Never heard of geoduck? If chef Brian Greene has his way, you will.
“I would love it to become the city’s geoduck hub,” says Greene of The Savoy, Wicker Park’s seafood newcomer.
If you haven’t Googled it by now, geoduck (prounounced “gooey-duck”) is a helluva big clam. And Greene prominently features the giant bivalve in his “contemporary seafood-focused, worldly-inspired cuisine.”
“I definitely didn’t want to put together a menu that looked or felt like anything else,” says Greene, who was noodling over a new geoduck au gratin dip when we spoke recently.
The young chef’s training is classic French. But Greene (Purple Pig, Abigail’s) has worked with a number of ethnic flavors — Asian, Latin — during his various kitchen stints. And he likes to incorporate multicultural ingredients into his creations “whenever it feels right.”
This explains the presence of anticuchos de corazón, or Peruvian-style marinated beef heart, a dish “that is unheard of unless you’ve been to a Peruvian restaurant,” Greene says.
The beef heart is one of a handful of items designed for landlubbers, says Greene, who offers “some really awesome dishes for non-seafood eaters.”
And that it does. But we’ll talk about the total awesomeness of Greene’s brisket sandwich in a minute.
Open for lunch, dinner and late-night eats, we visited The Savoy during the noon hour. The meal was a college send-off for my eldest, The Eating Machine, and his longtime bud, Grandpa Jacob — thus dubbed because he ordered coffee with his brisket sandwich as a grandpa might.
Greene’s lunch menu hones in on raw-bar items, appetizers, salads, light fish dishes and sandwiches. Nobody was much in the mood at that hour for monster-sized raw clams or marinated beef hearts — those will have to wait for another visit. But we still got to see Greene’s creative energy come into play.
I’ve eaten many a clam in my day, but this was my first experience with the lovely sunray venus ($13), which were wonderfully plump, large and tender. “It tastes like pizza,” Grandpa Jacob noted. And we all agreed that Greene’s preparation — with spicy Spanish chorizo, roasted piquillo peppers, absinthe and savory opal basil — indeed presented pleasant notes of pepperoni pizza.
Jacob’s mother, Alix, picked a well-stacked bowl of coconut red curry mussels ($12) for another table starter. Greene uses rope-grown Bangs Island mussels from Maine rather than the “industry standard” PEIs from Canada’s Prince Edward Island. Wise decision, as the fleshy, sweet bivalves mated nicely with Greene’s light take on traditional Thai red curry sauce.
A recent convert to pescetarianism, The Eating Machine selected tuna tartare ($12). Here, Greene plates a clean, fresh round of hand-diced raw tuna with frothy yuzo emulsion and tangy basil vinaigrette.
Seeking a green intermezzo, I called for a summer vegetable salad ($8). Ingredients in the satisfying mix included snow peas, red onion, pea shoots, grape tomato and a dusting of mild feta — all lightly dressed with an herb-kissed, grilled corn vinaigrette.
After much negotiating over who would order what, The Eating Machine and Alix both opted for the Chesapeake crab cake sandwich ($12). Although the thick crab patty was tasty, I was most fascinated by its accompanying oven roasted-tomato-butter sauce. Put this soup-like sauce in a bowl, give me a spoon, and I’d be in tomato-butter heaven.
My Richmond Island lobster roll was a fairly straightforward interpretation of the classic New England lobster salad in a bun — here, elevated by lemon aioli and fresh tarragon ($14). I might have been more enamored with the roll had it not been for Grandpa Jacob’s smoked brisket sandwich ($11) sitting down at the other end of the table.
One bite, and I knew this was what I was meant to order.
Greene takes great care with his brisket, rubbing it with spices, coating it with yellow mustard and smoking it for 12 to 14 hours, he says. But it wasn’t just the meat itself that made for an “awesome” sandwich. Greene amps it up by pairing the shredded beef with roasted poblano peppers, crispy fried onions, and feisty Calabrian chili aioli.
You’d think at this point we wouldn’t have had room for dessert. But then again, we had two soon-to-be college boys at the table with us, so I jumped on that excuse.
Thai-inspired coconut flan ($7) was flavored with lemongrass and kaffir lime; we greatly enjoyed its unexpectedly dense consistency, which Alix likened to pumpkin pie filling.
And with its fluffy, salty whipped peanut butter center and Oreo crust, it’s easy to see why Grandma Greene’s peanut butter pie ($7) has quickly become a signature dish.
The Savoy just may wind up being Chicago’s hub for geoduck — and peanut butter pie.
1408 North Milwaukee Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60622