My colleague John came into Chicago for a business seminar last fall and it turned out that I was going to be in Chicago at the same time. We decided to get together one evening for dinner and he suggested that we invite along a couple guys from one of our dealers. John was staying downtown and we all decided to have dinner somewhere in the River North area of downtown Chicago. Our guests suggested a steakhouse that I'd heard about and had wanted to try for sometime - RPM Steak. We made 7 p.m. reservations and all met up there for dinner.
RPM Steak is another restaurant under the Lettuce Entertain You umbrella of fine and unique restaurants that are found all over the Chicago area. The "M" in RPM signifies Richard Merman and his children - R.J., Jarrod, and Molly - who were joined in two restaurant ventures by celebrity couple Guiliana and Bill Rancic, the "R" in the name. Guiliana was a co-host on E! Network's E! Entertainment show, as well as a host of the network's Fashion Police show. Bill Rancic was the winner of the first season of The Apprentice and he was hired to be the project coordinator for the construction of Trump Tower in downtown Chicago. The Rancic's also hosted their own reality television program a couple three years ago.
Joining the Melman's and the Rancic's in the restaurant is Chef Doug Psaltis, the "P" in the RPM name. Psaltis is a New York native who got his start in the restaurant business by working in the kitchen of his grandfather's restaurant when he was just 10 years old. He eventually worked in the kitchen in a number of Manhattan restaurants as a food stager until he was noticed by Chef Wayne Nish of the toney restaurant March. Psaltis developed a philosophy of pairing the right foods in taste and texture while working with Nish.
From March, Psaltis was tapped to help open David Borley's 4-star Borley's Bakery in Manhattan, but he soon went to work for acclaimed chef Alain Ducasse's eponymous restaurant in the Essex House hotel. The demanding kitchen work was exactly what Psaltis was looking for and he thrived in the chaos and pressure of Ducasse's kitchen. Ducasse recognized Psaltis' skill in the kitchen, taking the young man under his wing and imparting Ducasse's philosophy that the simplicity and the integrity of the ingredients he's putting into his foods are the most important part of cooking.
Pictured right - Doug Psaltis
Ducasse chose Psaltis to learn under his top chefs at his prestigious Le Louis XV restaurant in Monaco. From there, Psaltis was chosen to run the kitchen at Ducasse's new Mix restaurant. Psaltis was the first American chef to head a kitchen for Ducasse.
Psaltis caught the eye of other restaurateurs, most notably Thomas Keller who asked Psaltis to come to Napa Valley to run his famous French Laundry restaurant. But it turned out that Psaltis still had New York on his mind and only after 5 months of heading the French Laundry kitchen he went back east to work in chef Geoffrey Zakarian's new restaurant Country. During the four years Psaltis headed the kitchen at Country the restaurant received great reviews and was awarded a Michelin star.
Psaltis left Country in 2009 and became a consultant in the restaurant industry. While working as a consultant, Psaltis teamed up with the Melman family and the Rancic's to come up with a new concept Italian restaurant. The group came together to open RPM Italian in downtown Chicago in March of 2012. The group worked on a steakhouse concept after that and they opened RPM Steak in the summer of 2014. (The group also opened an RPM Italian location last summer in Washington, D.C.)
I had picked up my colleague John at the airport earlier in the day and we spent a good portion of the afternoon calling on dealers around the Chicago area. Since he was staying downtown for his seminar, our dealer set up the dinner at RPM Steak saying that he had wanted to eat there for quite sometime. We were fine with that.
It was a 10 minute walk from John's hotel to the restaurant located on Kinzie just west of State Street in downtown Chicago. (see map) It was an unseasonably warm evening and we worked up a bit of a sweat when we got to the restaurant. Our guests - the owner and his general manager - met us at the hostess stand inside.
The bar area is just to the left of the hostess stand. It featured a large rectangular bar with contemporary seats and lights just above the bar. It was spacious enough to be able to handle a large crowd waiting for a table to open in the dining room.
The dining area is a spacious room with two levels. There is a private dining/reception room on the upper level along with windows that look out over the main dining area. The restaurant was modern, classy and elegant, to say the least.
We were seated at a table for four near the back of the restaurant and given menus. Our server for the evening came over to greet us and to take our drink orders. Even though they had an interesting and extensive list of artisan beers to choose from, I felt that a vodka and lemonade sounded good that evening.
Starting off with appetizers, one of the guys went with the Alaskan King Crab legs appetizer. They were a half pound of crab legs and they looked big and meaty.
