From Haute Cuisine to Casual Bistro, Chicago's French Restaurants are Tres Bien



There is lots to love about the French but especially their sense of abandon. America's French chef, Julia Child, captured the sentiment when she said, "If you're afraid of butter, use cream." Americans are coming to understand the French Paradox of eating: choose quality over quantity and indulge in buttery croissant, paté, a rich stew, a juicy glass of red and macarons. And many still hold tightly to the belief that the French produce the best food on the planet. 

French cuisine can be sophisticated or of the comforting peasant variety but it's all generally well-balanced, flavorful and composed of local and high-quality ingredients. A trip to Paris may be a little rich for most of us, so the next best place to have a mean Coquilles Saint-Jacques or Coq au Vin is at any of the authentic French eateries in Chicago. 

Celebrating 20 years in Chicago, Mon Ami Gabi offers expertly prepares French classics in warm surroundings in Lincoln Park and Chez Moi is like a holiday visit to your French uncle's place. The food and atmosphere at intimate Le Bouchon is inspired by the Rhone-Alpes region of France; Brindille is a modern model of Parisian sexiness; and Margeaux Brasserie takes culinary revelers to 1920's Paris. 

Not all blow your budget, either. Café Marie-Jeanne is casual, friendly and an affordable find for French food fans and La Sardine offers a $35 prix fixe menu - an outstanding value.   

Even though you may never have a munchie attack for tarte au pistou on a Saturday night, just remember where the almighty French fry originated. Experience frites and more at any of the c'est manifique French restaurants in Chicago. 



10
Lincoln Park


 

You'll be uttering, "Oui, oui" and "Merci" dining at "my place" or Chez Moi, Chef Dominique Tougne's comfy bistro serving delicious French food and charm. The Alsatian bistro by way of Lincoln Park offers classics from escargots fragrant with butter and garlic to duck a l'orange and beef Bourguignon. Pescatarians have plenty of options, too, and fans of cassoulet can get the satisfying Toulouse stew stuffed with lamb, beans, sausage and duck year round. More than half of the wine list offers a by-the-glass option. Conclude with house made chocolate mousse, rum raisin bread pudding, warm apple tat or Gateau Breton Salidou, moist cake with a shortbread-like taste. In addition to lunch served Wednesday through Friday, Chef Tougne offers a lively weekend brunch. Look into Chez Moi's special wine dinners affording diners perfect pairings with Chef Tougne's hand crafted menu.


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If you're going to create a space reminiscent of a particular time, place and spirit, 1920's Paris would be it. Margeaux Brasserie is Chef Michael Mina's "moveable feast" to double metaphor Hemingway's ode to the city of the 20's. The restaurant's traditional brasserie fare is enlivened by Midwestern ingredients and bonhomie. Launch your time travel with a classic French cocktail, a Hemingway daiquiri or a selection from the roving champagne cart. The beverage program, including French wine, cognacs, Armagnac and liqueurs, is outstanding. Tempting hors d'oeuves include artisan cheeses served tableside; moules frites; duck wings à l' orange; or a warm Camenbert truffle baguette. You can't miss with any of the classics: salade Niçoise; onion soup gratinée; roast chicken; steak pommes frites; or bouillabaisse. Dessert is equally oh la la. Visit Petit Margeaux patisserie on the first floor of the Waldorf Astoria for pastries, coffee, salads, sandwiches and tartines, too.


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la petite folie
Photo courtesy of Photo courtesy of La Petite Folie


 

Located in Hyde Park near the University of Chicago campus, la petite folie serves traditional, classically prepared and artfully plated French food. The quaint atmosphere belies its shopping plaza locale but the free and easy parking is a plus. Duck (including the duck breast salad) consistently gets high ratings among regular diners as do the lovely pastries. The restaurant has an all-French wine list. Polished yet unpretentious service keeps French food fans coming back for Alsatian onion tart with Gruyere cheese; perfected omelettes at lunch; lavender honey-roasted breast of chicken; whole trout Grenobloise; pan-seared foie gras; Belgian chocolate torte; and raspberry teacake with French vanilla ice cream. There are always lunch and dinner options for les vegetariens.


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Café Marie-Jeanne is casual, friendly and a real find for French food fans. Choose table service or, a nice option if dining alone, is the front counter where you can dine and gaze out the window. The breakfast/brunch menu lists extensive morning sandwich combinations or go with a dill and sour cream dotted trout omelette or uni scramble. Locals love caviar toast laden with créme fraiche and salty caviar and sandwiches, like the prosciutto, fig and Taleggio, are impressive round the clock. You can't go wrong with any of the seasonally inspired specials (curry fried smelt ) and classics like steak tartare, seared foie gras and duck frites. Adventurous eaters can mull over calf brains, escargot tart and roasted mackerel. It's not unusual for diners to regret eating so much of their starters, bread and entrees because they must pass on the exquisite desserts and pastries.


