Location– 1958 N Damen, Damen and Armitage
In one word– Cozy
Food– The appetizers that we ordered were classic French bistro fare, moules marinieres (mussels in white wine with herbs) and escargots. For someone who had been craving simple French food, it was heaven. Plenty of fresh bread came alongside to sop up all the delicious sauces. The main courses that we had, though tasty, paled in comparison to the simple dishes that preceded them. I had a braised duck leg that was good, but it was served with too much sauce,
and I thought that the presentation could have been better. My companion had rabbit, and pretty much had the same reaction. Over all, the main courses were well prepared, as well as a pleasant diversion from the ordinary (when was the last time you had rabbit?). The appetizers were spot on, we could have been in Paris.
Drink– An ample wine list for a small neighborhood restaurant. The focus was most definitely French, as it should be, and both the glasses of white and red were great. You paid the premium for the French imports, but it definitely enhanced the overall experience.
Service– There were only 2 waiters, and at least 15 tables, maybe more. That being said, they did a great job making sure we were taken care of. We had a reservation for 7:30, and were really hungry, so we showed up at 7 and were
seated immediately. As the night went on though, the place was definitely packed. It wasn’t the sort place that you’d expected to be waited on hand and foot, and in turn, it wasn’t. The tables are packed in pretty close together in a
small space, and you have to embrace the bistro atmosphere.
Scene– If you want to be whisked away to a small bistro in (almost) Paris, than this is the place for you. The food is good, the service is ok, and the scene is cozy. Probably a great place for a third date where you want talk, drink and get to know one another. This is the sort of place, just outside of the hubbub of Wicker Park, to start the evening, but it won’t be enough to make an entire evening.
Dress– Casual, jeans with a nice shirt, a jacket would be fine.
Occasion– Craving French bistro food and atmosphere? This is the place for you. Start the evening here, and move on to more engaging venue south in Wicker Park.
Cost– Appetizers $10, Entrees under $20. Reasonably priced wine list.
If you like…, try- Kiki’s Bistro
written by ieatthis
Location – 500 N. Michigan (Illinois and Michigan)
In one word – avec-ish
Food – When I read the “Cheese, Wine and Swine” sign at the entrance to the restaurant, I knew I was dealing with a winner. You get what the sign describes in small plates, so come with people you like to share with so you can order everything. I came famished and ordered accordingly: Salt-roasted beets with whipped goat cheese and pistachio vinegrette (good portions of beets, which I love, but nothing out of this world), the endive salad (not memorable), the grilled cheese of the day (where the chef just puts whatever cheese he feels like – the roulette of grilled cheeses, recommend this), milk braised pork shoulder with mashed potatoes (quite possibly the most decadent dish I have had in a while. Get it, but you must share to avoid the heart attack).
Drink -I was pleasantly surprised by the vastness of the wine list (though they barely had any American options. U-S-A! U-S-A!). No matter your drinking habit, this place can accommodate you.You can order a glass, quartino (1/3 of a bottle), half bottle or whole bottle.
Service – I really liked our server. She was focused on us without being too intrusive. She also provided us with her honest recommendations on food. I hate when a) the server says “it’s all great!” or b) when the server has not sampled the entire menu. She knew her stuff and had an opinion. Automatic respect in my book.
Scene – This place is similar to avec and Eno, but the vibe is slightly (just slightly) older and more French countryside. I think this is an excellent place for a work lunch, a dinner date or a night with your win-o girl friends. It feels pretty versatile. They also have a patio right on the Chicago River for some excellent vistas.
Dress – We came at lunchtime, so there was a mix of lunch break professionals and seniors enjoying the Chicago sun. As a result, I saw a gamut of clothing choices. I think casual chic is very safe here.
Cost -As I am currently unemployed, my lovely eating partner picked up the check (thank you!). However, you should expect to pay a minimum of $30/person and more if you choose to eat.
If you like – avec, Eno
Location – 2100 N. Halsted
In one word – Criminal
Food – My fellow food-lovers on a budget, welcome to The (French) Holy Land. With great food at great prices this hidden gem is more than a steal; it’s criminal.
Red Rooster is the cheap but equally classy sister of Café Bernard, a Lincoln Park favorite that’s built a well-deserved reputation during it’s 30+ years in operation. The two restaurants are in fact located right next door to one another and actually share a kitchen, a chef (owner Bernard LeCoq), and some of the exact same menu items; but at Red Rooster you can get them at a lower price. If you want to get a great deal on a good deal, I recommend going to Red Rooster on a Sunday-Thursday night so you can take advantage of their three course Prix Fixe menu for $20. You get your choice of soup or salad, your choice of entrée, and your choice of dessert. I recently returned to Red Rooster last Thursday with a large group from Trusty’s office and their Prix Fixe was fantastic.
