Pascal Berthoumieux’s picture-perfect French bistro has light mustard walls covered with small framed posters, butcher-paper-topped tables, a dark wood bar towards the back, and servers in black vests and long white aprons. The French classics are covered as well. Escargots de bourgogne en croute, plump snails in individual snail-dish compartments crowned by tiny pastry puffs, came in fragrant parsley butter. Robust onion soup with lots of sweet onions bubbled beneath a blanket of tasty melted Emmental. A beautifully poached farm egg with a runny yolk nestled in the salade Lyonnaise. Blanquette de veau with firm baby root vegetables in creamy veloute was so tender and delicious I only felt a twinge of guilt about ordering veal. Sides include classic pommes frites, but we went for brussels sprouts in mild mustard sauce and loved every bite. You might also want to request the cellar list of great Bordeaux, but in truth the regular list, which showcases small producers, is more than adequate. Dark chocolate mousse outclassed soggy tarte tatin for dessert, but next time—and there will be a next time—we’ll try the profiteroles and floating island. —Anne Spiselman 618 Church, Evanston, 847-424-1483, lebistrobordeaux.com. Dinner daily, Sunday brunch.
At the Gold Coast’s Bistronomic, from former One SixtyBlue/Cafe des Architectes toque Martial Noguier, the atmosphere is so dusky the mirrored walls look like windows onto the abyss. It’s a somnambulant vibe even when it’s packed and the chef is working the room like he’s running for office—which is often. The menu, worlds away from the haute cuisine Noguier was creating in previous positions, seems a bit snoozy itself, a collection of charcuterie and cheese, Amish chicken breast, seared scallops, whitefish, tuna tartare, and meat and potatoes. But the clever few that stand out immediately—beginning with a creamy, sweet cauliflower veloute enriched with shavings of Wisconsin’s venerated Gruyere-style Pleasant Ridge Reserve—signal that Noguier isn’t phoning it in. Same goes for the grilled cheese du jour—in my case a surprisingly light, cool blue on brioche with hazelnuts and apple. “Martial’s mother’s” pâté is the textural opposite of his chicken-liver mousse—superfatty, fluffy, rich, and spreadable like whipped cream. Even leaden-sounding dishes like a finely textured braised lamb shoulder in a deep dish of saffroned couscous are almost buoyant. Lunch is slated to start later this month. —Mike Sula 840 N. Wabash, 312-944-8400, bistronomic.net. Dinner daily.
Paris-born Martial Noguier’s replacement at this Francophile hotel restaurant is Greg Biggers, who was born in Alabama and has worked no further abroad than Philadelphia (at Morimoto) between stints at Tru and the late Tramonto’s Steak & Seafood. Biggers eased in gradually in January, then in spring introduced a changing seasonal menu with items like a sumptuous ramp-and-green-garlic veloute poured hot around a scoop of lemon verbena sorbet and served with a maple-flavored cracker on the side. A balsamic-dressed Bibb lettuce salad with crispy planks of gingerbread was offset by rich shavings of foie gras; a nicoise salad with tiny purple potatoes, green beans, and pureed salsify was every bit as rich as the scallop’s cauliflower bed or the stuffed Guinea hen on cheesy thick polenta, garnished by chewy, coffeelike black garlic cloves and a floret of mitaki mushroom (which really does taste like chicken). Cafe des Architectes remains the kind of service-oriented place where your choices are likely to be met with an approving “Formidable!” —Mike Sula 20 E. Chestnut, 312-324-4000, cafedesarchitectes.com. Breakfast, lunch: Monday-Friday; dinner: seven days. Saturday & Sunday brunch.
The “energetically American, French-influenced” Henri is more than an elegant follow-up to its boisterous neighboring sibling, the Gage. It’s a smart kick in the dangling prairie oysters of gastropubbery. It does seem like Gage executive chef Dirk Flanigan, abetted by chef de cuisine Chris Cubberly (Delacosta, Brasserie Ruhlmann), stopped a little bit short of the canyon’s edge, with options for killjoys such as a short-rib-topped burger or a pair of pizzas. But listen to your grandpapa: if you want a burger, why don’t you just go to the Gage? Shellfish towers, game of the day, and plats du jour—remember steak au poivre?—are simple and unsullied by pointless reinvention. Dover sole meuniere, the dish that made Julia Child fall in love with France, is a crispy, perfectly browned if fat fillet with a supertart sauce of lemon, butter, and capers; it comes with a side of simple buttered baby vegetables. A white-bean cassoulet is as old-school as it gets, with the exception of a garnish of crispy fried kale. But one of the most memorable plates was a lobster and foie gras “Wellington,” reimagined with a juicy plug of good spinach inside and a pastry encasement that felt like it should have been lighter and flakier but through some fortunate accident arrived soft and doughy—as satisfying as the very first bite off the dim sum cart when you haven’t eaten a thing all day. —Mike Sula 18 S. Michigan, 312-578-0763, henrichicago.com. Lunch: Monday-Friday; dinner: daily.
Paris Club | River North | $$$
R.J. and Jerrod’s first restaurant, Hub 51—just to the east, on the other side of Te’ Jay’s Adult Books—proved their ability to get mobs of loud, thirsty bodies though the door, but also displayed a distinct disregard for serious food. This time, at their takeover of Brasserie Jo, Lettuce Entertain You has enlisted a team of formidable talent, beginning with longtime confederate Jean Joho. But what results is a sprawling, unnavigable minefield of well-executed classics, incompatible oddballs, and hilariously misguided attempts to reinvent and popularize iconic French dishes. I can’t imagine the staying power of some truly absurd gimmicks such as a trio of croque monsieur “fingers” layered with ham and cheese and thrust into a poached egg plopped inaccessibly at the bottom of a deep rocks glass. Other dishes are simply inexcusable coming from a kitchen overseen by so many accomplished chefs—witness a piece of gnarly, pounded Steak-umm grade beef accompanied by dry, overfried frites. Still, on a menu this large, odds are some things are going to work. An exceedingly generous and varied charcuterie plate contains some surprises, including an excellent chicken-liver mousse topped with cassis gelee. The steak tartare—the sole holdover from Brasserie Jo’s menu—was familiarly delicious, and a small crock of “drippings” will be instantly recognizable to fans of the New Orleans debris po’boy. But one could drop a significant amount of dough trying to discover the hidden winners like the fresh-cured sardines or nicely gamy lamb meatballs in a harissa tomato sauce. The rooftop lounge Studio Paris is now open. —Mike Sula 59 W. Hubbard, 312-595-0800, parisclubchicago.com. Dinner: daily. Open late: Saturday till 3, Thursday-Friday till 2, Monday-Wednesday till midnight.