The hostess will escort you through the top-secret entrance (hint: look for bookshelves) to a small, wood-accented room that could be the library inside the manor house of a dowager who likes leather and candelabra. The Dark Room seats a mere 26 people in cozy booths set with ornate goblets and silverware with intricate handles. When you open the heavy menu, you might gasp at the lighted screen. (The candles set the mood, but do not assist with reading the menu.)
The Dark Room is a most unusual place, a quiet escape from the garrulous sound of a busy hotel. And the food, beginning with a gratis glass of sparkling rosé from Giggly and one-bite amuse bouche, is exceptional. First-course standouts range from the soup du jour (a light, velvety Thai peanut, $6) to a crisp, chilled wedge salad ($12) to the crock of warm baked goat cheese and tomato chutney with grilled bread ($13).
The steaks are the protein showpiece, either heritage Angus from Meats by Linz or the primo grass-fed cuts from CDK Farm. Linz are fine steaks – the 16-ounce prime rib eye ($48) marbled, juicy and crusty – but CDK’s 21-day dry-aged New York strip is a revelation in meaty flavor and tenderness ($46). Savor each bite with the potatoes Anna ($10) – a rich slice of wafer-thin spuds sprinkled with parmesan – and the cauliflower steak with a bright herb chimichurri ($9). Fresh seafood is a wise choice here, too. The market catch ($26-$38) – I had a citrusy grilled sturgeon – is worth consideration. The pan-seared scallops ($39) were tender and taut, with two bright accompaniments: crisp shishito peppers and piquant almond relish.
The server delivers the bill in a pocket with a couple of old Kodachrome slides and a box of truffles. The Dark Room has some very attractive amenities. And as for its location, it benefits from a little mystery.
The Dark Room at the Saint Kate Hotel
Address: 139 E. Kilbourn Ave., 414-431-1211
Hours: Dinner Tues-Sat
Prices: Entrées $28-$125
Service: Very attentive; gallant
Reservations: Compulsory; go to opentable.com