GT Fish and Oyster has always been my favorite restaurant in Chicago. The atmosphere is casual, yet refined, you can always sit at the bar if you can't snag a reservation, and the menu boasts a killer New England clam chowder.
Then I went to Cold Storage.
Now let's not get ahead of ourselves. I'm not abandoning GT Fish & Oyster any time soon. Cold Storage, the new seafood restaurant inside the relatively-new Swift & Sons, isn't necessarily a better experience than GT Fish & Oyster, but it's definitely a different one. (It's worth mentioning that they're actually both owned by Boka Restaurant Group.)
The meal started out like most of mine do: with a glass of wine. But as the four of us glanced at the menu, debating between hot and cold seafood dishes to share, our waitress let us know about a few specials. She said there was one giant crab left, a crab that would be steamed and served in pieces with clarified butter. We instinctively nodded yes and abandoned a few of our original menu choices.
The crab arrived on a serving platter, neatly arranged in its original shape, but in pieces made easy for sharing. Not only was the crab incomparably fresh, but eating it served as an activity. We marveled at the presentation as we cracked and dipped each piece, and before we knew it, 20 minutes of our dining experience were taken up by just one dish.
The meal continued on like this for more than two hours. By no means do you have to sit in one of their booths this long to get the full experience, but we were so caught up in admiring our food that time no longer mattered.
Latin-inspired sardines were fishy, but not overpowering, and they were playfully served in an old-fashioned tin with a side of Saltines. We were newly exposed to 'nduja, a spicy, spreadable pork sausage that accompanied perfectly grilled octopus. And another special, the plump and delicate uni, challenged all of our taste buds. The uni won.
Most playful and exciting (and slightly unnecessary), though, was the dessert. While three of us were still fawning over our last dish (the shrimp bahn mi), our fourth sneakily ordered a giant ice cream sundae called The Narwahl. It arrived with eight scoops of homemade ice cream, four different sauces, and a bottom layer of homemade cakes. When it came to finishing it, I gave us an A for effort.
We did take some time away from our food to admire our surroundings. The Cold Storage space is special enough for a birthday dinner, but relaxed enough for a midday lunch. It might have been the day's specials scrawled on the mirrored walls, or maybe it was the crab (definitely the crab), but my experience at Cold Storage is one I'm still thinking about days later.
In the end, was the seafood there that much better than at GT Fish & Oyster? Not quite. But I'm happy to have an alternative that's just as good - and where eight scoops of ice cream is an acceptable dessert order.