The Fame Game

September 2023 View more

By Phil Vettel

The newly opened Ramsay’s Kitchen stirs up attention

Beef Wellington at Ramsay’s Kitchen
Beef Wellington at Ramsay’s Kitchen, 39 W. Jefferson Ave., Naperville

Never underestimate star power. When celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay announced late last year that a local Ramsay’s Kitchen would be opening in 2023, it instantly became the most anticipated restaurant debut that Naperville had ever seen.

And when it finally opened in mid-June, demand for reservations reached insane levels. Prime-time weekend tables were snapped up weeks, even months, in advance. Weekday tables were more available—if you were willing to sit down at 3:45 p.m. The restaurant opened its doors in the morning (Ramsay’s serves lunch and dinner daily) to find a dozen or more hopeful patrons waiting patiently outside for prized, no-reservation seats at the bar.

My first visit to Ramsay’s Kitchen? I was able to snag a table at 11:30 a.m. On a rainy Monday. Now part of the reason for this is that, especially in the beginning, Ramsay’s Kitchen clearly decided to operate below capacity (the better to let the fledgling staff find its rhythm and keep service quality high). But a huge part has to be Ramsay himself, whose signature London restaurant holds three Michelin stars (the maximum rating) and who has been an inescapable presence on various reality-TV programs, putting young would-be chefs through their paces with his characteristic gentle manner (I kid).

I’ve come up with a strategy for securing a table here, which I’ll get to later. For now, let’s talk about what you’ll experience when you finally arrive.

The dining space—formerly home to Oswald’s Pharmacy in downtown Naperville—is long and deep. You can see the back door from the front entrance, and so the design makes visual breaks to avoid monotony (while herringbone-pattern hardwood floors provide continuity). In front is a rich wood bar, which would be a comfortable place to bend an elbow, but high demand has turned the bar into one more dining area.

Tuna tartare
Tuna tartare

The middle of the room features a modern light fixture and plush booths that overlook the kitchen; in back are free-standing oak tables and a series of two-person booths, beneath two long arches covered in subway tile. (That’s a nod, I’m told, to Chicago’s train system. Likewise, the apothecary boxes above the bar are a tribute to the space’s pharmacy past.) A tiny deck offers about 12 outdoor seats, overlooking a parking lot.

As for the menu itself, Ramsay’s Kitchen is playing it safe, offering a timeless selection of familiar dishes. You’ll find such items as chicken wings, Caesar salad, tuna tartare, shrimp scampi, salmon, fish and chips, a massive bone-in rib eye, and a signature burger. No surprises there.

Where the kitchen distinguishes itself is in execution. The jumbo crab cake is a somewhat pricey $23, but it’s close to flawless, assembled with fat pieces of lump crab, held in place with the least possible amount of binder (crushed Ritz crackers are used) and griddled to a perfect, uniform golden brown. A thick smear of herbed aïoli anchors the crab cake, and to the side is a small salad with orange supremes.

The sticky chicken wings arrive with a thick Korean barbecue glaze (along with sesame seeds, cilantro, and scallops) and are gratifyingly meaty. Tuna tartare looks beautiful, dressed with chile-garlic soy sauce and ringed by uniform slices of avocado and oversize wonton crisps.

Roast beef sandwich
Roast beef sandwich

Sandwiches are a strength. The roast beef sandwich is piled high with quality, thin-sliced beef, striped with horseradish cream, on a toasted baguette. On the side is a cup of jus and some spicy giardiniera so crunchy it had to have been made that morning. Thus you can enjoy the dish as a straight roast-beef sandwich, use the jus French-dip style, or pile on the giardiniera in the manner of a Chicago-style Italian beef.

The chicken banh mi is also impressive, the marinated chicken breast dressed with carrots, cilantro and jalapeño, with a spicy aïoli on the side. (My version was so spicy-hot I found myself picking away some jalapeño slices just to save my tongue.)

Sandwiches come with good fries; truffled aïoli is available for a $3 upcharge, and it’s worth the splurge.

Other worthy main courses include a crispy chicken Milanese (with arugula, prosciutto, and Dijon cream sauce) and a spring-pea tagliatelle pasta with arugula and grated truffle.

The signature entrée is the beef Wellington, a dish Ramsay made famous at Savoy Grill in London and which appears at virtually all Ramsay restaurants. It’s only available after 5 p.m., and there are a limited number of orders per day. Oh, and it’s $62.

Inside Ramsay’s Kitchen

So what do you get? A large, pastry-crusted tenderloin served exactly medium-rare (the only temperature offered). It arrives cut in half, the better to appreciate the layers of mushroom duxelles and chive crepe between the beef and the pastry. Glazed vegetables, pureed potatoes, and a red-wine demi-glace sauce complete the presentation. It’s gorgeous, and large enough for two to share.

Side dishes to consider include heirloom carrots laid on a bed of harissa yogurt and Marcona almonds as well as roasted Brussels sprouts with crispy pork belly.

There are four desserts, including a chocolate tart and a vanilla-mascarpone cheesecake; I restricted myself to the sticky toffee pudding (another Ramsay signature), a warm date cake with sweet cream ice cream and thick English-toffee sauce.

Beverage choices include a handful of specialty cocktails (though the full-service bar can make just about anything) and a very deep wine list with a nice selection of by-the-glass options.

Now, about those reservations: The need to reserve tables so far in advance means that some parties, when their reserved date rolls around, discover that their plans have changed and cancel. Careful patrolling of the online reservations site, especially the day of, can yield a table.


Photos: Gordon Ramsay North America