Chicago's Knife Restaurant Aims to Redefine the Traditional Steakhouse
Under the inspired leadership of Executive Chef Timothy Cottini, Knife Restaurant, which officially opened October 18 in Chicago, offers guests contemporary interpretations of traditional steakhouse offerings. The varied menu demonstrates Cottini's well-honed farm-to-table philosophy, with in-house dry aged beef as its distinctive culinary centerpiece.
At first glance, the handsomely designed menu is understated and traditional-sounding, but the element of surprise will be ever-present in each dish. "We want to take the essence of a classic dish and re-create it in a unique way," says Chef Cottini, who understands that, "We first eat with our eyes before we eat with our mouths. The visual impact of the food will be almost as important as the taste." Throughout the menu, Chef Cottini maintains a high standard using locally sourced, quality seasonal ingredients, as he transforms the traditional into the unexpected.
The dinner menu is clearly organized into six sections: Appetizers, Chilled Plates, Salad & Soup, Entrées, Steaks and Sides. Appetizer choices include Fois Gras Terrine, seasonal jam, brioche, market greens and pickled vegetables ($19); Oxtail Doughnut Holes, aupoivre sauce ($10); Lobster Tail Tempura, arugula & ginger-orange sauce ($22); and Shrimp De Jonghe, puff pastry, garlic, fine herbs ($17).
Chilled Plates feature seafood, including Oysters on the Half Shell (market price); Ahi Tuna Tartare, avocado, fresno chili, endive ($14); and Shrimp Cocktail,Lobster 300 horseradish & candied lemon ($16). The ala carte Bread Service offers two house-made choices: Parker House Rolls with whipped butter & sea salt ($6) or Focaccia with seasonal dipping sauce ($6).
Salad & Soup choices include the Heirloom Tomato & Burrata Salad, basil pesto, marinated red onions & basil ($16); Lobster Bisque, crème frâiche, tarragon ($11); Tableside Caesar, white anchovies, focaccia croutons, parmesan & pecorino ($19); the Market Salad, shaved market vegetables, Urban Till greens with sherry vinaigrette ($9); and the Grilled Wedge Salad, Urban Till baby iceberg, green goddess, lobster mitts, bacon, bleu cheese, tomato, scallions ($18). The Tableside Caesar can be prepared tableside for three or more persons.
The Entrées section of the menu includes the non-steak main courses, and there are seven from which to choose, providing plenty of variety for guests who prefer alternatives to steak. The Pork Chops are served with candied sweet potatoes and butter-bourbon gastrique ($27). Lamb Chops are accompanied by stuffed zucchini & hollandaise sauce ($27). The vegetarian Pasta entrée is built on a foundation of pappardelle, with market vegetables, basil pistou & parmesan ($18). Poultry lovers will enjoy the Green Circle Farm's Chicken, a braised thigh with macaroni gratin, chicken jus ($24). Fish entrées include Wild Salmon, caramelized cauliflower, béarnaise ($27); Ahi Tuna, green beans amandine, smoked tomato butter ($28); and Halibut, pipperade, creamed kale, lobster demi ($30).
Knife's Steaks section clearly emphasizes the restaurant's keen philosophy: "Knife is proud to offer locally-sourced, house dry-aged beef. This premium product hails from local farms in Illinois and Iowa that uphold humane standards and practices as well as conservation." There are five selections from which to choose and all steaks are served with house-made Journeyman steak sauce and choice of onion strings or hand-cut frites. Guests may order the Sirloin (10 oz, $27), Beef Tenderloin (6 oz, $33); Trio of Medallions with Bleu Cheese Crust (8 oz, $25), or the Boneless Ribeye (12 oz, $34). Knife's signature steak is a 28-Day Dry-Aged Ribeye for Two, carved tableside and served with twice baked potatoes, green beans and au poivre ($89).
