Fill in the blank: Reservations at Barton G are like __________, they don’t matter.
After hearing how spectacular the presentation was at Barton G, a restaurant that opened up in February in River North, we had to see for ourselves. We made a reservation a few days in advanced for 7:15 and arrived at Barton G’s decorative entrance a few minutes prior. We checked in and were told that we’d be seated shortly and get a text message alert when our table was ready. We headed to the bar to bide our time, and overheard a gentleman say to his dining partner, “what’s the point of a reservation if you still wait 20 minutes?” What a great question! We waited at the bar for about 30 minutes.
The silver lining is that the bar staff were attentive and friendly. Another positive is we got to watch the delight of seated diners as a cake that looked like a bar of gold, set ablaze, and then smashed with a hammer with a human-sized dollar bill as its backdrop, were served to multiple goers. We found out later this ornate dessert was called Dolla Dolla Bills Y’all. If your eyes flutter to the ceiling, there are mannequin aerial dancers composed of meshed wire holding up chandeliers and candles to light the restaurant. A group of women at the bar sipped on Sabrinatini cocktails from the Below Zero Nitro Bar Menu, This was served steaming with dry ice and a champagne popsicle that melted as time passed, creating the illusion of a magically refilling drink.
I’ll admit, waiting to be seated at a crowded bar is not in the top of my favorite’s list, but time passed by quickly. The dining area bustled with lively conversation, the “oohs” and “awws” helped build our anticipation to try something ourselves.
Our table was located on the second floor of Barton G’s, which we didn’t realize existed. The vibe upstairs is completely different. While downstairs the feeling is akin to a dinner rehearsal for a carnivale show (in the best way possible) upstairs has a more traditional restaurant appearance. It was also much quieter, which in our opinion is preferable. We like to hear each other speak. Our server was also attentive and friendly. They’d clearly been trained on how to up their social media presence and she encouraged us to take photos, even offering to take them for us, and tag them online. Some may think that’s presumptuous but we appreciated the encouragement. Sometimes it feels awkward to ask a server to take photos for us.
It was time to order drinks. Because we went for a simple drinks downstairs, we wanted to try something different and I went for the BG Moonshine. My dining partner-in-crime ordered the Sabritini (same drink as the ladies downstairs). When I placed my drink order the server titled her head and said, “it’s a very strong drink. Are you sure?” Now, this writer can handle strong drinks, so I assured her I could handle it. My assumption was by “strong” she meant the alcohol content. I didn’t realize she meant it tasted strong. The BG Moonshine came out as a tribute to patriotic prohibition, with an American flag, a coiled distillery contraption, and smoke billowing in tow. It was very visually appealing and other diners stopped eating to see the commotion. Unfortunately, that’s where the fun ended. Although the cocktail had a wonderful smoky flavor, it tasted like rubbing alcohol with a smoky finish. A few sips were enough before I decided to go back to water exclusively. I was too proud to admit I didn’t like it to the server after I so assuredly told her it would be fine, so I feigned sips the rest of the night every time she neared.
For starters we ordered the Laughing Bird Popcorn Shrimp and the Lobster Pop-Tarts. The lobster pop-tarts were served in an actual retro-style toaster, circa 60’s kitchen. The crust buttery/flaky, and while the filling had some flavor, it was not as rich as most lobster based foods I’ve had (like lobster ravioli or lobster mac and cheese) and the lobster flavor felt semi-muted. The popcorn shrimp was served in a glass popcorn maker, like you’d see at the movie theater, and had both the popcorn shrimp and actual buttery popcorn in it. The popcorn shrimp had an outer batter that lacked the crispness noted in its description, but nonetheless there was still a nice spice to it. I combined the crunch of the popcorn with the spicy shrimp and the combination added a nice mouth-feel profile.
On to the main course. Following our seafood mood we ordered the “Whole Grilled Bronzino” (that’s not a typo, it’s called Bronzino, not Branzino), and finally, for all you red meat eaters, the Slow Cooked Short Rib. The fish was served in traditional presentation, but still pretty, with the fish wrapped in wax paper, vegetables on the side arranged similarly to a cascading floral arrangement, and a white sauce that tasted similar to a hollandaise. Atop the fish were profiteroles with Thai coconut shrimp fillings, but to be honest, they had little to no flavor. It was like biting into a rolled up ball of bread that had no filling. The vegetables, on the other hand, were amazing. The flavors were bold and they were cooked perfectly enough that there was still a nice crispness to each bite. The fish had the citrus pop I look for when eating branzino, and the consistency was firm but not chewy, so overall we approve.
The short rib was served with a little more pomp-and-circumstance, presented with a fork fit for the giant in jack and the beanstalk, sticking straight out of an oversized cutting board. The fork could be removed and my dining partner and I took turns pretending to eat with it. Beside the short rib there was also steak frites. These steak fries were like potato meets churro. They were so crisp and tasty! This entrée was served with a Béarnaise-style sauce and paired well with the fries. Although the consistency of the short rib was right, there was something missing from its flavor. Could it be the cooking style? The grade of meat? Maybe. Either way, it just missed the mark, and reminded me of the type of meat you could get at Applebee’s for one-third the price.
Last, but certainly not least, dessert. We’d seen the Dolla Dolla Bills Ya’ll dessert as well as the Marie Antoinette’s Head – Let Them Eat Cake dessert which featured a mannequin with edible cotton candy as hair, coiffed in the style of Antoinette’s eighteenth century up-do, plus cupcakes on the perimeter. We wanted to do something different, and after much consideration, we ordered Strawberry Fields, which was described as, “Cold chocolate lava cake ‘strawberry’ filled with banana caramel.
Fresh strawberries and a vanilla sauce fountain.” Yes, delicious sounding we know, but we were informed by our server that they were “out” of it. Heartbreak ensued. And here’s an interesting tidbit we wouldn’t have learned if this didn’t happen: Barton G doesn’t allow you to only order dessert. Our server explained this to us because she said if we came back just for the Strawberry Fields dessert she’d hook us up because normally it’s not allowed. We ended up getting a dessert called The Other Big Bird instead. Not what our hearts wanted. The Other Big Bird was served with a huge perched bird, overlooking edible eggs that rested on top of a chocolate dessert that was incredibly dense and rich. It had a great chocolatey flavor, but that was its only tasting note, so after a few bites, we weren’t feeling it anymore.
Overall, the experience was a fun one, but we’re not sure it’s worth the price tag to come back again and again. The novelty of the presentation makes you feel like a kid again, and who doesn’t want to feel that child-like wonderment? But, if it’s an impressive taste-sensation you’re looking for, this might not be the place.