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A favorite of the late Julia Child and a beloved date spot for a young Barack and Michelle Obama, Le Bouchon has been a sanctuary of sumptuous French fare for a quarter of a century in Chicago. Serving lunch and dinner, the menu is in French and English and includes many of the best traditional dishes: soupe a l'ognion, steak frites, confit de canard and moules frites. Favorites among diners include crisp duck for two, rabbit, escargot, steak frites and bouillabaisse. Don't miss ethereal gougéres - French cheese puffs. The extensive wine selection offers a nice range of bottles and price ranges and a full bar includes craft cocktails and beer. Take advantage of half-price bottles on Mondays. The best food value is found on Tuesdays, with a $38 prix fixe menu that includes an appetizer, entree and dessert. Oysters for a buck at the bar star on Thursdays.


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The sister restaurant to the more formal Le Bouchon, La Sardine is a warmer version of classic French cuisine. Dark wood and brass replace crystal and soft color while the open, bustling kitchen beckons with culinary treasures. Choose from a light Salade Lyonaisse (a fan favorite), to plates of charcuterie and caviar, or a seafood-filled bouillabaisse. The desserts, especially the souffle, get rave reviews. Le Sardine also features an excellent all French wine list and some sort of special every weeknight such as half-priced bottles of any wine on the list on Mondays; a $35 prix fixe dinner on Tuesdays; and dollar oysters at the bar on Fridays. In addition, La Sardine offers a happy hour Monday to Thursday from 5-7 p.m. with dollar oysters, deals on cheese and charcuterie, and tempting wine flights. Surprisingly affordable.


4


 

Translated as "My Friend Gabi," this Lincoln Park bistro and steakhouse is a delightful find for expertly prepared French cuisine. Expect traditional dishes such as steak frites, Roasted chicken grand-mere onion soup au gratin and escargots with garlic-herb butter, plus plenty of fresh seafood and seasonal Plats Du Jour. The French know their way around a dessert menu and Mon Ami Gabi does not disappoint with classic profiteroles with housemade fudge, creme brulee and chocolate mousse. Select wine from a historic rolling wine cart - the extensive list features boutique French wines, handpicked by chef/owner Gabino Sotelino. Sunday brunch is equally serene and delicious. If you can't swing a trip to Paris for a special occasion, Mon Ami Gabi is a fine romantic substitute with warm interiors of mosaic tile floor and white tablecloths topped with butcher paper ala restaurants in France.


3
Downtown


 

Everest is a romantic, high-end, French Country restaurant on the 40th floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange building offering some breathtaking views of our gorgeous city. Acclaimed chef Jean Joho brings a taste of Alsace to the Midwest which is pure gastronomic sensuality. Start with a glass of wine from a world class, 1,600-bottle selection, from all points across the planet. Then choose among specialties like baked wild sea bass or dry-aged New York steak, béarnaise, Alsace potato gnocchi and braised Belgium endive. Sacre bleu, indeed. Dishes such as Magret of Mulard Duck and Filet of Sole New Meuniére are just a couple of the items on which Everest has built its outstanding reputation. There's a seven-course degustation menu; a seven-course vegetarian degustation menu with alluring edibles like fricassée of wild forest mushrooms with truffle vinaigrette; and three and four course pre fixe menus, too.


2


 

Considered by many as the best place for French food in Chicago, Les Nomades is quintessentially formal and French - a traditional French haute cuisine dining experience. Walk into the architecturally beautiful greystone noticing the hushed tones of quiet, murmuring table conversation, peppered with "mmms." Although Les Nomades has been setting the standard of the French dining experience since the 70's, don't expect a roster of heavily sauced, strictly rich dishes that will alarm your cardiologist. Something like artichoke terrine, petit salad, watercress purée and black garlic purée hits all the right healthful notes, too. The menu has appetizers like beautifully prepared seared Hudson Valley foie gras and silky wild mushroom soup with truffle foam; main courses like braised Wagyu beef short rib with Bordelaise sauce; plus incredible desserts, like classic soufflés, passion fruit créme brûlée and warm chocolate praline tart with roasted hazelnuts, caramel pear sauce and chocolate sorbet.


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If you've read this far, you may as well have a French lesson. Brindille, pronounced "braun-DEE", translates to "new growth" in French and Chef/Co-Owner Carrie Nahabedian has been making culinary connections since opening Michelin-starred Nana nearly 20 years ago. The River North restaurant presents a menu of sophisticated Parisian dishes that land upon exquisite china amid French linens. Try artichoke and green garlic soup; European Dover sole meuniere; lacquered aged duck breast and Belgian endive; or better yet, just go for the five or eight course chef menu. Pastry Chef, Craig Harzewski, has his work cut out for him and rises to the challenge with very French and seasonally tweaked selections such as Mandarin orange and cardamom créme bruleé, sable breton, rainbow sherbet and citrus. Cognac, Calvados, Grappa or a flight of three, half-ounce pours of Absinthe also make a grand conclusion.


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Meet Jacky Runice

Born in Bucktown when bulletproof was a home safety choice and not a coffee order, Jacky Runice has been knocking around Chicago as a professional print, online and broadcast journalist and...  More About Jacky

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