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Seafood/fish: Catch 35 and Shaw's

In town on business. Wanted fish/seafood. Tried two places - Catch 35 and Shaw's. Keep in mind that I'm a "certain age" and was always taught to never order fish or seafood in the midwest...beef comes from the midwest; they don't have good seafood. Well, not that it is sustainable, but shellfish and most fish is shipped all over the place by air cargo now.

The concierge recommended Catch 35 and while there was little info on this board, what I could find was all positive. The online menu seemed good. So off we went. It is very convenient from all points in the Loop and easy to find. It is attractive and comfortable in a corporate sort of way. We were disappointed to see people dressed like slobs walking in. Granted it is summer and people want to be comfortable. I live in DC and I see the exhausted tourists and don't expect them to be fashion plates but I do hope that if they go to nice restaurants they will go back to the hotel and change out of the baggie shorts and t-shirts and put on a clean shirt and slacks. I wouldn't dress like a slob in someone else's city but apparently that's one more standard that is passe.

If you want quiet, ask to be seated in the back of the long, narrow restaurant. There is a live band (very good) in the bar area and then the center area is across from a semi-open kitchen. Service was good/attentive and timing was good but again, in a corporate sort of way. The server described dishes but she didn't seem to actually know food. She was just well-trained. Fortunately, that did not include upselling. We each ordered a glass of red wine. It was overpriced but very good. We then shared a pot of mussels in a lemongrass broth. Excellent! The mussels were small but of extremely good quality and properly cooked. The broth was delicious and the sour dough bread was given to us in ample quantity to soak up the extra broth. I had swordfish topped with three shrimp, served with chimichurri sauce. Hard to imagine fish standing up to chimichurri, but it did. I didn't eat the fingerling potato salad it was served on. It was an odd accompaniment and one that did not enhance the fish at all. The fish itself was delicious, as was the shrimp. Husband had yellowfin tuna with a sichuan glaze. Sichuan should have a kick to it. This was just sweet. It was properly cooked but not very good. The chive pot sticker that came with it was truly awful. A huge, doughy, gloppy, sweet mess. The two large battered onion rings were OK.

The big issue here is not the fish or shellfish. It's too many ingredients. Good seafood doesn't need all those heavy, gooey, fussy sides. The mussels were perfect as is. They didn't need the jalapeno dipping sauce that came with them. The swordfish and shrimp with the chimichurri were also very good and properly cooked. They didn't need that bizarre fingerling potato salad.

We didn't have dessert.

So bottom line is that they have good quality fish, they know how to cook it, but someone needs to re-think the overall composition of the plate. Simple sides would be great. Some nice fresh seasonable vegetables, for instance.

Value was OK - $120 including tax and tip. About what you'd expect for a Loop restaurant.

Shaw's was the night before. I had a hunch that it was not an authentic "old" Chicago place because it was not grungy or shabby looking. However, I didn't know until the next day that it was actually a newish Lettuce Entertain You place. It was that well-designed and executed - it didn't seem phony or kitschy. It had a great vibe. It was packed and everyone seemed happy. Good music, too. Had a great cocktail called a Corso something or other. Not on the online menu. Had red ruby grapefruit juice and orange liquer, among other things. Super-refreshing. Mixed green salad - very fresh, very good. Shared blue crab spring rolls with my companion. Meh. I'm from Maryland and should never have ordered blue crab. It was almost guaranteed to be a disappointment. The crab was mushy and flavorless and really didn't belong in a spring roll to begin with. Then had three yellowfin tuna tacos w/ ginger soy vinaigrette and sriracha. Really terrific - fresh, light, excellent quality fish.

Service was good - efficient, friendly, professional.

Overall, I enjoyed Shaw's much more than Catch-35. They are so different that it really depends on what you are in the mood for but in terms of overall quality and value, as well as menu and preparation, I'd choose Shaw's.

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  1. The next time you're in Chicago with a yen for seafood I suggest trying L2O, if it fits your budget. They are considerably more expensive but the food is exceptional.

    I just saw a list of the "Top 100 Restaurants in the World" which had Alinea as # 1 and, a bit of a surprise to me, L2O as number 18.

    We dined there a few weeks ago (second time but first with this new chef) and were really impressed with the food and the wine pairings. http://l2orestaurant.com/

    2 Replies
    1. re: willyum

      I would add GT Oyster to that list.

      1. re: willyum

        Thanks. The menu looks VERY enticing but it looks like the choices are tasting menu or prix fixe only?

        And interesting - also a Lettuce Entertain You. They have some range...from Maggiano's Little Italy and Wildlife - both have locations in my area and both are meh at best, dreadful at worst ....to this place, which looks like it really knows how to handle fish and seafood, and Shaw's, which was highly credible in terms of fish and seafood.

      2. Totally agree with you. Catch 35 is still an early 90's corporate lunch place that really needs an update, the quality, however, is always good.

        If you return try the Oyster Bar side of Shaw's, high tops a big bar and more casual atmosphere.

        And if you return, please bring me two G&M crab cakes. I miss them.

        1. As for Shaw's being "newish," it's not as old as the decor suggests but it's been around for nearly 30 years.

          2 Replies
          1. re: ferret

            That speaks volumes. It is rare for restaurants to survive 5-7 years. If a place has been around 30 years and is still packed everynight despite being a bit pricey, it must be worth a try. And it was.

            1. re: Just Visiting

              Shaw's may be a bit pricey but I can honestly say I've never been disappointed with a visit (and I've been going there nearly as long as it's been open). You do get value for your money.

          2. I have visited Shaw's twice during recent visits to Chicago and I was really impressed with the quality of the seafood and the execution of the dishes. I have recommended it to local Chicago friends as well and we have all been pleased with our dining choice. I also didn't think Shaw's was pricey but rather a good value for dollars spent. A similar meal in Los Angeles would have been significantly more expensive.

            1. You should try the bear and the bull bar/pub. They have a salmon dish which is sauted salmon, over spinach, and sticky rice. [Surrounded by a potato flake ring.] It's freaking awesome.