Recently, I was diagnosed by my gastroenterologist with a severe wheat allergy. You might be saying to yourself, "What the heck is a gluten-intolerant pompous windbag doing reviewing restaurants?" Please, Windy City Times is all about the gays. When is the last time you saw one of us pick up a bread basket? But I digress. Riva Crabhouse was a surprise. I heard, "Navy Pier" and "seafood" and thought, "Dear God in heaven. Will there be a live band with kettle drums and a make-your-own ceviche station replete with commemorative bowls?"
Riva, I must say, shocked me. It's none of those things. J. Crew himself looks like he lives here. Paneling, prints of waterways and tasteful nautical motifs abound, but do not overwhelm. This is not your strip-mall seafood restaurant. Luigi Garcia and his team of chefs should be quite proud of their operation and their food since both were outstanding.
Riva offers a would-be diner two options as an appetizer. You can either order an actual appetizer or perhaps order a selection from the array of small plates. The tuna sashimi was a bit strong on the tuna, overwhelming the wonderful seaweed salad with ginger dressing it's paired with. The bison skewers were tender and perfectly cooked but, again, underseasoned. However, the duck confit-stuffed peppers were a triumph. You might expect something overpowering and audacious but this dish was both shockingly subtle and also perfectly seasoned.
Some of you who have read my other reviews know that I am a stickler for soups. Frankly, a foul soup can ruin the rest of the mealbut there's no such item here. Make sure you get the lobster bisque. Garcia has stayed true to what lobster bisque is supposed to be: a creamy soup boldly flavored with fresh lobster and a hint of butter and salt. The crab cakes, alas, I could not eat but my faithful dining companion, who is a native of the Chesapeake Bay area, said they were the best crab cakes he's had in Chicago. For those of you not lucky enough to have tried Maryland blue crab cake whilst in season, this is high commendation indeed.
My entrée was surely one of the best prepared meat dishes I have ever had. Lobster can be a real bitch to prepare. However, my fresh Australian lobster was tender, juicy and absolutely brimming with flavor. That was paired with a rare sirloin steak that came with a knife but did not require one to slice through was the perfect compliment. I am often leery of "surf and turf" dishes. Fish and mammal? Why not make kale milkshake? But Garcia again offered two uniquely prepared meats each flavored to compliment the other. So rather than being red tide meets mad cow, it was certainly a rare treat for me.
Our service and servers were exceptionally attentive. My wheat allergy was absolutely no problem and our server, Michelle, was able to point out every single friendly dish on the menu in minutes. She really was the Annie Sullivan to my Helen Keller. If you want to enjoy the views, the food and the service at Riva but avoid the crowds, I suggest going after the theater rush leaves to see A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre next door. Riva is seafood done the way God intendedit's fresh, flavorful and fabulous.