Ladies Who Brunch

Review: Grand Lux Cafe by Kyle and Benjamin
February 13, 2009, 8:29 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Ben’s mom was in town over the weekend and dining out was the order of the day.  We thought about checking out some quintessentially Chicago place for Sunday brunch, but ultimately decided to hit up one of our favorite dinner spots, Grand Lux.  Cheesy, sure, touristy, most definitely, but we were HUNGRY and the huge plates of food there have yet to disappoint.  And even if its just the overly perky waitstaff, there’s always some great people watching to be had. We arrived early, expecting something like the long lines we’ve often found during the supper rush, but our party of four was seated right away in one of the banquet rooms.

I certainly hope our waiter, Leo, is an actor when he’s not slinging hash browns, because he was very much on stage throughout the meal.  He reminded me of Alanna Ubach’s character in Waiting–you could see his bubbly service persona peeling away as he approached the bus station.  Service was efficient and friendly, which is about all you can ever ask for.  We ordered coffees and a basket of beignets on his first visit to our table, knowing that we would need a snack while we perused the tome-like menu.

We wrote last week about the beignets at Big Jones, noting that they were delicious but fell flat compared to NOLA’s real deal.  Not so this time around.  We were brought a giant platter with about ten piping hot donuts and ramikins of maple syrup, cinnamon-sugar, rasberry sauce, and vanilla cream.  The beignets were huge, golden crispy on the outside and nice and airy in the center.  They seemed much eggier than other beignets I remember, and they were cooked just right so that the insides were a little battery, which might sound gross to some (undercooked eggs?) but actually made for a perfect contrast of textures, with they doughy balls tasting slightly runny in the mouth.  Even though the mountainous portion was intimidating, they disappeared in seconds.

Four sauces with the beignets?!  You can't beat that!

Four sauces with the beignets?! You can't beat that!

On Saturday and Sunday mornings Grand Lux offers their full dinner menu in addition to lunch specials and a page they call “late breakfast,” as if the usual “brunch” isn’t a descriptive enough term.  We ended up ordering a mix of breakfast and lunch items:  the “best” eggs benedict, crab and asparagus omelette, lemon chicken piccata, and tuna salad nicoise sandwiches.  We also split a chopped salad as a second appetizer.

“Best” eggs benedict was a strong claim which we felt compelled to examine further.  Of course, like everything at this over the top restaurant, the portion was quite substantial.  It’s a pretty classic benedict–English muffin, ham, poached egg, and Hollandaise.  We prefer canadian bacon to ham on our benedicts, so that’s one strike against this version, and the thinly sliced ham was much too generously piled onto the dish.  We ended up removing about two-thirds of the ham to restore the benedict’s natural order.  The Hollandaise was another miss–perfect consistency, which is admittedly rare, but almost completely lacking in flavor with only a hint of lemon and probably no cayenne.

Whoever would have thought you could have too much ham?

Whoever would have thought you could have too much ham?

The omelette was much more impressive.  It was perfectly cooked, a real classic French style omelette with plenty of fluff, plenty of butter, and a delicate, picture perfect fold.  As anyone who’s cracked an egg knows, this effect is surprisingly difficult to achieve, and one got the impression that somewhere in the huge kitchen lurked a pro whose sole responsibility was technically perfect egg cookery.  The stuffing was really a treat–I had worried that the crab meat would be only an afterthought, a few lumps of fishy tasting canned goop, but it turned out to be a healthy scoop of yummy and fresh tasting crustacean.  The asparagus was just lightly blanched, which nowadays is how I prefer them; the pleasant crunchiness and natural flavor of just cooked veg elevated the dish, where soggy overly buttered spears would have seemed dispensable.  The final component was some nicely oven-dried tomatoes, often an overpowering flavor, but they were used sparingly enough to add a hint of sweetness that really worked with the slight sweetness of good crab.  The only let down on the plate was the slathering of Hollandaise–I was stoked that my omelette would be covered in one of my favorite sauces, but as with the benedict, it was basically flavorless and I might not have known it was there if it hadn’t been on the menu.

Not too fluffy, full of crab... just the way an omelette should be.

Not too fluffy, full of crab... just the way an omelette should be.

Our roommate Emi had the chicken piccata, which she orders often when we dine here, with good reason.  Grand Luxe’s lemon cream sauce, which also adorns the jumbo shrimp pasta and possibly a few other dishes, is utterly craveable–I wish they would sell pints of it to go.  She got the lunch sized portion, but the tray of pasta and chicken breast that arrived could probably have been lunch for a small office.  Not much else to say here–it’s a simple, comforting plate of linguini and chicken, and it’s the tangy sauce that makes it.  It’s cream based but done just right so that each noodle carries just a flavorful sheen of sauce as it is forked or slurped off the plate–even reheated days later it somehow avoids becoming a gooey and congealed mess like so many ill-fated alfredos.

Emi is obsessed with this lemon cream sauce... and it is awesome.

Emi is obsessed with this lemon cream sauce... and it is awesome.

Our out of town guest, Donna, had the tuna nicoise melt, a trio of open faced sandwiches which, like many dishes this weekend, she declared “right up her alley.”  The contemporary American nicoise salad is usually prepared with slices of seared tuna steak or filet, but these melts were made with regular canned white tuna.  In some ways that’s closer to the spirit of the traditional French dish, which is usually made with canned Italian tuna in oil–it’s really not meant to be a fussy dish, just a simple peasant lunch.  Grand Luxe mixes the tuna with finally diced green beans and potatoes and tops each sandwich with melty cheese and marinated olives, reimagining nicoise as a kind of all-American casserole.  It’s actually quite a tasty little mixture–I might just have to add some potato and olive next time I make tuna salad at home.

Donna made a good choice.

Donna made a good choice.

Not one of us finished even half of our meal, which is par for the course at Grand Luxe.  At dinner the inevitable leftovers usually justify the fairly high prices for what is ultimately pretty standard fare, but at brunch it’s a little disheartening.  We weren’t interested in wrapping up any eggs and only ended up taking home the piccata, so our doggie bag didn’t really offset the hefty bill.  Still, we were quite pleased and the meal was a great start to a day on the mag mile.  A few thousand calories at breakfast was more than enough to carry us through a matinee at River East and an afternoon of shopping.  Even if it doesn’t exactly scream “Chicago!”, Grand Luxe is a downtown institution that’s worth showing off to visitors–at least you’re assured that they’ll find something to love on that giant menu!


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