As always, I had their Signature Grilled Salmon with Cabernet Sauvignon Sauce, normally $19.95 if you don’t go for Prix Fixe. This is one of my favorite meals in the city. The salmon is grilled well and is a very large portion—this is one big, burly salmon—so you can either bring your appetite or plan to leave with lunch for the next day. It comes with hearty roasted root vegetables—baby red-skinned potatoes, fennel, carrots, and red cabbage. The super-star of the dish is the rich cabernet sauvignon sauce. If you’re a sauce lover this sauce is your soul mate. I’ve asked Chef Bernard if it can be bottled for purchasing, but alas, he tells me that because it’s rather finicky and can easily separate, there’s just no way.
Others in our group tried their Duck Confit and Braised Lamb Shank for the Prix Fixe entrée; both were very moist and flavorful. For dessert the Flourless Chocolate Cake, as dense a flourless chocolate cake as you will ever meet, was enjoyed by many. The Strawberry Rhubarb Compote, which was tart but sweet, was another popular choice.
Drink – The wine menu is extremely affordable by the glass or by the bottle.
Service – The staff is very gracious but unobtrusive. Even after paying the bill, our party lingered at the table without feeling any rush to leave.
Scene –Beautiful, whimsical hand-painted walls and romantic lighting adds to the cozy and charming ambiance. As you can imagine, this is the perfect place for a date. But, you’ll also see lots of big groups.
Dress – 2nd date dress-wear is perfect: dressy, but comfortable.
Cost – 20 bucks for 3 whole courses. With wine, tax, tip: 30.
If you like, try – Brasserie Jo, Bistro Zinc
Written by hungry yuppie
Location—186 North Wells Street (Lake and Wells)
In one word—Variety
Food—If you could use a break from typical lunch time fare in the Loop, Crepe Bistro is exactly what “ze docteur” ordered. Crepe Bistro offers a big list of savory and sweet crepes that are a great deal for dinner and an even better deal for lunch (there’s about a two dollar difference per item between the lunch and dinner menus).
For savory, try the Ratatouille ($8.00 lunch, $10.25 dinner). It’s a plump crepe about the size of a mouse pad, that’s stuffed with thick, garlicy slices of stewed zucchini, bell peppers, tomatoes and onion, plus your choice of ooey-gooey melted cheese (I got mozzarella, on the recommendation of the owner). The veggies are softened but still have a bit of a crunch—as though they’ve been freshly sautéed—and they’re packed with delicious flavors of garlic, tomato and herbs. Bonus: all savory crepes come with a simple side salad of fresh field greens and tomatoes that are dressed up with a zesty sherry vinaigrette.
For sweet, you can’t go wrong splitting the classic Nutella crepe ($6.50)—rich, melted, hazelnutty chocolate that’s folded into a soft, delicate crepe and then crowned with fresh, sweet, homemade whipped cream. Mmmm, get over here you sexy thang! As an alternative, try the surprising Lemon crepe ($6.50), which contains freshly squeezed lemon, powdered sugar, and butter. The sugar, butter, and lemon all melt together and taste like the best lemon bar you’ve ever had. Yum.
Drink—Very affordable wine and beer selection, as well as vodka and cognac. Plus, gourmet coffee options and good ol’ Orangina
Service—The service here is fast and friendly. You can be in and out in an hour—not bad for lunch in the Loop. At the same time, Crepe Bistro is more hospitable than your typical lunch spot. For example, the carafe of ice water with big, bright lemon slices that’s brought to each table is a unique touch.
Scene—The décor here is homey-French and gives Crepe Bistro a charming, casual feel. Eclectic old-school French music (accordion, I believe?) plays in the background. All of this, plus the accents of the owner and some of the waiters, and Crepe Bistro comes across as little piece of Paris right under the El.
Dress—Given its location, during the week you’ll see business to business casual to casual at lunch. Jeans and a dressy top and you’ll fit in without any problems. On the weekends, you can go all-out casual.
Cost—with tax and tip, about $12 for lunch, $15 for dinner (without drinks).
If you like, try…Coffee and Crepe Palace
Location – 1529 W Chicago Ave (between Armour & Ashland)
In one word – Haricots verts (GB Note: BYOBoy, this is TWO words…just saying)
Food – Concept : Mexican with an emphasis on French influence. Sounds great, but it didn’t quite come together on a plate. The brunch options were limited, but the place smelled great nonetheless. Fresh.
Any restaurant that calls itself French should make a good quiche, so I tried it here. *Sigh* It was a bit soggy and I think it had deli ham in it? I was confused, and not really into my meal. My date had the stuffed crepes, which were saved by the poblano sauce. Her green beans were amazing though. Score one for the French.
