The Key Ingredient with Mark Steuer of the then-not-yet-opened Bedford is one of my favorites, because the challenge (by his old boss Mindy Segal) really hits him where he lives and he rises to it cleverly. But something else was notable about that shoot, which was, it was the only one to date where a PR person was on hand, making sure nothing was said out of turn (and in fact stopping Steuer at a couple of points). At the time I just attributed it to owners whose place wasn’t open yet and were thus a little overcautious about their concept leaking out prematurely. After eating at The Bedford, I begin to think overcaution is more like the theme of this restaurant set in a former bank, complete with (very cool) dining room inside a vault. Your money’s safe in a bank vault, and at The Bedford, so’s your menu.
The menu hit all the notes of dining c. 2011– house cocktails with ingredients du jour like cachaca and Templeton Rye; bacon scattered on half the dishes; comfort food starters like deviled eggs (“We’re becoming famous for them,” our waiter claimed), Cobb salad and frites; entrees like hangar steak, duck confit and gnocchi, the inevitable burger and mac and cheese. Even as I recognize that I, and everyone who dines out in Chicago at this moment, is a spoiled bastard who deserves a whipping (oh dear, not duck confit again), I have to admit that this menu, exquisitely of the minute but not one second ahead anywhere, seemed perfectly fine but did not set my pulse racing.
Fortunately there’s the menu, and there’s the execution, which on the whole was first-rate. We started with some very good Chesapeake Stingray oysters, served properly on ice, and the deviled eggs with Tabasco and bacon powder, very nice, velvety texture and all that, though I still feel like deviled eggs ought to be a Methodist grandmother’s signature dish, not an upscale restaurant’s. (But then, I remember when fries were a side, not an appetizer, at least for anyone over the age of 16.) The Cobb salad was the most serious misstep— first, it was served iceberg wedge style, which I know is an old school presentation trick but seems a lousy way to dress and eat a salad to me; second, its resemblance to a canonical Cobb salad was vague at best, what with cheddar cheese curds present and egg, avocado, bleu cheese, etc. absent. (Also, I think we were stuck unannounced for an extra two bucks at the end for sharing a plate, which would have been more acceptable if they had, in fact, brought us other plates to make sharing easier. At $15, that better be one hell of a head of iceberg lettuce you’re eating.)
Entrees, on the other hand, delivered to the full of their expectations. Grilled halibut with bacon and favas was cooked textbook perfect, and the brightness of the fresh favas and other bits and dribs of green stuff on the plate made it a nice spring dish, if not one that had me running up to strangers in the street. The one dish that went beyond technical perfection and really had some sparkle and decadence to it was the duck confit, served in a gooily lush bowl of grits and dotted with psychedelically-green, brightly minty salsa verde. Imagine Next’s L’Escoffier meal crossed with the bowl of Malt-O-Meal your mom made you one time when you stayed home sick, and topped with pesto whose ingredients you picked moments before. Can’t imagine that? Well, that’s why it stood out on The Bedford’s menu, where everything else we had can be imagined exactly from its menu description.
Actually, there was one other thing which might suggest some hope for The Bedford loosening up and taking the occasional bank holiday. We didn’t have it, but there was a special of rabbit (which Steuer also tweeted about). And you know, one special like that— rabbit, a dish which had Chicago diners going “eek!’ just a few years ago— goes a long way to overcoming your immediate impression that The Bedford, whose room reminded me of downtown places like Trattoria No. 10 and the late Powerhouse, is aimed too conservatively at a suit-and-tie Loop crowd who haven’t felt entirely comfortable in the Ruxbins and Longman & Eagles and other slacker-vibe weird-animal-parts restaurants that have been where you had to go eat on the near northwest side lately. Two or three more specials like them, some more unusual fishes than halibut and more unusual cuts than hangar steak, and The Bedford’s executional expertise might be matched by a menu that makes you feel curious as well as merely comfortable.
My dining companion’s take, with photos.