The Whale feels like it wandered away from River North when no one was looking. It’s a big, sceney restaurant inexplicably located in Logan Square, filled with loud people partying like they’re afraid the night's going to end. The vague, casino-inspired restaurant includes a fake retro slot machine and pictures of 1950s Hollywood stars, but the most convincing element of the theme is the food - which is as all over the place and as underwhelming as you’d expect from a Vegas buffet.
You’ll find everything from lobster tacos and BBQ jackfruit to a burger on the menu - it’s a random list that reads like it came from a game of Mad Libs. Everything that’s on it is disappointing, starting with squares of sushi made with pasty raw tuna sandwiched between thick layers of bland rice, or the greasy tempura shrimp that are coated in a heavy funnel cake-type batter. And the burger, normally a safe bet, becomes a gamble thanks to the incredibly salty patties and a bun that falls apart faster than your savings after a night pretending you know how to play craps.
A few things are fine the way that food from a reliable chain is fine. We’d eat the lobster tacos again. They have lightly fried taco-shaped wonton shells, and a tasty lobster, spicy mayo, and mango filling. Or the strip steak that’s both nicely cooked and well-seasoned. And one positive is that nothing feels overpriced - the portions are large, and very few things are over $25. Unfortunately, none of those things are very good.
The Whale is a novelty. It’s a clubby restaurant that’s not downtown, and therefore not filled with drunk tourists. Instead, it’s crowded with partying locals shout-talking over blaring music, while eating not-very-good food and being reminded that Marilyn Monroe and James Dean were objectively hot. If that sounds fun, by all means come here. But after the novelty wears off, you’ll probably just want to go home and play some Mad Libs.
You pick three for $18 (there are eight to choose from) and they come with toast. And even though we’re not convinced that creme fraiche topped with caviar belongs on a board with chorizo queso or Louisville hot brown spread, all the spreads are well-prepared and tasty.
Imagine going to a pastry case. Do you see the petit fours? That’s what this looks like, except instead of delicious cake, you’re getting bland rice and raw tuna.
This appetizer is a mess. It’s wooden skewers with shapeless blobs of fried shrimp of all different sizes, wrapped in a thick, greasy batter that has the texture and taste of stale funnel cake.
These little guys are enjoyable. The rich lobster is mixed with a nice amount of spicy mayo and citrusy mango that balances things out, and the wonton taco shells are lightly fried and crispy.
The burger here comes with two overly-salted patties, LTO, and American cheese on a butter bun that disintegrates as you eat it.
One good thing about The Whale is that it has a lot of vegan and vegetarian options, and this sandwich is one of them. But the sloppy, Sysco food systems-style BBQ sauce overshadows everything else happening on the bun.
Considering how many ingredients are in this dish - basil-mint yogurt, dates, pomegranate, almonds, pistachios, arugula, and za’atar seasoning - it still somehow manages to be boring. It tastes like soft, roasted cauliflower topped with 0% Fage.
This is our favorite of the entrees. The strip steak is cooked nicely and has just the right amount of salt and pepper. If you’ve ever been satisfied by the steak at a Chili’s, you’ll appreciate this.