I think my hesitation with this place is that I’m not so sure what they’re trying to do with the whole Mex/French thing. It’s not fusion. It’s more like a highlighting of French influences in Mexican cuisine resulting from the occupation (circa 1860). Muy muy Meta. It has great potential, so I will be coming back for dinner, or for the mussels (when I have baller status).
Drink – I had a Bloody Mary (with cucumber!), my date, a Mimosa. Both delicious. I was surprised to hear there was no espresso. Minus French points.
Service – No line, no wait. There were maybe four other groups there on a Sunday. We were seated promptly. Our orders were taken quickly. I think my quiche delayed our meals a bit, but aside from that, I was impressed with how speedy they were. I am a klutz and spilled my drink and our server brought me a new one and said, “It was the glass’s fault.” Cute.
Scene – Super casual. The décor is great. The space is small, but they use it well. I personally take all things French very seriously, but I also don’t need an occasion to dress up. Another party had a girl with a women’s lacrosse hoodie from my alma mater, and I was close to saying “Put a real shirt on girl, you’re making me look bad!” Don’t wear school/sports/hoodies to brunch.
Occasion – This could be a nice dinner date. Or a brunch for four?
Cost – Solid $15, $20 with drink.
If you like…, try – Bom Bon Americano, Mundial, Maize.
Written by BYOBoy
Location – 1131 N. State (State and Elm)
In one word – Balthazar-esque
Food – As yesterday was Bastille Day, it was only appropriate to indulge in French food. My eating partner and I started with the beet salad – greens with red and yellow beets. bleu cheese and this flavorful vinegrette. The plate was licked clean. Then I went for the onion tart, which is essentially caramelized onions and butter (i.e. deliciousness). The tart comes with a substantial salad (I wish I knew that ahead of time because then I wouldn’t have ordered my initial salad). My eating partner chose a special, the zuchinni pancakes with smoked salmon. I was envisioning stack of flapjacks being placed on the table. Instead, they gave her a plate of mini pancakes (read: REALLY small). Good thing she loaded up on bread at the beginning of the meal. Despite the small size, she seemed to like the zuchinni pancakes. We had to end the meal with dessert, after all it was a celebration, Vive La France! I sampled the creme brulee with Madagascan vanilla. Rich and sweet, everything you want from a creme brulee. My eating partner wiped out the chocolate crepe. I watched her head get dangerously close to licking the plate, so it seemed as though the dish was a hit.
Drink – I partook in the pinot blanc on the menu, which worked for me on that hot evening. My eating partner went for a champagne.
Service – I liked our server. He had a sense of humor and seemed quite honest with his recommendations.
Scene – Whenever I walk into Bistro Zinc, I think of two things 1) it looks like a junior Balthazar, the restaurant in NYC and 2) it feels very Parisian. Despite those two thoughts, I find that you can make the restaurant what you want. It can be a formal date location, good for a casual family brunch or perfect for a last minute dinner plan with a friend.
Dress – You could dress up (not to a suit level, but to a khaki pant level), but you’re also fine in jeans.
Cost – For all that food and wine, I paid $43. Yeah, not cheap, but we didn’t skimp on the meal. I think it’s possible to do a much more scaled back dinner at BZ if you choose.
If you like, try…Bistro Margot, Brasserie Jo
Location – 500 W. Superior (Superior and Kingsbury)
In one word – Rich
Food – Talk about indulgent! I think this was one of the richest meals I’ve had in a long while, my arteries hate me right now. We started with the Rulhmann potatoes (crispy and delicious!), pomme frites, creamed spinach (my favorite!) and this decadent pate. I was full after the appetizers, but like the good eater I am, I kept going. I tried the skatewing as my entree. It’s served with tomatoes, green beans, capers, bacon and lemon. My eating partners ate the cowboy steak, the salmon and the lamb stew, all of which seemed filling and amazing. My recommendation with Rulhmann is to go when you’re hungry.
Drink – As it was a work compensated dinner, we indulged in champagne and a lighter bodied red wine.
Service – Overall service was excellent. Here’s my only beef: I couldn’t hear our server. Couldn’t even hear the specials! The restaurant wasn’t crowded (it was a Monday), so there wasn’t a roar to compete with, he just spoke softly. Other than that, I was pleased.
Scene – The restaurant is beautiful. It’s in the old Montgomery Ward building and decorated in an art deco style. It feels lavish, yet accessible. It’s good for business and special occasions.
Dress – I went on a Monday night after a business reception, so in my skirt and blazer, I fit in. I’m not sure what the crowd looks like on a weekend. I’d err on the side of being stylish. Dresses and suits are probably the way to go.
