A PERMANENT DIALOGUE BETWEEN A FRENCH FATHER, ALAIN, LIVING IN CHICAGO AND HIS SON, STEPHANE, LIVING IN SILICON VALLEY. BOTH HAVE A SERIOUS FIXATION ON ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING INVOLVING FOOD, WINES, SEARCH FOR NEW EXCITING RESTAURANTS AND RECIPES BOTH IN FRANCE AND IN THE U.S. THE FATHER HAS ALSO AN EXTENSIVE KNOWLEDGE OF FILMS AND IS AN AVID MOVIEGOER AND VIDEO WATCHER. THEY WELCOME ANYBODY WHO SHARES THEIR PASSION TO ASK THEM QUESTIONS ABOUT RELATED TOPICS.
Bistronomie is still a welcome culinary trend in Paris after 10 years.
L’AFFRIOLE, one of my favorite
restaurants in the French capital.
The term, a
contraction of bistrot and gastronomie,
which was invented 9 years ago by Sébastien
Demorand , the restaurant critic for Zurban
, a magazine that was published in Paris between 2000 and 2006, is self-explanatory.
small informal but usually nicely decorated restaurants launched by already
famous chefs, or by their sous-chefs who want to open their own restaurant.
They are usually serious professionals who want to bring back good quality
cuisine, traditional but inventive, at reasonable prices in a simple and unpretentious
environment. Gone are the fancy white table cloth, expensive silver, crystal
chandeliers, pricey art on the walls, and over serious or arrogant waiters.
In Bistronomique restaurants the
creativity of the chef, the attractiveness of the wine list, and a service that
makes the diner feels welcome, even during his first visit, are the key to
success. The location is also important bot not necessarily as it would be in a
they are bistrots offering authentic gastronomy based on good quality products,
and a solid know-how of French traditional cooking techniques.
reflect a sense of the kind of modern,
even trendy, dishes the contemporary customers expect from a well-known chef,
but their menus indicate prices that
remain affordable, thanks to a limited staff and a complete absence of bling
restaurants in Paris offer a 3 course dinner menu under 40 Euros. But of course some bistronomique restaurants
owned bybig name’’stars’’
of the trade charge much more. I will
not mention those here.
You have to
know that nowadays 70% of French restaurants cut their expenses by limiting
their creativity and assembling dishes whose components have been industrially
produced and packaged by huge food plants, from pâtés to desserts.
So it is
comforting to know that most of the well-established “bistronomique” restaurants buy
their products in local stores or directly from French producers, and often
select themselves their fruits and vegetables at the central ‘’halles’’ of
Rungis, South of Paris. Then they prepare them in their own kitchen with the
help of competent professional cooks.
the last 15 years, I derived my most
pleasant memories from restaurants that propose a ‘’cuisine bistrotière’’ or ‘’
cuisine du marché’’ rather than from the famous gastronomic, and often very
impressive, starred restaurants where I
was very often invited by professional
contacts during my many years of frequent traveling to France on
Now that I am retired and traveling on budget,
small neighborhood family-owned bistrots, both traditional French or
‘’ethnic’’, are my favorite eateries.
privilege those that belong to the French
Associations of Maitres Restaurateurs whose
members, all independent restaurateurs, share a commitment to obey the
principles of an audited Chart of
Quality that guarantees that they renew some of their dishes several times a month,
that all their cooking is made on the premises with essentially fresh products purchased from non- industrial sources such as
artisans and family-owned farms.
They also insure that the environment of the
restaurant itself is safe and healthy, that the presentation of both the table
appointments and what is in the plate, respect the traditions, and that the
dining room and management staff welcome
the customers with a pleasant and well-informed behavior. Their menus and
dishes should always be precisely written,
and the prices truthful. All the
restaurants that are present members of that association post a recognizable
logo on the window near the entrance of the restaurant.
the most popular “bistronomique” restaurant is perhaps Le Comptoir du Relais, 9 Carrefour
de l’Odeon, in the 6th arrrondissement in the Hotel Relais Saint
Since its launching in 2005 by
Yves Camdeborde, this very tiny bistrot has been refusing customers every day. Unless they are sent by
the hotel for the dinner service inside. Open for lunch and dinner its outside tables on the minuscule heated sidewalk
terrace are very looked after, even in
grey and cold weather, and very difficult to get.
3 weeks ago
I stopped by at 3:00 PM to have a glass of wine and a plate of cheese and the
waiters were busy folding blankets on the chairs outside for the evening
customers. The waiting lines are long and the waiting staff not always
pleasant. But some of the typically ’’brasserie’’ type dishes such as milk-fed roasted piglet, poule au pot,
or boudin (blood sausage) are made from high quality products and until a
couple of years ago were reliably good. I understand that recently the quality
of some dishes has become inconsistent. But the prices are still relatively
mild for this district.
that La Régalade, the very pleasant
restaurant in the 14th arrondissement, that Camdeborde opened in 1992 and sold in 2004 and made him a celebrity
chef, built his success on very simple ‘’country’’ dishes prepared with a lot
of gastronomic flair.
Like many of
his ‘’bistronomique’’ colleagues, Camdeborde
was trained in the kitchen of the famous LesAmbassadeurs restaurant
in the Hotel Crillon by its former
iconic executive chef Christian Constant.
