According to the 23 enigma, discovered by William S. Burroughs and evangelized by everyone from the British industrial band Throbbing Gristle to comedian Jim Carrey, everything is connected to the number 23. It's the number of Eris, Greek goddess of strife. It's the number of chromosomes in the human sperm and egg. And it's the number sacred to Discordians, practitioners of the "thinking prankster's religion."
That must be the reason there's a 23-layer chocolate cake on the menu at Michael Jordan's Steak House, a new Michigan Avenue tourist attraction opened by an obscure retired baseball player with a numerological fixation. There's a 23-ingredient chopped salad on the menu too, and in the second-floor dining rooms—accessed via sky bridge through the architecturally humbling atrium of the Hotel InterContinental—there are two mounted planks of scrap lumber with the number gouged into them.
Seriously, what is the inherent attraction when professional athletes intersect with steak? Perhaps when people visit big cities they like to be reminded of the things that make them happy at home—big stars, big pieces of meat, Chaos Magick theory—and MJ's is definitely a place for visitors. There's a motto on the wall up there: I was aware of my success but I never stopped trying to get better, which is meant to remind you that if you have the budget to be here, you're successful enough to order the prime porterhouse for two, an $89 dry-aged souvenir befitting your arrival in Steaktown USA. Be like Mike.
Certain things that meet the owner's approval are, in fact, pretty good. The 45-day dry-aged Delmonico steak—His customary go-to at One SixtyBlue—is indeed a marvel, a buttery, mineral-rich slab of bloody muscle, sprinkled with sea salt and lightly drizzled in a ginger balsamic sauce. That chopped salad is a manageable, enjoyable mess of textures, and the "Colossal" crab cake—a loosely packed panko-topped mesa sitting in a glossy pool of Meyer lemon aioli—is nearly all crustacean, no filler.
Then there's one of the most gloriously self-destructive expressions of garlic bread I've ever encountered: a stack of butter-soaked ciabatta smothered in Wisconsin blue cheese fondue. Dredge this through the blood from your meat, chew, and at the peril of your appetite, you'll find yourself shrieking like an ape and clubbing your tablemates with a rib-eye bone to get at the uneaten pieces.
Just don't forget that steak houses by nature are prone to attacks of revolting gigantism. Case in point: seared tuna can be a lovely thing, caramelized on the outside, luscious and warmly raw on the interior. But the mammoth portion offered here is far too big to ensure the proper ratio. It sits heavy on the plate, accusing you of complicity in a wasted death. Same goes for the bone-in rib eye, an enormous tomahawk chop as gnarly, dry, and flavorless as the Delmonico is ravishing.
Steak houses offer dishes like the tuna for those who won't get with the program, perhaps dragged to the spot against their will. If that's you, you wouldn't be wrong to go with the smoked half chicken. The most affordable entree on the menu (at $26) is advertised as a free-range bird, and its flesh is dense and moist and just kissed with smoke. Pair it with the earthy roasted mushrooms seasoned with black garlic and white soy, and maybe you can pretend you're not paying dearly to eat inside someone's enormous ego.
The 23-layer cake is a surprise too, especially considering my server twice tried to prevent me from ordering it. He was right—my date and I couldn't topple this jiggling skyscraper—but it was a fine cake, waves of bitter chocolate pulsing through sensibly applied frosting.
And putting all profligacy aside, for a chain first established in New York and Connecticut, there are a good number of local products that make appearances—Black Dog Gelato, Pinn-Oak Ridge lamb, Prairie Fruits Farm cheese. That's particularly admirable in a place where the vibe is a lot less ostentatiously sceney than other recently opened steak houses, populated as it is by well-behaved tourist families, weary traveling businessfolk, and couples on date night, the women quietly indulgent, the men quietly awed by implied proximity to Number 23.