My review of Mason: a delightful touch of retro on the Chicago dining scene

Ever so rarely there is a restaurant that steals your heart, conquers your senses, and lives in your mind forever. The dining experience might be long gone, but the flavors and the music, the sparkles and the splendor will forever be yours, like an enchanting dream from which you don’t want to wake up. There is something special that restaurant has, something that works on your emotions by awakening nostalgia and delivering warmth like nowhere before. If you’ve already visited Mason, then you know what I mean. If you have yet to dine there, take my word for it: in an age when molecular gastronomy is trendy and culinary apps are all the rave, this retro spot on the Chicago dining scene is truly refreshing!

Described by its founders as “a classic American chophouse with a modern upswing,” Mason is more than just another trendy spot in the heart of Chicago: it is an experience. The restaurant is tastefully decorated with vintage paintings encased by golden frames, which complement the comfortable furniture and unobtrusive, shaded lighting. When present, the touches of warm colors are discreet and pay tribute to the overall retro theme of the place. At Mason, you’re going back to a time when eating out was a rather distinguished affair:

The bar area is superbly designed, with an artistic flair that combines metals and dramatic slabs of marble with luxurious results.

The drink menu encompasses a wide variety of offerings, and I was a bit lost on what to order. Thankfully, the server had excellent recommendations for me and my friend, and he was very knowledgeable and extremely pleasant throughout our interaction. Perusing the menu while sipping on a refreshing citrusy mocktail, I felt detached from the world outside and ready to embrace the upcoming dining experience, one Frank Sinatra song at a time:

For appetizers, we ordered and shared Clams Casino and Crab Cake.

The clams were buttery and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. A well-executed classic, in all its glory:

Meanwhile, the meat-packed crab cake was perfectly crispy on the outside, and featured one of the many exciting elements on the menu (for me, anyway): sweet potato strings. Technically exquisite and colorfully flamboyant, the strings brought texture and a certain playfulness to the dish, yet they were also a bit too salty, and as such hard to eat. Thankfully, the lobster nage at the base of the crab cake was the perfect element for dipping the potato strings into and taming some of their saltiness:

For main, my friend ordered – and enjoyed! – the Chilean Sea Bass with bok choy, smoked & pickled shiitake and bean sprouts…

…while I decided to go down the classic route – and what’s more classic and humble than roasted chicken? That’s my philosophy, after all: I believe in well-executed simplicity, and I think a lot can be said about a restaurant and its executive chef by the way it approaches classic recipes. Served with a bean cassoulet and a delicious coating of herb butter, Mary’s Organic Chicken had all of the ingredients of successful comfort food: moist protein, belly-warming bean concoction, generous portion. The perfect dish then, the perfect dish now, in the midst of winter:

Re-imagining classics takes time, talent, and creativity. How do you reformulate tradition? How do you make it relevant to contemporary times while keeping its old-fashioned appeal intact and reassuring? At Mason in downtown Chicago, the chef has found the magic formula. Classic dishes are given new meaning in an ambiance steeped in history and style, which magically transcends clear-cut time frames and resonates with today’s guests like nowhere else before. Visit Mason for the alluring hints of past, love it for its present food marvels, and rejoice at its future possibilities. There’s so much potential, and so many delightful meals to come 🙂

*Disclaimer: While I received a complimentary tasting to facilitate this review, all opinions expressed here are my own.


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