In 2012 Constant owns 4 restaurants on the same sidewalk of Rue Saint-
Dominique in the 7th arrondissements:
Le Violon d’Ingres, his flagship restaurant which can be considered
in spite of its higher prices, as an ‘’
Upper’’ bistronomique restaurant, Les
Fables de la Fontaine,Les Cocottes.
the delightful Café Constant, one of my favorite mini-restaurants bistronomiques
A few other
celebrated, but still relatively affordable ‘’bistronomique’’ bistrots in Paris are:
Chez l’Ami Jean of Stéphane
Jégo (27 Rue Malar in the 7th arrondissment) who cooked for Camdeborde at la Régalade for many years. Little
B of Dominique Bouchet , an ex-chef at the Tour d’Argent and the Crillon (11 Rue Treihard in the 8th).
Bistronomes of Cyril Aveline and Sylvain
Cravero who worked under Eric Fréchon at the Bristol, (34 Rue Richelieu in the 1st)
Moelle of Thierry Faucher, who also worked under Christian Constant at the Crillon,
(2 rue Vasco de Gama in the 15th).
( 92 Rue Broca in the 13th).
Le Café des Musées
( 49 Rue de Turenne in the 3rd). (I love that lively
bistro where I had a great lunch in November)
I used to
love Le Troquet of Christian
Etchebest, another alumnus of the Constant
‘’school’’, (21 Rue Francois Bonvin in the 15th) But I read that
he sold his restaurant.
For me the
most illustrious veteran of the bistronomie in Paris, and probably one of my favorites
but I have to admit that I have not been there for at least 7 years, is François Pasteau, who launched his L’Epi Dupin (11 Rue Dupin in the 6th)in 1995, long before bistronomie was even
His restaurant, that has been recently
completely redesigned and redecorated, is a model of what a good bistronome
should expect from an authentic ‘’cuisine
du marché’’. His dinner menu at 33 euros is perhaps one of the best deals in
Paris in 2012. But the reason I gave up going there is that it is always too
crowded, for a large part by noisy Americans, and that the waiters always give
you the impression as soon as you have placed your order that they expect you
to eat fast and leave, which diminishes most of the fun of eating Pasteau’s great
My new favorite: L’ AFFRIOLE
I had lunch there
with my sister in November and a month later I still can feel on my taste buds the
aroma and the marvelous blend of gustatory sensations that I loved during this
This is a
small restaurant that can seat a maximum of 45 diners at 17 rue Malar, on the
same sidewalk as Chez L’Ami Jean mentioned earlier.
The décor is very contemporary and simple:
Colorful chairs made of plastic, large ceramic tiles, nice lighting, a large
blackboard where you can read the daily specials.
restaurant used to be a bit more intimate and the décor more traditional when I
ate there for the last time 7 or 8 years ago. I always wanted to come back so
impressed that I was at the time by both the superior quality of the food, and
the charm and total lack of pretension of the place and its reduced staff.
I had reserved 2
days in advance for that Saturday lunch since I had read that this place is so
popular with both local regulars and educated foreign gastronomes, that it is
always packed, even at lunchtime.
by the gracious and multilingual co-owner, Maria
Verola, is as pleasant as I remembered it.
cooking of her husband Thierry Verola,
a very gifted chef who spent some time in the kitchens of Alain Senderens( Lucas
Carton that morphed into Le
Senderens on Place de la Madeleine) and Jean-Paul
Duquesnoy, is more tasty and creative than ever, even though it is
based or often adapted from very traditional French regional
Verola is a native of the region of Auvergne, in South Central France, where there is a long tradition of solid and tasty
fare based on recipes transmitted in families from one generation to the next.
It is also
the region where some of my favorite French cheeses such as Cantal,
Saint-Nectaire, Fourme d’Ambert, and Salers, are produced.
Verola took over this restaurant about 12 years ago. And it did not take long
to attract connoisseurs of “real food” and astute restaurant critics who recognized
the merits of a chef so attached to the importance of good products and how to
treat them well with honesty and technical competence. L'Affriolé as been awarded a Bib Gourmand in the Michelin Guide.
that combines the regular menu and the specials hand written everyday on the
chalkboard, changes every month, according to the seasons, and what he finds at
the market in Rungis. But some perennial signature dishes have been regularly
offered for as long as 10 years.
is simple: you generally can choose from 5 ‘’entrées’’ ( appetizers) , 5 plats principaux
and 5 desserts. (in fact it could be 6, I am not sure anymore).
costs 25 euros at lunch time, and 35 euros for dinner.
lunch the restaurant propose less expensive but equally attractive ‘’Formules’’
where you can choose an appetizer and a main dish, or a main dish and a dessert
But it will
cost you a little ‘’supplément’’ (a few extra euros) if you choose some of the
delicious daily specials that are so appealing that it is tough to make a
Some of the
most popular dishes are fried breaded
eggs, magret de canard (duck breast) aux épices, with mushrooms, daurade
(a kind of bream), lamb roasted with fresh thyme, pressed lamb with foie gras. And several original seafood
When we were
seated, we were quite pleasantly surprised by the beautiful complimentary amuse-bouche that was already waiting
for us on the table: a plate of very
fresh small spring radishes, a tiny bowl of coarse sea salt, and a perfectly
baked ‘’baguette en épis’’ that accompanied a bowl of addictive black
olive-butter. When I was young in the late 50`s we used to call it a ‘’
baguette YéYé’’. This specialty baguette is made by a master pastry chef and
baker , Stéphane Secco, who owns one of the best bakeries in Paris on a nearby
Wow… what a
great tasty start
had a very delicate appetizer of scrambled eggs with truffles, and an
incredibly rich ‘’joue de boeuf braisée au vin rouge’’ (braised beef jowl in red wine) with risotto (or perhaps
the ganiture was instead mashed potatoes… I may be wrong on this).