Also at the table was a large loaf of baked Parker House rolls that sort of looked like challah bread. They were brushed with butter and sprinkled with parsley on the top. Warm, chewy and flavorful, the rolls were a hit with everyone at the table.
I ordered the small wedge salad to start off my dinner that evening. The crips lettuce wedge was topped with sliced tomatoes, chopped bacon, chopped avocado slices and a Roquefort dressing that was creamy and forward in its taste. It also had blue cheese crumbles, black olives, housemade croutons and two slices of parmesan cheese on it. It was a very good wedge salad.
For dinner that evening, they had a lobster risotto with lobster mushrooms as a special entree. Our server did a great job of selling it and I damned near pulled the trigger on that. But I ended going the beef route and I got the 8 ounce hand-cut USDA Prime beef filet. The beef tenderloins they cut the filets from at RPM Steak come from Creekstone Farms, a well-known higher-end beef supplier located in Kansas. I've had Creekstone Farms beef in the past on a number of occasions.
My steak was seasoned with a basic salt and pepper mix and cooked to a cool red center. It was tender to the cut and had a rich and flavorful beef taste. With the appetizers, salad, bread rolls and the sides that we got, I'm glad I only got the 8 ounce filet that evening. It was simply an outstanding steak.
They also have an extensive wine list at RPM Steak. All of the wines chosen by RPM Steak's master sommelier have been picked for their pairing with the steaks served at the restaurant. There's an emphasis on American wines - some I weren't familiar with. But there were also a number of French and Italian wines available as well as a wonderful Argentinian malbec that was available by the glass. I ordered that to go with my dinner and it was a hearty and meaty red that went extremely well with the filet I had.
Our dealer opted for the grass-fed bone-in ribeye steak. The ribeye came from Rain Crow Ranch, an artisanal meat purveyor located in southern Missouri near the Arkansas border. The bone-in ribeye was thick and juicy, and he said it had a lot of great natural flavor to the taste.
His general manager got the 28-day dry aged 16-ounce New York strip. He ordered it medium rare plus, but it was so thick that when they brought it out it was even more rare in the deep middle than my steak. He called the waiter over and showed him the deep red color in the middle of the steak. The waiter apologized profusely and took the steak back to the kitchen. It was a semi-awkward moment as three of us continued to eat - on the insistence of our guest who was piecing on some of the sides that came out with the steaks. When the steak came out, they had probably overcooked it by a couple three minutes. The manager came over later on and our guest told him that he was disappointed in the temperature of the steak - before and after. The manager said, "Well, we certainly understand and we deeply apologize. We're just going to comp you your steak this evening, sir." We all thought that was a classy and generous gesture considering the aged New York strip was well over $60 bucks.
My colleague John went all out for dinner that evening and ordered up the 5 ounce Wagyu beef strip. Now here's something that I didn't know about Wagyu beef - there are 5 different levels of Wagyu beef produced in Japan with 12 different levels of what they refer to as Beef Marbling Scale, or BMS, in the Wagyu beef. RPM Steak has what they call A5 Wagyu beef meaning that the beef, itself, is rated as excellent with a BMS rating of 5 which denotes a beef marbling of anywhere between the 8th and the 12th level. Of course, the more marbling, the more tender and flavorful the beef is. It wasn't cheap - $85 bucks for the small 5 ounce strip - but when John's eyes lit up as he was taking his first bite, you could tell it would be worth every penny. He cut up small pieces for each of us to try. And it was unlike any steak I'd ever had in my life. Oh, I've had Wagyu beef before and while it was good, it wasn't as good as the taste of this piece of Wagyu beef. 5 ounces was really all that you needed, as well. John said the taste was very rich and very filling.
Everything at RPM Steak is a la carte and we got a couple three sides to go along with our steaks. One of the sides was a twice-baked Hasselback potato topped with chives and chunks of bacon. I had a couple bites of that and I thought it was pretty good.
But the winner of the sides we got that evening were the bacon-wrapped button mushrooms. These were not only sinfully great in the taste, but they seemed easy enough to make. I'd never had anything like that before and the taste sensation of the earthy mushrooms and the bacon wrapped around them were a wonderful combination.
RPM Steak was expensive - definitely an expense account meal that we get to have from time to time during our extensive travels on the road. But the meal was worth it and our guests loved the food - maybe with the exception of beef temperature problems one of our guests experienced. But RPM Steak's management took care of the problem and we were all satisfied with how it was handled. Other than that, the overall meal was outstanding. But you would expect nothing less from a place like RPM Steak. And they delivered, big time. (Picture at right courtesy Chicago Eater.com)