Cost – It wasn’t that expensive, it was $68 per person including tax and tip. For that much food, I thought it was reasonable when looking at places to go for a nice dinner.
If you like, try…Custom House
Location – 59 W. Hubbard (Hubbard between Dearborn and Clark)
In one word – Polished
Food – I had to plan a dinner for a couple clients and we came to Brasserie Jo. With a medium sized group, I planned a semi fixed menu for the group. We all started with the Baked Brie, Apricot, Almonds, Haricot Verts. This was a part of the meal getting rave reviews from the whole table. We also ordered the Bibb salad. This was another dish getting compliments. You don’t expect that about a salad! After that, I chose the Atlantic salmon with braised French lentils. This was filling and delicious. I loved the addition of horseradish. For dessert, we indulged in the chocolate mousse. It brought a smile to my face. Other times I have come to Brasserie Jo, I’ve ordered the Tarte Flambee, it’s basically French pizza and it’s comforting.
Drink – Before dinner, we sampled some of the different French wines offered. I ended up with the A to Z pinot noir, which worked well for me.
Service – They accommodated me when I needed a private room for 14 in less than 24 hours. I found that the service was fantastic here.
Occasion – I use Brasserie Jo as a comfortable formal location. It worked well for this client dinner as well as dinner with my mother.
Dress – You don’t have to wear a party dress, but you should dress up to a certain extent. I wore slacks and a blazer.
Cost – Well, I wasn’t on my own budget here for this work dinner. However, I usually pay $50 – 60 when I come here on my own.
If you like, try…Kiki’s Bistro, Brasserie Ruhlman
Location – 900 N. Franklin (Franklin and Locust)
In one word – Elderly
Food – I think that Kiki’s is one of the better bistros in the city (compared to Bistro Zinc and Bistro Margot). We started with the duck ravioli. I woke up this morning still thinking about that appetizer. Then I had the Navarin d’Agneau Printanier (lamb stew with vegetables). I received an enormous portion and I think I only finished an eighth of the entree. My eating partner had the Foie de Veau (calf liver). Call me boring, but I wanted nothing to do with that dish. With such big portions, we skipped on dessert.
Drink – I ordered a glass of a pinot noir recommended by the server. I found that it supplemented my meal well. The wine offering at Kiki’s is extensive, so I think you’ll find something you’ll like.
Service – I liked our waiter a lot. He seemed French, but wasn’t snooty.
Occasion – So Kiki’s has this early bird special from 5:00 – 6:30. It’s $25 for three courses, which is a total bargain. The downside? All of the clientele who take advantage of this prix fixe are age 60+. So, this is not the place if you’re looking for a bumping time. The vibe is pretty low key. You can make it romantic or you can make it group appropriate. In that way, this restaurant is pretty versatile.
Dress – For some reason, most people were wearing black. Maybe it’s because it’s French.
Cost – With tax and tip, you should expect to pay $50 minimum. However, knowing that you’re going to bring leftovers home (and those leftovers will last for days), it’s not that unreasonable.
If you like, try…Bistro Margo
Location – 230 W. Kinzie (Wells and Kinzie)
In one word – Flavorful
Food – I had sort of been salivating over the online menu all day before coming to AD, and I was not disappointed. When we got to our table, our server explained that all the ingredients, from greens to meats, were fresh and local. It really is evident in the meals. You can taste the freshness (not so much the localness). Right off the bat, I was happy because even the crust of the bread you are served upon sitting at the table is phenomenal. For appetizers we had the mushroom tart (very flavorful, perhaps seasoned with tamarind?), the chanterelle and celery root ravioli (I wish this was an entree!) and the squash risotto (which has an unexpected and light flavor). I was highly impressed with all three options. For entrees, we chose the fall-themed tagliatelle, the cod, and the lobster bucatini. I devoured the tagliatelle – it had pumpkin, squash and sage along with candied pecans. I could tell that my pasta was super fresh. That made me happy. My eating partners were happy with the cod and lukewarm towards the lobster bucatini (too much pasta). We skipped on dessert.
Drinks – We took our waiter’s suggestion on a Spanish red wine, which complimented our meal well. I think all at the table were very happy.
Service – Our waiter knew his stuff. That’s really important to me. This place has the potential to be very pretentious, but the laid back nature of our waiter made the atmosphere extremely comfortable.
Occasion – So I wouldn’t come here unless 1) you get a bonus in your paycheck 2) someone else is paying. The clientele is a bit older, but I didn’t feel out of place. The decor is pretty stark, but maybe that’s because the focus is on the food.
Attire – We came in our work attire and were fine. If you want to bust out a new dress or suit, you could do it at this place. At the end of it, you need to show that you are putting in effort to your look.
Cost – So, it’s expensive. For our group, it ended up $80/person.
If you like, try…May Street Market