I had one of
the signature dishes of Thierry Verola, ‘’croquettes de pieds de porc’’ (deboned and chopped pig feet meat, lightly
sauced , shaped in a crumbed cylinder and fried) with an excellent home-made tartar sauce and a
scrumptious Pâté Pantin, consisting of very tender small pieces of deboned quail (or perhaps young poussin) with
foie gras and baked , totally enclosed, in a perfectly flaky light crust .
I think that
we had caramelized poached pear and a sort of dark chocolate cake with praliné
delicious Italian espresso they serve usually miniature pots de crème and tiny
marshmallows scented with with orange flower
. These are complimentary.
With a great
bottle of Chinon 2009 from Domaine de Laroche, an excellent small estate in the
Central part of the Loire Vallley, we paid no more than 85 euros
restaurant is closed on Sunday and Monday. The closest Metro station is La Tour
Maubourg or Pont de l’Alma, but this one is on the other side of Seine River.
It is easier to go there by taxi.
French Restaurants in Chicago: A 75 year Retrospective
Part 3. 1970-1979: The Fantastic Decade. Jean Banchet at Le Français and Jovan Trboyevic with Le Perroquet place Chicago on the gastronomical map of the U.S.
It was during that period that most of the greatest French restaurants ever in Chicago were launched. But only a few are still in operation in 2012.
Starting in the mid-70’s the new cooking concepts of ‘’Nouvelle Cuisine’’ became serious competitors to traditional "haute", "bourgeoise" and "bistro" French cuisine in Chicago
When we arrived from Paris in January 1970, we had a few suitcases, a 6 month old child, no jobs, and only a temporary place to live in the house of my sister in law. And I did not speak more than 10 sentences of English. But after a couple of months I was lucky enough to find a good job in a large publishing and audio-visual production company on Michigan Avenue and we moved to a comfortable apartment in Evanston where we tried to organize our new American life on the model of what our life was in Paris. This is when, as a Frenchman married to an American woman who loved to eat and drink good stuff at home and in restaurants as much as I did, my problems to secure the same good products we were used to in France started. As far as food, wine, and small inexpensive bistros are concerned, I quickly discovered that Chicago in 1970 was not as resourceful as Paris.
Besides, with me working full-time and my wife taking care of a very young child, and our entertainment budget being very limited, we were not in a position to fully explore the restaurant scene in Chicago.
I was also progressively discovering the American way of eating lunch downtown, meaning lots of sandwiches, burgers, fries, pizza, hot dogs and bratwursts, fried chicken, chili con carne… the whole thing. And beer was the drink of choice for lunch. Not wine.
Moreover for dinner my wife started to cook more often typical American recipes provided by her mother, sisters, and friends.
But after one year of this regimen I started to cry for more interesting lunches and dinners. So with a French-speaking Swiss colleague of mine and later with some other French-speaking American friends and colleagues we started to explore the world of small ethnic bistros, mainly Greek, German, Italian, Yugoslav, Chinese and Thai. First it was within walking distance from Michigan and the river where my office was located. Then when I learned from word of mouth or by reading the newspapers of new interesting places I would venture to other neighborhoods by way of public transportation.
At that time, I did not realize that several French bistros and restaurants existed in Chicago. There were very few reviews in the local press that I read (mostly the Chicago Daily News) and most of my American friends and acquaintances were more into steaks or ethnic food. The few French friends I had lived in Evanston and did not go to French restaurants in Chicago. Besides my wife started to cook French dishes at home, especially when Julia Child’s became one of her favorite TV shows. So I ignored the existence of most French restaurants such as La Cheminée, L’Auberge, Le Bordeaux, L’Escargot, or Le Bastille. Fancy places like Maxim’s or Jovan that I did not know anything about would have been out my reach anyway from a purely budget standpoint.
Everything changed when in early 1975 when I was hired by the Midwest regional office of the French Trade Commission, a branch of the French Embassy. Suddenly I was in a completely French environment, surrounded by French colleagues and American business contacts who liked to eat French food. So I started to patronize French restaurants very frequently, especially since we had to take visiting business executives, or were invited by them, to lunch or dinner quite often.
Also in 1973 I discovered the resourceful Chicago Guide Book edited by Allen Kelson and its very good extensive listing of very diverse restaurants in all kinds of neighborhoods. This guide which was first published in 1972, revised in 1973 then again in 1983, was going to expand my gastronomic hunting territory considerably over the next 10 years.
Last but not least, within the framework of my new job I had the opportunity to establish good connections with a large number of chefs, restaurateurs, and hotels managers during functions, receptions, luncheon-seminars, or when I had to plan and organize parties or receptions during trade shows for visiting French exhibitors and officials. I continued to have this kind of contacts when I managed my own small consulting company between 1993 and 2008 that assisted French businesses and trade organizations.
During the whole 70’s decade I often traveled back to France, either on frequent business trips or for vacations with my family, and it allowed me to dine in a very large number of restaurants both in Paris and in major French cities, and to observe the evolution of French cuisine from traditional to ‘’Nouvelle’’. It was fascinating to be able to compare that movement over there with the slower but quite evident same pattern of changes, starting in the mid-seventies, back here on the Chicago dining scene.
“Nouvelle Cuisine” was an expression defining a new culinary movement that was invented around 1973 by Henri Gault and Christian Millau, two prominent food and restaurant writers and critics who created the famous Gault et Millau Restaurant Guide in 1975. But long before that time, in 1962, they were already the co-authors of the Guide Julliard De Paris, who helped me a lot to get familiarized with the food shops and restaurants of the French capital when I moved there in 1963.
