First Visit: Everything You Need to Know about Joy District in River North
Joy District opens today at 5 p.m. See the full menu and review in real time NOW on Snapchat (Chicagoings).
The right meal can change a mind, start a love, remove anxiety. In River North, Chicago’s neighborhood equivalent to Spring Break on the Jersey Shore, many a well-designed space has shuttered, not because of decoration, but because of food. Uninspired, bland, basic. Then there are the good who, because we’ve all gotten use to how good they are, go forgotten.
Over on Hubbard Street, between LaSalle and Clark, Epic closed forever last January causing everyone to say, “Oh yea, I remember Epic.” But with Joy District comes a silver lining to this gloomy cloud.
Here’s the whole picture.
The atmosphere: In the space formerly occupied by what Esquire Magazine named one of the best new restaurants in America, a restaurant lands today ready to cement its own reputation. It is the youngest child of restaurateur Carmen Rossi. You know him from such hits as Pomp & Circumstance and Hubbard Inn, and you’ll recognize the family’s signature style throughout Joy District. Walls are lined with artwork lacking the decency to be overlooked or quiet. Each piece demands to be seen. Think floor to ceiling murals of bright red hair and gapping mouths, bright bulb lights leading to the bar, bronze gates create the illusion of exclusive seating, mid-century modern with a dash of 70s brash. The entire scene is shy-impaired and vivid enough to breathe life into the deadest happy hour. Every inch of Joy District is gorgeous (read: IG worthy).
From the menu: The focus is on steak, chops, and seafood, with a wide variety of equally imaginative plates for the vegan. For starters, the hubby and I tried a couple of savory “Lollipops”: bacon wrapped short rip and crispy phyllo wrapped tiger shrimp. Anything wrapped in bacon is going to be amazing so I won’t even bother describing the first. The shrimp was perfectly cooked, large, flavorful and spicy. A satisfying appetizer, albeit somewhat messy for a first date. Phyllo is crazy flaky.
From the Rolled & Bowled section of the menu, the Salmon “California” Roll was on par with that from any of my favorite sushi houses. Of course, given the timing, both the salmon and king crab inside of the roll were firm and fresh. If you’re looking for a few more bites of sashimi, try the Hawaiian Tuna Poke, a meaty appetizer made of five waffle cones stuffed with tuna, cucumber, sprouts, and avocado. Admittedly, I’m not sure what purpose the cone serves aside from portability. It’s an edible vehicle. Eat it if you want.
I’ve been burned by bland iceberg wedges in the past so I rarely order them, but the Spiced Wedge here is no snoozy salad. Chef Matt Wilde has balanced the crisp moisture of each leaf with homemade chipotle dressing, cilantro, fire roasted chilis and croutons that taste like JIFFY corn bread. This is an amazing thing.
Sautéed Sea Scallops were a fitting finale. Presented beautifully atop a bed of sweet pea risotto, each bite was blissfully hypnotizing. Just, incredible.
As for drinks, we drowned our cares in French 55s and St. Germain Cocktails and were not the least disappointed.
You Should Know
- I tried the restaurant’s version of the Juicy Lucy and I wouldn’t recommend it. On a personal note, I don’t understand cheese stuffed burgers. The method does little for flavor and turns a great thing into a gooey disaster. That’s just my opinion. More than that though, there are plenty of better burger spots in this town. Don’t waste the calories you’ve been saving for the sandwich here.
- The mezzanine of Joy District will open next week and the rooftop unveiling is planned for May. Tonight’s is a soft opening. The all out grand opening happens Thursday.
Atmosphere: 4/4. This is how a restaurant/party space should look and feel.
Service: 4/4. Friendly, fashionable, capable. Everyone from the host to the owners.
Price: 3/4. Pricy but level with the neighborhood, food quality, and culinary efforts.
Food: 4/4. Joy District has hit the ground running. Seafood is where the menu really shines. In order, the tuna poke, salmon roll, and scallops are a can’t miss!
First Visit Rating: 3.75
Disclosure: As is common with restaurant reviews, meals were provided by Joy District. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author, Kari Herrera, and are not indicative of the opinions or positions of Joy District.