Free Rein has a new chef. Our review.

In its original form, Free Rein, in the St. Jane Hotel, had an impressive lunch. It now shows the shackles of the hotel it's attached to, displaying the typical timidity and underperformance of a hotel restaurant.

Free Rein

79彩票注册网址Skirt steak a la plancha

FREE REIN

St. Jane Chicago Hotel, 224 N. Michigan Ave.
312-334-6700

Neighborhood: Loop
Cuisine: American
Vibe: Held back
Entree price range: $12-$29
Sound level: Not too loud
Private room: Two semiprivate, seating 15 and 35
Reservations: Yes
Wheelchair-accessible: Yes

All restaurant meals are paid for by Crain's reviewers, who visit restaurants anonymously. They sometimes follow up with phone calls to management after they visit to clarify information.

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79彩票注册网址

In its original form, Free Rein, the street-facing restaurant in the St. Jane Hotel, had an impressive lunch, making Crain's Best New Restaurants for 2018. It topped my list of go-to answers when people asked for a good, convenient lunch place they might not know about.

It turns out the opening chef, Aaron Lirette, may deserve the greatest share of credit for that version. Lirette left, and Kristine Subido, formerly of the W Hotel's Wave and Uptown chicken restaurant Pecking Order, replaced him this past spring. It's no longer impressive.

Free Rein now shows the shackles of the hotel it's attached to, displaying the typical timidity and underperformance of a hotel restaurant. Carolina shrimp ($16) promises tamarind, ginger and black mustard seeds, but the merely decent roasted tomato sauce dominates the dish. The grilled cheese ($12) is all dry white bread, the cheese not even reaching the crusts, much less oozing over the side. Lunch suffers from chronic underseasoning, although shakers do reside on the tables.

79彩票注册网址Free Rein still has a lot going for it, namely the attractive dining room with a comfy east-facing area carved out for a cafe, a Loop location and attentive service. It's just not all that for food anymore. I'm revising my list.

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Free Rein

Ricotta gnocchi

79彩票注册网址

IMPROBABLE BURGER

The biggest disappointment of returning to Free Rein was the burger. Under Lirette, the restaurant's burger had two full-flavored, still-pink diner-style patties, well-melted cheese and a secret sauce with a little kick to it, adding up to a best-in-city-finalist level of quality. The current burger, encouragingly called "Free Rein burger" to summon memories of the old one, has two bland, gray patties, incompletely melted cheese, too-sweet pickles and overweening dullness. Adding insult to injury, the inferior newcomer costs $20, compared with $13 in summer 2018.

JAZZY COMBO

79彩票注册网址Two items stood apart from the general trend of undershooting expectations. The turkey club ($16) furnished itself with generous ripe avocado, a vibrant basil aioli and hale arugula. The french fries were battered to augment the crisp/soft textural contrast and arrived quite hot. You can order these together.

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Free Rein

Pork belly bahn mi

79彩票注册网址

RESERVE VINTAGE

Like many Loop lunch spots, Free Rein frequently fills up, so it's among the rare breed of reservation-recommended restaurants at noon in our age of Postmates and the food hall. Free Rein's cafe, amid the laptoppers and counter-coffee sippers, also gets full lunch service, if you walk in and don't mind the more casual atmosphere.

CUT TO THE QUICK

79彩票注册网址Quick coursing led to a subhour lunch on one visit. So quick, in fact, that the mains arrived while we were still on the starters—mileage varies on whether that's an asset or a liability.

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Free Rein

Beet salad

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