It is difficult to decide who really started that new cooking approach in French restaurants called “gastronomiques”. Many professional critics and chefs would say that its real precursor was Fernand Point at his La Pyramide restaurant in Vienne.
But some of the well-recognized early representatives of this movement were Paul Bocuse in Collonges au Mont d’Or, Les Frères Troisgros in Roanne, Alain Senderens in Paris, Alain Chapel in Mionnay, Roger Vergé in Mougins, and Michel Guérard in Eugénie Les Bains.
The bases of this mini-revolution were:
No more sauces, meats, old-fashioned dishes, cooked for hours and reheated before serving.
Priority to seasonal and if possible regional vegetables, fruits, herbs, fish, poultry and meat chosen by the chef himself.
All dishes should be minimally cooked.
No more use of flour as binder in sauces that should be light and based on broth, natural jus, and spices. Smaller portions.
Artistic presentation on the plate. Fewer garnishes.
Cooking techniques more often involve steaming (sometimes in ‘’papillote’’), light poaching, double-boiling, grilling, short roasting, than stewing or slow braising. Generally-speaking cooking times are greatly reduced.
Different cooking utensils are commonly used such as steamers, non-stick pans and pots, plastic poaches, freezers, mixers and robots, micro-wave and later vacuum cookers and ovens.
It took a few years, towards the end of the 70’s, for these new trends to become more popular in Chicago restaurants kitchens.
Nowadays, many American chefs who have been trained either in France, or by French chefs here in Chicago are commonly using techniques often indirectly inherited from the Nouvelle Cuisine.
Chronology of some of the most noticeable French restaurants of the 70’s in Chicago
For this period, contrary to what I did in the precedent chapter, I will consider as French any restaurant serving real French food and preferably employing some French people in the kitchen and (or) the dining-room. But these restaurants were not necessarily owned by a French person.
Such places will be mentioned in Notes and the name of the restaurant will be in italics and underlined.
THE NINETY- FIFTH
Curiously the first French restaurant to be opened at the beginning of this new decade during the summer of 1970 was not owned by French people but by the Philadelphia-based company Davre, the restaurant subsidiary of the Automatic Retail Association. The 95th owed its name to the fact that it was located on the 95th floor of the John Hancock center, a skyscraper that had just been completed in early 1970 at 975 N. Michigan Avenue. But to access the restaurant you had to take a superfast (a 39 second ride) dedicated elevator that was located at a special entrance of the building on Chestnut St. On sunny days, the view from tables located near the windows was spectacular. I remember though that once I had lunch at one of these tables on a very snowy day and all you can see down below was a sea of clouds. But the vast and beautifully appointed dining room was bathed in sunlight.
The first 3 years this restaurant was un-mistakenly French with a very good rather classic French menu, a kitchen where the head chef, and most sous-chefs were French, and the management and service in the dining-room were French. The number of staff members was over 100. It was a really big operation.
The first chef Michel Grobon who was young and gifted, was trained in such famous Paris restaurants as La Tour d’Argent, Lasserre, and Maxim’s, and had already worked at Chicago’s Maxim’s.
In the early 1970’s you could have a complete à la carte dinner for $ 15 to $18 per person without wine and tip. For that time it was quite expensive. But the quality of food and service was generally very good.
Grobon was replaced in 71 by equally talented Pierre Orsi who stayed there until 1974 when he went back to Lyon, France to take over the kitchen at his family's eponymous restaurant.
He was replaced by a tall Belgian chef, Willy Maes, who was coming from the Hotel Bonaventure in Montreal.
Also at that time the banquet manager was Louis Retailleau who eventually would have his own successful French restaurant, Louis’ Bon Appétit, in Crown Point Indiana between 1976 and 2003.
The first General Manager was Louis Laulhère assisted by Room Manager Pierre Schmied, a French-speaking affable Swiss who was already well known in Chicago, and some of the Maître D’s such as Jean-Claude Berger (Les Champs-Elysées, La Grenouille) were also veterans of the Chicago restaurant scene. The menu was sort of "classic" French, half-way between "haute" and "bourgeoise".
I will keep fond memories of their very tasty "duck terrines", " filet of beef with mushroom and marrrow sauce", and ‘’ saumon à l’oseille’’.
I also loved their fruit "tartes".
There wine list was very extensive and included some quite good Bourgognes.
A funny little-known fact: The wine cellar was kept at ground level so that wines would not be affected by the wind-caused swaying movements that you could actually feel sometimes in this higher part of the building.
Unfortunately, the quality of the food and the service decreased considerably in the late 70’s. At that time I would not consider the 95th as a French restaurant anymore.
Opened in October at 3172 N. Sheridan in what was at the time called the Belmont Hotel, this relatively large and well-appointed restaurant was launched by Georges “Kiki” Cuisance from Le Bordeaux and 3 other partners including the chef Michel Laurent.
Once again it was a perfect mix of traditional French fare such as brains in black butter, veal kidneys, rack of lamb with tomates provençales and pommes dauphine, or coq au vin, and dishes made to please a more American client base. I am thinking about trout in a champagne and cream sauce, minestrone, cheese cake or the fact that a salad with Roquefort dressing would be served before the main course. And most entrees came with soup and salad.
Both décor and service were more comfortable and elaborate than at Le Bordeaux, but the prices remained modest. You could have a complete lunch including a small carafe of house wine for $ 8.50 or $ 9.00. Unfortunately, La Champagne never found a solid base of regular customers to sustain financial stability and closed after one year. I suppose that at the time that location was not ideal for this kind of restaurant, although in the same place later on TANGO would eventually be very successful.
