From the street, the only indication that you’re passing one of the coolest new restaurants in Evanston is a wall mural, elegantly weathered to look like it’s been there for years. It reads: Evanston’s The Barn, Just Down the Alley. A painted hand points the way.
Pull up alongside the building and the complimentary valet service will take your car off your hands and point you toward the door. Inside, a beautiful bar stretches off to the left, the shelves of liquor and wine stretching so high they use a sliding library ladder to get to the upper bottles.
An elegant dining room stretches to the right. Tons of details were preserved from the building’s origins in the 1880s as the Borden Condensed Milk Company, including the small windows along the wall where the horses were lined up. An elevated dining area called the loft even has a Borden’s logo painted on the brick above red leather steakhouse booths. The whole place is shadowy wood and golden light. A large, delicate chandelier hangs as a statement piece in the center of the dining room. This is as sophisticated as the rustic aesthetic gets, which is no surprise considering it’s the latest venue in Amy Morton’s long restaurant legacy.
After spending the past couple of years in the small plates realm with Evanston’s Found, Chef Nicole Pederson was ready to tackle the classic steakhouse fare that Morton wanted while still bearing her inventive personal fingerprint.
That was made clear the moment the Grand Central Caviar Sandwich made its way to the table. Evoking the flavors and demeanor of the petite egg salad finger sandwiches that accompany English tea, these receive a welcome salty kick from the black bowfin caviar spread over the chopped egg, crème fraîche, and soft slices of toasted pain de mie sourced from Evanston’s Hewn Bakery. The flavors combine to create an appetizer both light in aspect but decadent in aesthetic.
Also from the appetizer menu, the Warm King Crab with Golden Beet & Horseradish shreds rich, butter poached crabmeat in a pool of thick, creamy nage sauce and small cubes of earthy red and golden beets. There’s a garden bitterness from strands of pea tendrils used to the same effect that arugula usually brings to modern plates, but with a much more pleasing visual impact. This dish capitalizes on all the warm, buttery aspects the best crab preparations have to offer.
The Table-side Little Gem & Creamy Dijon Salad was the first of three dishes that were wheeled up to our table on a cart and prepared right before our eyes. Fresh whole leaf mixed greens are tossed with chopped egg, pumpkin seeds, Parmigiano Reggiano, and pickled Vidalia onions. The salad is crisp and refreshing, with a nice subtle tang from a creamy Dijon dressing. At the diner’s discretion they also offer chunks of warm, smoky bacon and whole anchovies, anchored at opposite ends of the texture spectrum, both offer injections of strong, specific tastes that the other flavors on the plate accept with aplomb.
Moving into the entrées, we discovered why the folks behind The Barn decided to dub themselves A Modern Meaterie. Every meat that came to the table was exquisitely tender and rich in robust flavor.
The Bison Bolognese offers slow cooked bison in a red wine sauce over thick, al dente chitarra noodles, all under a sprinkling of hand-dipped ricotta cheese. Tinged with coriander and fennel, everything about this dish is stout and comforting. The meat shreds at the mere suggestion of a fork and combines with the noodles in a satisfying heft free from any sweetness. It’s the ultimate cold weather dish.
Moving into the next course, a Whole Roasted Branzino was wheeled next to our table and deboned and stacked expertly on a plate before our server poured a lemon-shallot beurre blanc over it. It’s joined on the plate by leeks, carrots, and gem lettuce, braised to a lovely wilt retaining a little crunch at the root. Every flavor and texture is light and delicate, the white wine sauce perfectly accenting the tender fish.
The star of the evening was the Prime Heritage Angus 10-ounce Filet Mignon, served bone-in in a red wine demi-glace. This meat is literally mouth watering with a pan-kissed crispness to the edges while the inside remains a succulent medium rare. This is the best. All of their steaks are thankfully served with a side of butterball potatoes in marrow butter. You also have the option of adding a wholly unnecessary side of Béarnaise sauce for the meat, but leave this one unadorned and just bask in the quality.
Dessert was the final tableside presentation as our charming waiter Mark poured Grand Marnier over a selection of Amarena cherries and lit it afire. He swirled the bright blue flames for a couple moments before extinguishing them and pouring the flambéed cherries jubilee over a slice of Vanilla Sour Cream Cheesecake. The sour cream renders the cheesecake fluffier than expected while retaining the characteristic sweetness and soaking up the deep cherry sauce pooling around it on the plate.
The Barn is located at Rear 1016, Church Street in Evanston, 847-868-8041, thebarnevanston.com.