Elegant lunch in Chicago: Riva Crabhouse, Navy Pier
People might be surprised to think of Chicago as a place to order seafood, but it's true now! Growing up there, we had luscious steaks and ribs, but seafood wasn't on the menu, so to speak. I didn't partake of crab, oysters, etc. until I moved to Maryland. As a kid, I only knew from tuna salad, fried clams and monkfish, which my mom tried to convince us was "the poor man's lobster". Regretfully, it wasn't. Mom more than made up for monkfish dinners by treating me to an elegant ladies' lunch at Riva Crabhouse, Navy Pier. Just goes to show you that you can never be too old for your folks to take you to lunch!
One of the jewels of Chicago was developed as an entertainment destination after I left home: Navy Pier. I had to check it out! We walked there on a blustery day, because my mother strongly believes in lots of brisk walking, whatever the weather, especially if you're having an indulgent lunch.
And so, Riva Crabhouse Navy Pier was the perfect place to go. It felt so appropriate to eat seafood with the expansive views of Lake Michigan. The limitless expanse of water is soothing, but not in a babyish way. It's as if the steel blue lake imparts some steeliness in you, building the "broad shoulders" that Carl Sandburg described of us.
Riva definitely seems to have a gorgeous wine selection -- Sauvigon Blanc is my favorite go-to with chilled seafood -- but when with mom, drinking in the afternoon just isn't done. I also spied interesting cocktails, as well as lots of locally brewed craft beers.
They have a number of "steam pots" featuring several kinds of seafood, along with toast and garlic butter. I'm sure that it's decadent on cold Chicago days! Still, if you've ever eaten lunch with ladies, you know that rich foods are verboten.
In that line of thinking, I was happy to order The Ultimate Seafood Tower, with East Coast oysters (my personal fave, for their brininess), chilled shrimp -- a little throwback to that classic "cocktail" -- and King crab bites. They're served on crushed ice, butter lettuce, with fresh lemon, mignonette, cocktail sauce, etc. If I could, I would have this for lunch nearly every day. So light, yet so satisfying and delicious. Riva's seafood was fresh, sweet and on point. Chicago stands at the same level as its coastal sisters.
There's a lot of fun decor at Riva, including stationary sinks, vintage scuba gear, an exposed kitchen and some of their grander sized, noteworthy wines on display. At lunchtime, with its brightness and open space, Riva beautifully spans that difficult chasm: a place that works for business meetings as well as a date.