In November, 7 years after she opened Maxim’s Nancy Goldberg decided to launch this much more modest French restaurant in the space formerly occupied by Gus, an Italian restaurant at 420 N. Dearborn. Managed by André Portal, a French alumnus from Maxim`s, it was a typical French bistro, at the same time spacious and intimate, relaxed but sophisticated, traditional and very contemporary in its décor and very eclectic furniture. The fare was typical for this kind of eatery: Quiche Loraine, Cassoulet, Rognons (kidneys), filet of sole, Coq au vin, Daube (Provencal beef stew), Steak au poivre, and crème caramel. You could also enjoy freshly opened oysters and have a sandwich in the bar. A dinner would cost you about 10 dollars including a glass of wine.
I do not know when this restaurant closed and who was its chef, but I believe he was French.
Also opened in November at 21 W. Superior was Le Bastille, a delightful bistro that at the beginning was partially owned by Raymond Soubrier who had been very successful at LaChaumière until it closed, and René Martin, who had been involved in various French restaurants in Chicago. This charming restaurant was comprised of 2 separate, attractive in their simple and almost rustic elegance, dining rooms, the first one with a very welcoming bar. The Prix-fixe dinners at under 10 dollars were quite popular in 1972. The place became even more popular and attractive when George Badonsky (Tango, The Brewery, George) bought it in 1975. It was always packed with regulars, including many French locals, as well as out- of- town visitors. On Bastille DayBadonsky would organize very lively parties on a lot in front of the restaurant that lasted until the closing of the restaurant in the mid-eighties. I will never forget the fantastic French fries served in paper cones, and the simple but well-sauced standard bistro dishes such as duck terrine, steak au poivre, rabbit stew, frog legs Provençale, or coq au vin. The Beaujolais and young Bourgognes were always coming from good producers and decently priced. I remember that around 1976 we were able to have great lunches with some house wine for$ 15.00 or $16.00
Service by either young and enthusiasts American, or older professional French waiters, was almost always very pleasant, especially when they knew you. I remember that François would bring me my Morgon at the right temperature, slightly chilled, without my even having to ask. But many occasional patrons complained of slow and indifferent service.
The problem with that restaurant was that it was plagued by a major flaw: Inconsistency. One day the meal could be spectacular. One month later, perhaps because of a change in the cooking line in the kitchen, the whole experience could be borderline disastrous. It happened to me a couple of times in the late seventies or early eighties.
But nevertheless I will never forget how eating at Le Bastille most of the time was really a comforting and relaxing event that allowed you to leave the place in a very optimist mood after a good lunch or dinner.
I also would like to mention that in November of the same year THE FLYING FRENCHMAN at 25 East Chestnut, which since its opening in 1969 by Bill Contos, had been better-known for its crepes, quiches, and sandwiches, became a full-fledge, and quite good, French restaurant under the astute management of Jean-Paul Weber, in 1970 when a young and talented French chef named Jean Banchet took over, for a few months, the control of the kitchen.
I also want to say that the French Inn in the Country Club Hotel on South Shore Drive (and 70th St.) was for a while a popular French restaurant that was employing several French nationals both in the kitchen and the dining room.
Opened at 5978 N. Lincoln Avenue by a French couple, Raymond Maistri a chef from Nice and his wife Régine, this small unpretentious bistro was nevertheless the first authentic French restaurant to take the risk of offering real French dishes in a simple décor so far north from the Loop and the Gold Coast. In those days the area around Lincoln and Peterson was a culinary desert. The formula worked nevertheless and the place became rapidly well-known for its omelets for lunch, and its relatively sophisticated dishes on the dinner menu, such as Veal Cordon Bleu or Veal Provençale, filets of Sole Mornay, great soups and fresh vegetables, and a rich dark chocolate mousse.
Régine Maistri had also a serious fan club for her cheese cake.
It was also nice to be able to order very decent French wines in small carafes.
In 1972 you could have a complete dinner there for less than 10 dollars.
The Maistri sold the place to another French couple in 1978, but its business slowly declined and the place closed in the late seventies.
I do not think that I could name another French establishment born that same year. But I would like to mention Le Gourmet a French carry-out and catering operation started in the early part of summer that year in Glencoe by Jacques Grelley and Edmond Peyre that was designed to provide good take-out dinners to Ravinia concert goers. They already had a gourmet shop with the same name at 659 N. State Street.
Crepes in France are often associated with the region of Brittany. No wonder then that a young man from that area, a “Breton”, named Germain Roignant, along with his Joliet-born wife Sara whom she met in Germany where he was waiting on tables, opened that intimate storefront bistro at 2845 N. Clark on June first. The big specialty of course were crepes, thin and very well made both in traditional sweet wheat version with fruit, or preserves, chocolate, or flavored with Grand Marnier, and topped with whipped cream, and in savory buckwheat mode with filling of ham, cheese, spinach, and seafood or chicken. The place which was very cozy and rustic, with a few antiques and posters on the wall became rapidly popular and attracted a crowd of young people who enjoyed the romantic feeling on dates, and regular patrons who loved the very attractive prices. In the early seventies you could have a complete dinner there for 8 dollars, or eat a couple of delicious crepes for 2 dollars. Years later the place offered more complex traditional Bistro dishes such as Coq au Vin, or Boeuf Bourguignon, but remained BYOB. Nowadays this bistro has expanded a bit, but is still very popular at the same address. It serves a full bistro menu with very moderate prices and has a nice wine list with inexpensive well-chosen French wines.
