The Refinery Restaurant Review – Refined, Modern, Sophisticated

I recently had a supberb meal at The Refinery located on North Wells Street in the heart of Old Town.  The Refinery is a new addition and perfect choice to add to Chicago’s famous list of excellent city restaurants. Opened this past July, The Refinery occupies the space where the Old Town Brasserie once stood.

The front entrance and sign to The Refinery.

 

My boyfriend came with me so that we could get the full experience that is The Refinery. The restaurant’s location on Well Street is perfect and near everything that is Chicago. As we entered the building, I enjoyed the space’s warmly lit and modern, sophisticated, yet relaxing environment. The lighting created a rich glow inside, , complete with fireplaces, polished, dark wood, brick walls and stylish, old piping. We were seated near a window in the front, which gave us a nice view of Wells Street, great for people watching while we ate. It is not just a great meal that I crave at a restaurant, but also a nice surrounding and atmosphere. It makes the dining more enjoyable for me. (Though I do not object to hole in the wall restaurants that serve superb food!)

Interiors and tables.

Interiors and tables.

 

My favorite part of the restaurant was the huge movie screen on the wall behind the bar. It featured old black and white films. The evening we were there, the movie Casablanca was showing. It was an interesting contrast for me to see a classic old Hollywood classic film in a contemporary setting with modern music playing in the background. The space was perfect, in my opinion, with a nice balance of music, conversation, noise and ambiance, not super loud, and good for intimate conversation.

The bar and lounge.

The bar and lounge bartenders.

 

I had a magnificent evening of “refined” dishes. To “refine” means to change well-known things and make them different, or better yet, greater than they were before. This is definitely how I felt as we were served each part of our meal. Our waitress for the evening, Robin, was very professional and helpful. She knew the menu very well and recommended her favorite dishes. She provided excellent service to us that evening, which made our meal even more special. She also was very helpful to me by recommending vegetarian dishes for each course.    

We got a kick out of the bottle our water was served in an old Bourbon glass bottle. We tried to guess what brand the Bourbon was and someone working at The Refinery clued us in: Cody Road Bourbon! I liked the old-fashioned Bourbon bottle with our water rather than a standard water jug. This further added to my vision of how the restaurant was “refined,” with old style mixed with modern accents.

The Cody Road bourbon bottle.

 

Our meal started out with a lovely bottle of a dry, red malbec called Durigutti from Mendoza, Argentina. The full-bodied, fruity wine paired nicely with our appetizers. The first appetizer was grilled eggplant toast with pine nut, currants, olives and ricotta salata. I loved the acidity of the malbec wine as it mingled in my mouth with the tender, grilled eggplant and olive oil. The eggplant went well with its accompaniments as well.

Grilled eggplant toast with pine nut, currants, olives and ricotta salata.

 

The second appetizer was a cheese board complete with three selections of cheese: baked Brie, smoked Gouda and Humboldt fog. The Brie tasted amazing on the pecan date bread served with cranberry preserves. I am not a huge Gouda fan, but I especially delighted in consuming the Humboldt fog, a rich and sharp blue cheese. Only a little of this particular cheese is needed at a time to satisfy my tasting palate.  

Cheese board with baked Brie, smoked Gouda and Humboldt fog.

 

Moving on to the main courses, my boyfriend, being a true carnivore, ordered the crispy duck breast with carrot, pearl onion, garlic sausage bread pudding and duck jus. He loved the soft, tender and juicy duck meat with a nice, crispy exterior. He is not a fan of carrots. However, I had the carrots served on the side and ate them instead. The orange and yellow carrots were sweet on my tongue with just a touch of warm butter.      

Crispy duck breast with carrot, pearl onion, garlic sausage bread pudding and duck jus.

 

As for my main course, I chose one of the few meatless options on the menu, the mushroom bolognese, which came with fettuccine, fennel and orange. Though the ingredients with the mushrooms and noodles were a tad different from other pasta dishes I have had in the past, I loved how all the flavors came together-it was a rather exotic taste for me. They all worked well with one another. For me, the tastes were subtle yet effective. To me, the most pronounced flavors in the dish were the mushrooms, fennel and orange. The orange left a nice citrus aftertaste against the mushrooms that lingered.  

Mushroom bolognese with fettuccine, fennel and orange.

 

After the main courses came my favorite part of the meal - the dessert. (However, I am quite famous for having dessert before the meal!) The dessert menu was extremely small, though everything looked mouthwatering and delicious. I finally got it down to two choices and debated: Was it to be the amazing warm sticky toffee pudding (white chocolate cream, Asian pear, dulce de leche) I sampled at the Chicago Food and Gourmet Expo? Or, would I try something new and go for the chocolate cassava cake (dark chocolate cremeux, cassava rochers, marshmallow ice cream)?

My boyfriend and Robin helped me make a final decision and decided to get the cassava cake.  I was so glad I made this choice. It is a classic Filipino dessert made out of grated cassava (an edible starchy tuberous root – tapioca is made from it). The Refinery’s head chef, Lawrence Letrero, designed this dessert, inspired by his Filipino mother’s homemade recipe.

chocolate cassava cake with dark chocolate cremeux, cassava rochers and marshmallow ice cream.

 

The dessert was indulgent with several flavors and textures to be experienced. Each ingredient was beautifully laid out on my plate. I loved the bittersweet dark chocolate cremeux, the toasty tapioca and coconut cassava, and especially the marshmallow ice cream, which was creamy and fluffy. Just like in the mushroom bolognese, this dessert dish worked well combining different and unusual flavors, combining with one another, yet never competing for flavor.

Though my boyfriend and I were completely stuffed by this time, the restaurant sent over a final treat: a roasted pistachio house made almond cake with a dollop of chocolate ganache. I was full but couldn’t pass it up. I am glad I didn’t. I love dark chocolate, almonds and pistachios. It was a nice ending to the meal.

As my boyfriend and I were heading out to leave after our meal, the Refinery’s manager, Josh Schatan, came out to greet us. I remember meeting him at the Chicago Food and Gourmet Expo. He thanked us for coming and I thanked him for such a wonderful meal and fine dining experience – rather a “refined’ dining experience.

An old Refinery tank photograph.

 

The Refinery restaurant is located at 1209 North Wells Street, Chicago, IL 60610.

Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 5 - 11 pm, Late Night Menu: 11pm - 2am, Brunch: Saturday and Sunday 9am – 2pm

For more information about The Refinery Restaurant or to make a reservation, visit the website or call (312) 854-2970.

Photos: Jennifer Lunz

 

 

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