What started as an undiscovered small seat, no reservation BYO spot quickly transformed into a city hot spot that requires a little effort to secure a seat (still no reservations, still BYO). Both GQ and Bon Appetite named Ruxbin to Top Ten Best Restaurant lists nation wide as well as numerous local awards - adding fuel to an already burning hot fire. We first went to Ruxbin in October of 2010 when you could still walk in at a reasonable hour and grab a table. It was a great experience with quality food and a fun trip to the #1 bathroom in Chicago - so we needed to return and see if things had changed.
To get a coveted table for four on a Friday night Erica put our names down when the doors opened (and they were kind to let us wait for the second seating and not eat at 5:30). They called us back to give us a ten minute warning and everything worked out great. We can prepared with two bottles for the four of us but definitely wished there was one more glass each. The space is well documented for the creative use of random materials - some sourced at Salvage One. It's eclectic and funky but it works because the space is so small and comforting.
The menu is modern american without anything crazy or funky. It also helps that every table starts with tasty popcorn to get the palate ready. There are only six starters and six entrees, but the variety is great and ensures something for everyone. We started with Calamari (Chicken & Pork Forcemeat, Potato Confit, Korean Chili, Peanuts, Pickled Fennel, Pea Tendrils) and Garlic Fries (House Cut French Fries with Chipotle Aioli) for the table and each pair ordered the soup special (cauliflower cream I believe). The soup was nice, and perfect for our chilly spring evening. The french fries were underwhelming and a little disappointing, and the calamari was different and had a little too much going on for my preference. Lots of flavor but a little confusing and loses the natural calamari flavor.
If the appetizers were only ok the main courses made up for it. The table ordered the following - Pork Loin (Sweet Potato Gnocchi, Brown Butter Emulsion, Kale, Kalamata Olives, Cranberry, Sage, $25), Sablefish (Maple & Soy with Hull-less Barley, Pickled Vegetables and Black Tea Broth, $30) and Hanger Steak (Wrinkled Long Beans, Candied Bacon, Chimichurri, Creme Fraiche, Heirloom Potatoes, $25). Erica's steak was delicious and well worth every dollar, very good and a generous portion. Jen and I went with the Sablefish and both agreed it was a very nice dish. The flavors are more subtle, which compliments the smooth and "butter" fish. Russ went with the pork loin and considering there was nothing left on the plate I assume it went well.
We awarded four stars for our first meal but three stars is more accurate this time around. I love the vibe and decor but getting a table is a challenge. Our entrees were fantastic and worthy of very high praise but we were disappointed with the starters (I always want better main dishes than starters). Our bill ($95 all in for two) was surprisingly high without any booze (love the BYO policy) and no dessert (we went to Hot Chocolate instead) . It all balances out to a high quality place for dinner that is among the most interesting choices in town. The main courses (and bathroom) are worth the excursion but repeat visits are challenging to execute. I can't wait for the next outpost with more seats and reservations.