The owner decided to close La Crêperie in 2013 after the death of his son. But in 2014 It was re-opened by new investors. They contacted Germain Roignant and persuaded him to come back out of his retirement to manage the restaurant again.
The place was refreshed and redecorated but is practically the same as it was 3 years ago. And from what I read and heard both the savory and dessert crepes, as well as the other small French dishes such as the croque monsieur are as good and popular as ever. And they serve very good hard cider and Calvados. Obviously it is a destination place worth revisiting for the old regulars, and discovering for younger people in search of an original, cozy, and inexpensive place for a date.
LE TITI DE PARIS
Also in June Christian Zeiger, a former Maitre D’at Chez Paul, and his wife Agnès opened this small but really charming and nicely decorated restaurant at the improbable address of 2275 Rand Road inPalatine. Many in the trade had doubts about its success. They were wrong. Zeiger was a great professional and a very friendly host and manager. This place became one of the most durable and successful French restaurant in the whole Chicago area. His first chef, Jean-Pierre Pellet was very good but his cooking was quite traditional. With the arrival in 1974 of Pierre Pollin, a very gifted and creative chef native of Normandy, who had a fantastic “tour de main” with sole and other types of seafood including scallops and lobster, the restaurant that was open for lunch and dinner, acquired rapidly a national reputation. Pollin who did stints in some of the best kitchens of Europe, including Lucas-Carton in Paris, had a very classical training and a great respect for the quality and integrity of good products. He also used cream, mushrooms and Calvados in a very inspired and delicate way. And he had a knack to create inventive and delicately spiced sauces and use lesser known small vegetables as garnishes. In fact he trained himself many young apprentices who are in 2011 well-recognized on the Chicago Restaurant scene, such as Bill Kim.
Dominique Lejeai, who eventually launched D&J Bistro and Retro Bistro was a waiter and a Maitre D’ there for a while in the mid-seventies. If I remember correctly he was wearing a very colorful plaid vest over his white shirt.
In 1978 Pierre Pollin and his wife bought Le Titi from Christian Zeiger, and in 1987 purchased, and moved to, a larger and fancier place in Arlington Heights with the help then of another French chef, Jean-Marc Loustaunau, where it is still successful in 2012 under Michael Maddox, his chef de cuisine for many years, who bought the restaurant in 2004 upon Pollin’s retirement.
I have very good memories of lunches in Palatine, and later on even better ones from dinners in Arlington Heights, especially of marvelous duck and lamb dishes.
It is interesting to note that a couple of months before Zeiger opened the first Titi on Rand Road in Palatine, Pierre Dousson, who was earlier the chef and co-owner of The Champs-Elysées, also opened LE GOURMET on Rand Road in Arlington Heights. I have no information about what happened with this restaurant. But I think it had no connections with the GOURMET carry-out operation in Glencoe mentioned above.
LA GARE SAINT LAZARE
Many Chicagoans, like me, are still having moments of warm nostalgia when they remember that rustic and slightly “bohemian” bistro, especially after it was acquired by the very competent and pleasant chef Francis Leroux in early 1975. But it was initially opened at 858 W. Armitage by David Gevercer and in those days, that section of Armitage, West of Halsted, was not the fancy shopping hotspot it became in the late 80’s. In fact it was a relatively poorly maintained, under-developed and certainly not gentrified, neighborhood. Very few restaurants dared to open in this gastronomic desert at that time.
I discovered it in 1975 when Leroux tookover the place after having cooked there for quite a while and I was seduced by the simplicity and refreshing lack of pretension of some of the French comfort food served there at very reasonable prices, such as very flavorful pâtés, great fluffy omelets, poulet aux fines herbes, rabbit, or boudin au pommes.
Leroux could also be quite creative with fresh fish preparations that were often the ‘’Plat du Jour’’. The ambiance was very relaxed with candles and fireplace; the French wines were simple and cheap.
And you could finish your meal with very good crepes.
Unfortunately the restaurant was destroyed by fire in November of 1987. Leroux did not try to rebuild it and instead opened CAFÉ DU MIDI on Damen in 1989. (See later).
In October 1980 he would also open a slightly funky bistro called CHEZ CHOSE on Diversey Pkwy.
So many articles have been published about this quasi mythical restaurant and his no less iconic owner-manager, Jovan Trboyevic, since it opened its doors in November of 1972 at 70 East Walton St. that what I am about to write on this place and its creator and soul will probably sound redundant.
To learn a little more about his life go back to what I wrote about him in my piece on JOVAN in the precedent chapter on the sixties on that same blog.
Anyway, no other French restaurant in the U.S. has ever left such an unforgettable imprint in my memory. And when Jovan passed away in January 2010, here is what I wrote about him in the LTH forum:
“I'm sad that we have lost such a great man and at the same time a bit disappointed that so many stories written in both the press and on the web have been focusing too much on his rare expressions of reject towards some customers who had not the faintest clue about what the standards of this very stylish, and perfectionist, restaurateur were all about.
He was neither arrogant, snobbish, or haughty, but simply in a permanent search of precision, innovation, and perfection. To summarize he hated anything mediocre, vulgar, or phony, both in his personal and professional life…./…. In fact I would say that Jovan T. was the first restaurateur to bring and even improve the ways of cooking and presenting food of La Nouvelle Cuisine in France to Chicago. In some ways he played as important a role in renovating French cuisine in the Midwest as Henri Soulé did in New York in the late 40's. James Villas mentioned that comparison in a very vibrant tribute to Jovan in his book Villas At Table.