Embellishments to the steaks are plentiful. Guests can choose a Lobster Tail ($19), Shrimp ($4), Foie Gras ($9), Oscar Style ($14) or Bleu Cheese ($5). Several sauces are available as well: Béarnaise ($3), Barolo ($2), Hollandaise ($2), Butterbourbon ($2), Au Poivre ($3) and Smoked Tomato Butter ($2).
Rounding out the dinner menu are nine creative side accompaniments, including Smoked Frites, lemon aioli ($6); Onion Strings, roasted pepper aioli ($6); Macaroni Gratin, parmesan, Jarlsberg & lemon ($7); River Valley Ranch Mushroom en Pappiotte, portabella, cremini, shiitake, rosemary & roasted garlic ($9); Stuffed Zucchini, basil roasted peppers & parmesan ($7); Caramelized Cauliflower, sultanas, balsamic & capers ($8); Green Beans, almond tuile & butter ($8); Twice Baked Potato, bacon, fontina, scallions, crème frâiche ($8); and Whipped Potatoes, confit garlic with cream & butter ($7).
Dessert selections continue to showcase Chef Cottini's modern interpretations of steakhouse classics. Choices include Flaming Gran Torino, bruléed spumoni, sponge cake with vanilla, pistachio & brandied black cherry ice creams ($13); Profiteroles-gluten free-with chocolate & Tahitian vanilla ice creams with house made fudge sauce ($9); Key Lime Version 3.14, raspberries, ginger graham crust, whipped cream ($11); Chocolate Layer Cake, chocolate mousse, fudge sauce, white chocolate ($12); Blossoming Apple Tart, Honeycrisp apples, almonds, cranberries, caramel, Saigon cinnamon ice cream ($13).
The menu descriptions purposefully understated on paper, belie the sophisticated preparation and exciting presentations that guests will experience, creating a memorable dining experience.
For example, the Grilled Wedge Salad starts with iceberg lettuce `raised locally by Urban Till in Chicago specifically for Knife. The smaller lettuce heads enhance the natural flavor, and are grilled to add a charred smokiness. The traditional toppings, bacon, tomatoes, cucumbers, and blue cheese are scattered around the plate, but Chef Cottini has gone the extra mile, dehydrating the bacon for twelve hours to make it extra-crisp.
Other appetizers, such as the Heirloom Tomato & Burrata Salad, are re-invented at Knife as well. The tomato is peeled, hollowed, and filled with a locally produced Burrata, infused with local basil-pesto and roasted. The Oxtail Doughnut Holes are savory bites filled with classically braised oxtail and served with an au poivre sauce. Bread offerings are baked in-house with Parker House Rolls served fresh from the oven and an artisan, potato based Focaccia provides a dairy-free option.
Steaks are served uncut. "We wouldn't dare deprive our customers of the joy of cutting into an exceptional, tender steak with ease. It's an experience unlike any other," says Chef Cottini. The special 28-Day Dry-Aged Ribeye for Two is carved tableside.
The Pork Chops have an intense marbling and flavor, served with a side of candied sweet potatoes seasoned with a spicy Saigon cinnamon, then topped with marshmallows and a butter bourbon gastrique.
Sourcing quality ingredients is a cornerstone of the Knife philosophy. The Wild Salmon is prepared with Skuna Bay Salmon, a top quality fish from a Vancouver Island, British Columbia vendor who exemplifies the sound ecological raising of farm-raised salmon. Sides are thoughtfully designed to enhance each flavor profile. The River Valley Ranch Mushroom en Pappiotte is a marinated portabella cap filled with shitake and cremini mushrooms, rosemary and roasted garlic. The Macaroni Gratin is jazzed up with a blend of cheddar and jarlsberg cheeses with lemon. The Stuffed Zucchini is sourced from local farmers, hollowed out and stuffed with a zucchini puree.
One example of Chef Cottini's creativity is the Twice Baked Potato. This steakhouse standard side dish takes a contemporary turn as it stands up on its side, filled with an Italian fontina cheese, wrapped in bacon, and then roasted.