4343 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL, 60618 , North Center
Price: $$$$$

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Knifee - Chicago

pickle factories—when you’re looking to book a Chicago steakhouse for an evening of beefy, bacchanalian excess. Even the stroller parents and office types who make it their home don’t necessarily default to a local option. And that’s why we mean it when we say that Knife – Chef Timothy Cottini’s newest crack at a neighborhood steakhouse – is a hidden gem of serious proportions, worthy of your serious consideration.

If you’re interested in how your food goes from ingredient to plate, there’s a good chance that Knife will satisfy your curiosity. Everything from salad to cocktails to dessert is tossed, shaken, poured, and occasionally set aflame alongside your table.

The starters feature steakhouse classics along with a few in-house touches. Lobster bisque and porcini soup hit all the right notes alongside beet and kale burrata, a seasonal market salad served with green goddess dressing, and a tableside Caesar. Despite inhabiting a restaurant genre where greens can be an afterthought (we’ve all had the store-brand bleu cheese masqueraded as “house-made”), Knife manages to impress.

“Salads are a surprising delight. A grilled wedge that looks like it crashed into a wall is tossed with a hunk of blue cheese, strips of bacon, and rubbery but likable lobster mitts, all doused in green goddess,” Chicago Reader dining critic Mike Sula said. “The tableside Caesar, depending on who wheels it over, is an exemplar of the form: the server builds the dressing in the spinning bowl before adding each component with precise deliberation and dishing it out with texturally appropriate portioning.”

The appetizers (divided into “Land” and “Sea” options) offer the usual shrimp cocktail, half-shell oysters, and terrine of foie gras, but also oxtail doughnut holes, beef meatballs with rich tomato sauce, and a housemade charcuterie selection that rotates daily. And far from the cold, indifferent basket of room-temperature bread sometimes associated with Chicago’s temples of beef, Knife makes both cotton-soft Parker House rolls and crisp focaccia in house, serving them with whipped butter and a seasonal dipping sauce, respectively.

If you’re in for an entrée but not quite set on steak, Knife has a surprisingly robust selection of alternate entrees. Indulge in a lamb Porterhouse, mushroom agnolotti, or even beef Stroganoff served on scratch-made pappardelle noodles.

For those who come seeking steak, there’s a “Butcher’s Cut Steak” section featuring tenderloin medallions, hanger steak dotted with rosemary butter, and a 10 oz. dry-aged bavette, all served with smoked frites or onion string, both traditional steak-house accompaniments, but each done with a twist (frites that are smoked; onion in strings!) that makes them as interesting as they are delicious.

The “Premium Cut Steaks” selections include a 7 oz. tenderloin, 10 oz. New York strip, and 16 oz. bone-in ribeye, all prime-grade and served with a side and sauce. A rotating “Chef Cut” selection features a rotating cast of dry-aged selections from the kitchen. And if you’re worried about leaving at somewhat less than full tummy capacity (not that you should be), add a lobster tail, order of shrimp, or sizzling lobe of foie gras for that last bit of gustatory insurance.

The wine list features bottles from a diverse array of producers, with bottles from both the Old and New Worlds. Napa Valley, Rhone River Valley, and Russian River Valley producers share space with vintners from Oregon, Bordeaux, and Tuscany. The selection is varied, and every price range is represented.

The beer list is a fraction of the size of the wine list but features well-curated local favorites on draft alongside bottles both macro (Miller Lite, Stella Artois) and craft (Duchesse de Bourgogne, Flanders Red, Unibroue La Fin Du Monde and Founders Breakfast Stout).

For Sula, the real story was the cocktails. “Tony Munger's list of obscurely titled cocktails invites some examination,” he said. “Taken mostly from the online Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, a catalog of invented words, the names conjure a sense of melancholy that may have you weeping into your Ellipism, a flute of spherified cognac bubbles suspended in sparkling wine and orange liqueur, which references the feeling of ‘sadness that you'll never know how history will turn out.’”

For a unique, low-key steak experience, maybe skip the expense-account haunts and head to Lincoln Square.