasn't anywhere near what it should be at a place like this with a chef this talented. Some of the food was very decent, nothing memorable, but good. The risotto was overcooked and the were a bit muddled---I think ONLY because the arborio was overcooked. But one of the desserts was alright flavor wise with the other being a complete disaster. All I'm saying is if you put out a website like this to sell GE, then the food has to live up to it...sorry! A chef who creates HIGH EXPECTATIONS for themselves better compliment that with the whole experience---especially the food---in GE's case. The comment I made about the ownership of dishes from each chef is a great idea. However, I left thinking that maybe the food suffered because GE (the head chef) wasn't totally overseeing everything. Does that give him a reason to send out mediocrity? Maybe too much freedom is given. Our server specifically mentioned that the menu is set up in categlories for each chef to focus on. Great! However, for me---it's all about the food!

          1. re: napolean

            it has been a few months, the chef has made a few changes, but as im sure you noted in all the media coverage and reviews, it has typically not been the food that critics complain about... (e.g. phil: in fact, the food is usually everyone's high point. i hate that you had a less-than-great experience...i loved it so much i have forced almost everyone i know to go. my brother was just there on tuesday (sept 9) and spoke with the same intensity i did after my first visit.

            you should mention it to the hostess the next time you go in; chef bowles loves his fans and really loves to rise to the occasion (c'mon, he's an iron chef!) so i bet he would be happy to try again to leave you satisfied.

            a final note, on expectations: i know tons of people love it and people like me that have been yelling about how thrilled they are about it only contributes to that, but if you look at his website itself, this is not him tooting his own horn. yes, he mentions his accolades. if you were starting your own place with your own $$, wouldn't you? i really don't think it's braggy, or that you should be mad at him cuz there was a lot of media attention. the food, though, shouldn't let you down. so test your off-night hypothesis!

            ps i still don't know what you mean about the staff's ownership of the menu...i was further confused when you called it a great idea (your suggestion? or the fact that cooks make the dishes?) i believe it is pretty standard practice for most modern restaurants. cooks have specialties; typically one person does all of the prep work and cooking for a set of dishes (or maybe one dish at alinea or someplace with 20 cooks) so that he/she can perfect the ingredients for that dish. i still couldn't disagree with you more about it being a cop out though---the place is practically his actual child, and it is his name that sinks or swims along with it (literally).