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The Early Word on Lena Brava, Rick Bayless' New Hearth-Driven Seafood Restaurant

The fire and ice concept is off to a red hot start

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Lena Brava
Lena Brava
Galdones Photography

After much anticipation, Rick Bayless' latest project has arrived on Restaurant Row. Having already built a modern Mexican empire of restaurants in Chicago, there's certainly a lot of hype surrounding the revered chef's new spot. Located next to Cruz Blanca Cervecería brewery, Lena Brava features an ice- and fire-themed selection of raw seafood and fire-cooked items. Chicagoans have been mightily impressed so far and here's what they're saying.

Ice: To start, "perfectly flavorful" ceviche maki rolls are a big hit with Amoli P. on Yelp. Travel+SocialGood agrees on Instagram, calling them "beyond bliss." Likewise, hiramasa yellowtail—dressed with chamoy, honey manilla mango, micro shiso and bits of orange—features "generous cuts of super fresh fish" that are "beautifully enhanced by all these amazing and unexpected flavors," writes Chicago Food Stories. Finally, Rebecca C. says the young coconut salad is "flavorful and luscious."

Fire: Lots of love for the braised short ribs, which are "cooked to perfection," fall "right off the bone" and have "just right" smoky flavoring for Amoli P. It's a sentiment echoed in a review on OpenTable that calls them the "most amazing, delicate, interesting, and sensationally succulent tasting short ribs" ever. The 32 oz. tomahawk steak also "rival[s] any great steakhouse in Chicago, according to Stephen M., while Bill thinks the striped bass is "amazing, worth the price of admission." Don't sleep on the side dishes either as Rebecca C. says the butter-roasted plantains are "to die for" and put "all of Miami's Cuban restaurants serving ho hum, yet previously yummy plantains to shame!"

Sweets: The prickly pear dessert is "wonderful and like nothing [Rebecca C.] has ever had anywhere else on the planet." She praises the "mind-boggling" flavors that "come together in such delicious sweetness." Amoli P. calls the wood-oven tart "magical" and thinks mezcal is a "perfect complement" to cap things off.

Cocktails: The drink menu boasts more than 100 different varieties of mezcal and offers "thoughtful and intricate" cocktails, writes Amoli P. Chad L. recommends the "outstanding" Last Piña concoction, made with Fidencio Classico mezcal, Luxardo Maraschino, muddled pineapple, green Chartreuse and lime.

The rest: Service is on point, with an "impeccably knowledgeable" server providing spot-on suggestions to CTSisFun. However, another reviewer complains about the wait staff being a "bit too eager to the point of being annoying" and thinks the music is "too loud for normal conversation." Be prepared to kill some time though if you haven't secured a reservation as shannonroneill waited four hours for a table.

Lastly, not everyone is blown away by the restaurant. In the lone negative review, one diner wrote that the "food was not impressive at all, cocktails were fine, service was slow, it just felt more like a mainstream chain restaurant (fancy Chili's)."

Lena Brava

900 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60607 (312) 733-1975

Cruz Blanca

904 West Randolph Street, , IL 60607 (312) 733-1975 Visit Website