It’s taken a while, but I finally headed over to the new Morton’s Steakhouse in Naperville for dinner with an industry friend last night. As we all know, Morton’s is a well-established company-owned chain steakhouse traded publicly on the NYSE; however, their business model is far-reaching in terms of the high-end quality you would expect to find in big city gem of a steakhouse.
I’ll have to admit, this technically wasn’t my first visit to Morton’s Naperville. I first walked through the non-descript door into Morton’s within the first week of their opening. My wife and I had headed out to Freedom Common’s on date night for a meal at White Chocolate Grill and the wait was hefty. I decided to walk over to Morton’s to see how they were looking in terms of wait time. Upon arriving within the interior of the lightly crowded restaurant, I approached the host desk near the bar and inquired about the wait time. The hostess asked me if I had a reservation and upon saying no she said in an almost arrogant tone that she might be able to get me a table at 9:30 PM, which was just over a three hour wait. Needless to say, the one hour wait at White Chocolate Grill was no match for Morton’s whopping surprise.
Nonetheless, I chalked the experience up to the first week opening and vowed to wait a while before giving Morton’s a try. Last night was the night. This time around, I lined up a reservation through Open Table for 6:30 PM.
I arrived once again in the interior of the restaurant from the tiny awkward hallway, yet this time was different. Everyone, and I mean everyone, was extremely friendly. My friend had already arrived and was finishing a drink at the bar. Though I didn’t even sit down, the bartender was extremely friendly and obviously skilled in the art of respectful customer-centric small talk. We headed over to the host desk, provided the name on the reservation and was immediately ushered over to the Maitre D.
We were seated and our server, Cydni, gave us a few moments to settle in before heading over. It’s clear Morton’s does not want to make you feel rushed, which always improves any dining experience. Our drink order was taken and I decided on the split of Piper Heidsieck champgane, which was perfectly chilled and quickly transferred into a chilled champagne flute. Despite my love for champagne, I’m not typically a huge fan of champagne splits for the abuse the little bottles often go through; however, at first taste this one had been taken good care of. Storage temperature and handling can have a huge impact on any size bottle of champagne or sparkling wine.
Our server wheeled the standard cart of displayed meat and seafood to our table for a quick feast of the eyes. Only prime-aged beef makes the cut at Morton’s and the portions range from a large 16 oz. Ribeye to a whopping 48 oz. Porterhouse. A large dazed lobster moved slowly on a platter as well as the biggest tuna filet I had ever seen served in a restaurant. Only after the eyeball feast and lengthy monologue from our server did we finally receive the menu. There’s a good reason for this ceremonial chronology. If you are among the masses who suffer from sticker shock at the gas stations these days, stay away from a Morton’s menu.
The only thing higher than the obvious quality of the food at Morton’s is their menu prices. I settled on the 16 oz. boneless ribeye at $39.50 versus the $48 bone-in ribeye which weighs in at 24 ounces. Keeping in upscale steakhouse tradition, that was of course only for the hunk of beef. I started with the tuna tartare ringing up at around $16. Finally, as a side dish, I chose the $10.50 gourmet mac-n-cheese.
Before you get the wrong impression, let me say that every last bite of everything I ordered was absolutely decadent. As a matter of fact, I’d put the perfectly cooked and seasoned steak in my personal top 5 of all time, competing with steaks I’d enjoyed in cities ranging from Austin, TX to Paris, FR. The mac-n-cheese was rich and comprised of a high quality cheese blend. The only minor complaint I would have is the tuna tartare, while good, did not quite live up to what I had hoped. The top round layer was symmetrical hunks of tuna, followed by a layer of avocado and then on to what I thought was another layer of tuna, but was actually a layer of tomato. The plate was drizzled with a duet of what appeared to be a spicy mayo and a soy sauce variation.
There was no room for dessert and I would recommend if you want to take advantage of their baked-to-order desserts, then go to Morton’s for dessert only or perhaps appetizers and desserts.
Again, the service was reminiscient of being at a Ritz-Carlton and our server paused on a number of occaisions for conversation which my friend had initiated. There was even a moment where she had to grab something for another table, but calmly and quietly pivoted to another server and whispered what the table had needed for him to retrieve for her as she barely skipping a beat in the conversation.
One final constructive criticism. The parking at Freedom Commons during the dinner hours is a nightmare when combining the rush at White Chocolate Grill, Maggianos and Mortons. I slightly resent that the two rows of parking immediately in front of the restaurant are reserved for Morton’s valet parking which left me parking quite a distance from the restaurant entrance. At the end of the day, Freedom Commons is essentially an upscale strip mall and I would argue whether you really need to provide valet parking. As much as I’m sure they enjoyed leaving the Bentley coupe out front with cones around it, I simply believe valet parking isn’t necessary and actually looks a bit silly in the small narrow parking lot.
So, the sum analysis? Go to Morton’s with allot of money in pocket and expect to be treated and fed like royalty. It’s amazing that a chain restaurant can maintain such a high-level of service and quality. While you might feel a little guilty when the bill arrives, the overall experience will leave you feeling it was well worth it. SM