Lunch in the Loop: Rivers
Editor's Note: Whether you're a tourist or an office worker in downtown Chicago, you can get sick of eating at chain restaurants all day. So we've started a series to get you the lowdown on where to find a great and affordable lunch.
You know, every now and then it's refreshing to have a nicer work lunch than the typical salad or sandwich, especially on special occasions. In this case, I recently got a raise (yay, me!) and I thought I'd go a little wild by picking a restaurant that has tablecloths. You know, because I'm typically a neanderthal and usually use my tangerine-sized fists to shovel food in my mouth as I grunt. You can probably tell I don't get invited to power lunches often. And by often, I mean at all.
Rivers is located inside the lobby level of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange on Wacker, a steel and glass building that looks like it's all business. You can practically smell the money flowing through this place. When you wander inside, you'll find Rivers through a relatively nondescript doorway with a tiny sign above it. Like the name says, the restaurant is nestled just against the Chicago River, and if you sit by the glass (or on the patio, when it gets warmer), you get a great view of the towering buildings above.
The roasted corn soup ($4.95 for a cup) is delivered to your table attractively topped with roasted tomato and onion confit, chives, and red pepper cream. One time I dressed myself in roasted tomato and onion confit, chives and red pepper cream. Can you say fashion faux pas?
But aside from the presentation, this roasted corn soup is very sweet from the get-go. The natural sugar in the corn comes out strong, and the texture is very thick, almost like a custard. The tomato and onion confit adds a cooked tomato flavor which adds even more sweetness as well as a touch of acid, but the zig-zag of red pepper cream doesn't lend much flavor. A salty and crunchy element would be welcome to offset the sweet and velvety nature of the soup.
The wood-fired ribeye sandwich ($17.95) comes with a hefty price tag, but since I was celebrating my raise, I figured it was a good a reason as any to splurge. It's served on herbed ciabatta with a horseradish mayonnaise-based sauce with tomato, lettuce, onions, and pickle on the side. It came out medium-rare as requested, and the cooking style gave the steak a delicious wood burned char on the outside, and man, was it tender.
Normally I'm always a little hesitant when it comes to ciabatta rolls, but this one was easy to bite through and was perfect for the beefy steak, soaking up the steak juices well. The horseradish sauce is sweet and not very strong in the horseradish department, but you don't need much to dress this sandwich—I'd even suggest you leave the vegetable toppings off.
The Maryland crab cake sandwich ($13.95) is served on slices of brioche with roasted red pepper mayo, tomato, and lettuce. The menu describes it as pan-seared, and it has the exterior color to match, but texturally, it's kind of mushy. The brioche is also very soft, making the whole sandwich too soft as a whole. The toasting on the bread didn't seem to help much either. I wanted to like this sandwich, but the flavor and the texture undermined its delicious intention. The french fries served on the side of both sandwiches were mostly soggy and were disappointing considering the price point of the dishes.
But in the end, I've decided, food tastes so much better when there's a reason to celebrate while you're eating it.
About the author: After a failed attempt at starting a chain of theme restaurants called "Smellen Keller," Dennis Lee traveled the world to discover his true passion. Sadly, midwifery didn't pan out. Now he works in a cubicle, and screws around as much as possible. Follow his shenanigans on Twitter.