It is true that Jovan was very attached to certain European traditions, both having an important impact on the behavior of people working in the kitchen and in the dining room, as well as of the customers. He was very demanding as far as respecting them was concerned. After all, even though he loved this country, he remained all his life a European himself, who had an incredible rich portfolio of personal contacts with so many important and "real" celebrities of the high society in most European capitals. He also had been trained in one the best Cooking and Hotel Management schools of Europe in Lausanne, Switzerland, and worked in some very classy establishments.
No wonder that the idea of running a mediocre place for the average Joe, just to make a few bucks, was not exactly his American dream.
And it is true that, for the same reason that he was always very demanding of himself, he was expecting a lot from his staff, to the point of being sometimes considered by them as being a tough boss. But he was in fact at the same time a very tolerant and generous human being. And many cooks, some of them quite famous in this town, and waiters who worked in one of his restaurants could testify that they learned a lot from him at Le Perroquet.
I remember the pleasure I had, in the mid- seventies, when I was sitting at a table on the South side of the room at Le Perroquet, and therefore facing the entrance of the restaurant where he stood and managed everything from there, to observe his very minimal facial expressions and gestures to direct a busboy, waiter, or Jean-Pierre Nespoux the Maitre D’ and his brother Gérard a very competent sommelier, to a table where he had noticed that a customer looked either perplexed, or missing something. He reminded me of Pierre Boulez directing a French piece.
And his most gracious way to welcome you was unique.
What a marvelous memory I will keep of that extraordinary man who led an extraordinary life.”
Everybody will remember forever the rituals observed in this temple of gastronomy and elegance: The slow ascension to the third floor restaurant via a tiny elevator, after being checked in the lobby by some man, who could have been an off duty policeman. The bottle of mineral water from Mountain Valley that was on every table and was poured in your glass as soon as you were seated.
I felt very at ease in the incredibly peaceful environment of the dining room, and the restrained elegance of the settings and décor created byJovan’s wife, Maggie Abbott. Itincluded of course many parrot-themed pictures, murals, vases, lamps and other artifacts. They contributed to make you feel every time as if you were a special guest invited to participate to a world of distinction and pleasure. Everything was at the right place on the table, and the routine of the presentation of the dishes, as well as the pouring of wine was perfectly orchestrated.
Between my first meal there in 1975 and my last lunch in May of 1984 when Jovan sold the place to Jean-Pierre Nespoux, I never noticed a single service error. In 1974 you could have a complete prix fixe dinner there for $ 17.50 which could include one of their famous mousses, especially the salmon one, Poulet au Vinaigre or rack of lamb, and of course the marvelous soufflé au chocolat or au Grand Marnier. I have tasty memories of great terrines of duck with pistachios, the caneton in a sauce poivre, the unique grilled Blue fish that I have never seen before in any other restaurant outside of Boston, the Quenelles de Brochet Nantua. Once I was served the very tasty Truffe en Feuilleté that I am not ready to forget. And of course all vegetables were treated with lots of respect. The sauces were very light and delicate but their aromatic personality was powerful.
In fact it is at Le Perroquet that Chicagoans experienced in the early seventies the best new approaches that the French Nouvelle Cuisine had to offer: lighter sauces, vegetables freshly picked at the market cooked just enough, first quality seasonal fish and meats that were not overcooked or killed by an excessive amount of starchy sauces, clean and pretty presentation on the plate.
Jovan Trboyevic loved to remind his good customers of his commitment to the principle that “less is more”.
But sometimes we could not resist having more and more of the good stuff at this place.
I had an incredible experience there once when we went there for a long and beautiful lunch with some French visitors, and they enjoyed the experience so much, with the help of a few bottles of Pape Clément, an excellent Graves, that they decided that we should stay for an early dinner. And that is exactly what we did.
When Jovan Trboyevic was still the owner the Perroquet, a very large number of cooks and chefs worked in its kitchen either officiating at the piano or working at the prep counters. Among them Gabino Sotelino who was the executive chef there for 3 and ½ years , Michael Foley, Michael Beck, Alain Sailhac, Pierre Poubelle, Carrie Nahabedian, Elaine Sikorski, Hans RockenWagner, Mary Sue Milliken, Frank Lee, and many others.
The restaurantclosed its doors in January 1991; 6 years after Jovan sold it to the Nespoux.
It was reopened in 1992 by Michael Foley, who had been very successful for many years at Printers Row and had worked previously at the Perroquet. The menu was still attractive and less expensive and a good chef, Didier Durand (formerly chef at La Bohème), was in charge of the kitchen. I had some very good meals there during that period, and the place was still quite elegant and refined.
But the spirit had sort of been different since Jovan had left, and the old customers had found new avenues serving more adventurous styles of fine cuisine in Chicago. Le Perroquet closed its doors forever in 1994.
This elegant but unpretentious multi-room restaurant was opened in January in a very nice looking 3 story brownstone building at 2442 N. Clark St. by a very dynamic trio of French men. The leader of the group was Jean-Claude Poilevey, who was one of the 6 French “cuisiniers” recruited in France to work in the kitchen of the Playboy Club in Lake Geneva. He had a solid experience of traditional French “Lyonnais” cooking style and had been an apprentice at the legendary Greuze restaurant in Tournus. His 2 partners were the chef, Daniel Gautier, and Eric Krohmer. I will never forget Eric and his impressive mustache who always greeted you with a sort of mischievous smile. But it was obviously Jean-Claude Poilevey. who was in charge of operations.
In the very beginning the restaurant was only opened for dinner. But starting in 1975 I remember many delicious business lunches that we had there, at our favorite table near a window on the lower floor. I have great memories of their savory mousses, rack of lamb, salmon in champagne cream sauce with mushrooms, delicious steak with a great shallot reduced sauce, sauté de veau à la Normande, and an extra light trout soufflé.
