841 N Ashland Ave
Chicago, IL | MAP
WHAT TO EAT: Anything that is edible
EATER TIP: Make a reservation because seating is very limited (32 seats)
Remember Teddy Ruxpin? The animatronic children's toy that swept the nation in the mid-80s? Well, Ruxbin is nothing like him: it's not a cuddly bear and it won't tell you warm & fuzzy stories, but it is an intimate, cozy restaurant that will leave you with a pleasant tale to share (like I'm about to do right now).
It was a frigid Sunday night with thudding rainfall smacking our $5 umbrella. Stacy and I clung close together bracing rude winds as we took turns skipping over alligator-sized puddles. After trekking 2 miles just to get a bottle of wine from CVS, we arrived at the corner of Ashland & Pearson where we sought solace inside a tiny restaurant called Ruxbin. A seat for two awaited us.
The simplicity of the menu brought us calm: 6 appetizers, 6 mains, and 3 beverage options – that was it. We chose to start with something familiar, Garlic Fries w/ Chipotle Aioli, as we nestled in with our bottle of wine. Much to our delight the fries were crisped to perfection (EVERY SINGLE ONE) and the aioli dip was as pleasant and subtle as the decor lighting.
As we continued to sip our red blend elixir, a surprise from the kitchen bestowed us: BEETS! Roasted, pickled, and sorbet with house labne cheese, pistachio, fried ginger, and cocoa beet sponge cake. The marriage of contrasting textures and flavors left me in serious awe. It was arguably the most uniquely harmonious dish I have ever eaten (and these are beets, beets I tells ya).
Being a LOTR fan I was tempted to order the Rohan Duck Breast, but the cold + windy weather had me hankering for tender beef so I opted for the Hanger Steak with heirloom potatoes, broccolini, candied bacon, and chimichurri. The broccolini was dressed in a spicy, kimchi-like seasoning and the adorable potatoes broke apart to perfection, but the steak—oooh the steak—twas magical. I tasted a familiar Korean flavor with each chew (almost like a light, sweet bulgogi marinade) and it was simply divine. As of April 19 2015, I can confidently say that this was the best steak dish I have ever devoured.
Stacy chose the Spring Risotto with market veggies, miso eggplant, smoked tomato, nebrodini mushroom, and Hudson Valley Duck egg gribiche (OKAY what the heck did I just write). This symphony of diligently-prepared components was memorable: the succulence of the mushrooms, the consistent bite to each grain of rice, and even something as bitty as the tasty peas were so fun to nibble on. Fresh & earthy. Yum.
The wine slowly dwindled and the belly was full. The lady to my left had just finished her dessert and I asked her what she thought of her meal. "Loved it, everything was perfect," she said. She went on to tell me that she is a regular at the Ruxbin (having once lived just down the street) and every time her experience has been the same – "perfect".
With our empty plates dismissed from the table, Stacy and I were treated with an amazing dessert: Chocolate Quartet which had semi sweet chocolate cake, dark chocolate cake, dark chocolate ganache, blueberries, cocoa nib tuile, raspberry spheres, and white chocolate semifreddo (wait, did you say Frodo?). I am not a big sweets/dessert fan, but you wouldn't have known that with this beauty gradually disappearing in front of me. This dream team lineup reminded me of those fancy boxes of chocolates (you know, the ones with the visual guide to help you decide which ones to pass off to other people) as it encompassed a delectable spectrum of chocolate goodness.
Upon completing our meal, Stacy and I set out to face the impending downpour waiting for us outside. But before doing so, we made sure to thank the staff for a one-of-a-kind meal. Sincere compliments to the chefs in the kitchen (especially Chef Scott Sax), Vicki for her hospitality (and doughnut recommendations), and everyone who helped to make Ruxbin such a memorable experience for us during our trip to Chicago.