Gilt a pleasure in a trying location

If my enthusiasm for Gilt Bar seems a little restrained, well, I vowed that I wouldn't let myself get hurt again.

You see, Gilt Bar, a spiffy little 6-month-old, so young and appealing and full of promise, sits at 230 W. Kinzie St. And that address has broken my heart before.

Since the nightclub George's closed its doors in 1990, this address has seduced me with one appealing restaurant after another. Havana, which nabbed a Best New Restaurant award from Bon Appetit in 1998. Pili Pili. Aigre Doux, the most recent casualty and the one that hurts most. Even the best-forgotten DeJoie's Bistro, in the early '90s, wasn't terrible. They all left me.

Yet here I am again, back at this address, fork in one hand and pen in the other, a hopeful Charity Valentine at the Fandango Ballroom door. For there are reasons to believe that Gilt might outlast its predecessors.

Owner Brendan Sodikoff and executive chef Jason Vaughan have impressive pedigrees; Sodikoff's globe-trotting resume includes cooking time at Per Se, Lucas Carton and Alain Ducasse; Vaughan was last seen at L20, and Sodikoff and Vaughan cooked together at the well-regarded A16 in San Francisco.

But for all their high-end cooking experience, and in seeming contrast to the "Gilt" name, Sodikoff and Vaughan have kept this place very affordable. Yes, there's a steak that'll set you back $30 or so, but every other dish is less than $20. Gilt Bar is posited as a small-plates concept, but portions tend toward the substantial. And the cooking is more sophisticated, the flavors more nuanced, than the all-lower-case menu descriptions might lead one to believe.

For instance, the roasted chicken, a Gunthorp Farms bird seasoned with oregano and roasted garlic, is as simple and classic as dishes get. But the chicken is juicy perfection, a reminder of how soul-satisfying roast chicken can be. Pork belly can be found all over town, but I recommend sampling Gilt Bar's superior version, consisting of meaty slices under a raspberry-shallot glaze, over farro verde and wax beans. Firm pork meatballs over polenta, spicy pork sausage jazzing up a plate of orecchiette pasta — simple and delicious.

Appetizers tend toward the indulgent, from the Flintstonian pile of lengthwise-cut bones that deliver unctuous, earthy troves of bone marrow (perked up with red-onion jam) to the jar of liver mousses (pork liver and foie gras, blended). Raw options include a fine coarse-chopped steak tartare with the usual accompaniments, and a camera-ready plate of chilled hamachi, accented with ginger-lime vinaigrette and tiny dices of pickled watermelon.

Worthy salads include roasted beets with pickled kumquats and heirloom tomatoes with buttery burrata cheese. The peach salad with arugula, candied walnuts and Manchego cheese is so wine-friendly it can served double-duty as a cheese course.

Desserts are solid, not knockouts, and old-fashioned in a good way. There's a yummy mocha cream pie with toasted coconut and mocha mousse, a retro-diner dish that ought to come with a paper doily. The chocolate almond is a real cake — not a flour-phobic slab of fudge — augmented with sour-cherry jam. A plate of blackberries with brown-sugar ice cream, sprinkled with streusel topping, is like a cobbler minus its container.

The interior is done in salvage modern, lit dimly — arguably too dimly — with a series of small lights and arty chandeliers that give the room an amber glow. Wood tabletops are artfully distressed; the wall fronting the kitchen is covered in riveted, aged-metal plates. Black tufted-leather banquettes back up against white-brick walls. The beautiful travertine marble floors, which go back to George's heyday, remain in place, because it would be a sin to disturb them.

The cocktail culture is well-represented. The bar makes a fine champagne cocktail, and its version of a pisco sour, sweetened with a little apricot liqueur, is a keeper. Serious imbibers should seek out Curio, the lower-level environment that serves only drinks (off a 30-item cocktail list) and transacts business with a vintage cash register — so there's no plastic accepted downstairs. It's the kind of quirky touch that can develop a strong following.

And with a strong following, just maybe … oh, God, here I go again.

Watch Phil Vettel's reviews weekends on WGN-Ch. 9's "News at Nine" and on CLTV.

Gilt Bar

2 stars

230 W. Kinzie St., 312-464-9544

Open: Dinner Tuesday-Saturday

Entree prices: $11-$30

Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V

Reservations: Recommended

Noise: Conversation-challenged

Other: Wheelchair accessible; valet parking

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
Related Content
  • Group to Park District: Build DuSable Park

    Group to Park District: Build DuSable Park

    Where Lake Michigan meets the Chicago River is three acres of overgrown weeds and shrubs. It is referred to by some as a "ghost park" because it is hidden in plain sight.

  • Rejoice! Adele's new album is rumored to arrive this fall

    Rejoice! Adele's new album is rumored to arrive this fall

    There's a fire starting in my heart and it's making me realize it's been kind of a while since Adele released an album. Her last full-length "21" dropped in 2011 and I barely remember that year it feels so long ago. But now, there's some good news to fill our recently Adele-less lives and it's...

  • Chicago rappers Probcause and Saba team up on 'M.I.A.'

    Chicago rappers Probcause and Saba team up on 'M.I.A.'

    Welcome to RedEye's "Song of the Day," an ongoing feature where music reporter Josh Terry or another RedEye staff member highlights something they're listening to. Some days the track will be new, and some days it will be old. No matter what, each offering is something you should check out. Check...

  • Trump vows never to eat Oreos again, citing move from Chicago to Mexico

    Trump vows never to eat Oreos again, citing move from Chicago to Mexico

    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump repeated his claim Tuesday evening that he would stop eating Oreos, citing the cookie maker's decision to close a plant in Chicago and move it to Mexico.

  • Let's talk about this new Justin Bieber song 'What Do You Mean?'

    Let's talk about this new Justin Bieber song 'What Do You Mean?'

    Don't get me wrong, Justin Bieber is still really embarrassing. He's the young pop star who recently said something only a 21-year-old would say, "Now being 21, and going through some hardships, I think you can hear that in my vocals." This is a guy who, last year at a charity gala benefiting AIDS...

  • Illinois lottery winners have to wait for payout due to budget impasse

    Illinois lottery winners have to wait for payout due to budget impasse

    After years of struggling financially, Susan Rick thought things were looking up when her boyfriend won $250,000 from the Illinois Lottery last month. She could stop working seven days a week, maybe fix up the house and take a trip to Minnesota to visit her daughter.