I remember that the presentation of the main dishes was also quite sophisticated, like a very fragrant kind of Boeuf Bourguignon that was served in a copper sauce pot.
I do not have any memory of what the desserts tasted like but I remember that once one my regular dining partners raved about a very good strawberry cake.
The wine list was rich in good Burgundies and Beaujolais, where Jean-Claude knew many producers personally.
The prices were not cheap but considering the quality of both the cooking and the service, they were totally justified. For a long time they also had very attractive prix-fixe menus for around 13 dollars...
It was certainly one of the best French restaurants of that decade.
Everybody loved the elegant but somewhat fancy-rustic décor, with its brick walls and fireplaces and its tiny fountain, which reminded me of a chic modern provincial French restaurant.
Jean-Claude, who was an active member of the new Vatel Club of the Midwest, an association of French chefs, since it was launched in 1986, bought the shares of his 2 partners in 88 and went solo, as chef-owner from 1989 to 1993 with JEAN-CLAUDE after extensive renovationsat the same location. At one point he also tried in the same building a simpler bistro formula that was called CAFÉ DU PARC.
LA FONTAINE was sold in 1993 and a little bit later Poilevey opened a very good bistro, LE BOUCHON on Damen. A few years later he opened another one, LA SARDINE, on Carpenter.
Both are still very successful nowadays. We will talk about them in the 90`s chapter.
When Jean Banchet and Henri Coudrier, two authentic French chefs with already solid professional references in their resume, along with their respective wives Doris and Danielle, opened this marvelous place in March in an old German tavern at 269 South Milwaukee avenue inWheeling, a few miles North of O’Hare airport, they probably had no idea that this place would rapidly become a Mecca for gastronomes from all over the United States. Nobody could have guessed that so many diners would drive so far away from the city to eat. It was very unusual in the early seventies to open such an opulent gastronomic restaurant in a distant and not really fancy suburb. In fact, 3 years later, rich Texans would fly there for dinner, landing their private jets at the nearby Palwaukee airport. Probably no French haute cuisine restaurant in the U.S, outside of New York City, since the days of Le Pavillon, La Côte Basque, Lutèce or La Grenouille, had reached such a national and even, later on, international notoriety so rapidly. Except of course Le Perroquet mentioned earlier, but at a very different level.
At his zenith, in the early 80’s Le Français would be named ‘’Best restaurant in America’’ by Bon Appétit, and get 5 stars from the Mobil Guide.
Henri Coudrier who was a chef at Chez Paul in Chicago before joining Banchet unfortunately was forced to give up his partnership there after a few months due to illness.
Jean Banchet was not exactly a newcomer tom Chicago. In 1968 Arnie Morton had recruited him, along with some other chefs and cooks from France, to work in the kitchen of the Playboy Club in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. He would work there for 16 months and become the executive chef. But he decided that this kind of mass-production type of cooking was not what he liked to do and was too far away from the traditional French haute cuisine that he had been trained to do. So he moved to Chicago and for a while worked in restaurants such as the Gaslight Club, Les Champs-Elysées, and the Flying Frenchman. Later he opened Le Français, perhaps according to a French newspaper articlewith some financial help from his friend Pierre Orsi, an also well-known French chef from Lyon who had worked in Chicago for a while.
Born in 1941 in Roanne, a city proud of being home to Troisgros, one of the most famous restaurants in Europe for many years, Banchet started its apprenticeship at age 13, not with the famous brothers that he knew personally but they did not have a job for him at the time, but at the more modest Terminus.
I believe that he also had a brief stint at Troisgros. Then in 1955 he got the chance of his life: to continue his training at the famous La Pyramide, the restaurant of the legendary Fernand Point who had just died. His stint there marked his destiny as a great chef. He also developed a strong friendship with Paul Bocuse, another great chef from the Lyon area, who played a major role in the evolution of the new French cuisine, and with whom he learned a few techniques.
Bocuse never failed, when he came to the U.S to spend some time with Jean Banchet and dine at Le Français that he listed as one of the 3 best restaurants in the U.S. the 2 others being Le Perroquet where Bocuse would also have meals while here, and Lutèce in New York.
In fact when Banchet celebrated his 50th birthday in 1991 in Chicago, Paul Bocuse, Pierre Orsi, and André Soltner came along for a series of glorious breakfast, lunch, and dinner, prepared by Roland Liccioni and Fernand Gutierez (Ritz Carlton).
He then worked at the Eden Roc and at the Hotel De Paris in Monte Carlo, and later was lucky to do his military service in Algeria for 28 months, not fighting, but cooking for a general. Next stage was opening a new restaurant in a big casino in London, The Sporting Club. He met his German wife Doris in London. So when this already quite experienced chef became executive chef at the Playboy Club, he was only 27 year old but had a cooking experience that many old pros could have envied.
It is strange but I never had an opportunity to eat at Le Français when Jean Banchet, whom I have met many times since the mid-Seventies, was there. I had to wait until 1992 or 93 when the restaurant was leased to another great French chef, Roland Liccioni, and his then wife Mary Beth. I had two great dinners there but Liccioni's style, all in finesse and discrete creativity, was very different from Banchet’s almost flamboyant mastering of spectacular eating events. I am saying that based on the descriptions that many friends and colleagues who ate many times at Le Français in the seventies gave me of their experiences there. And of course from what I read in the press, the place was richly decorated and settings were extra-comfortable.
As I said earlier success came very rapidly. But in 1975 the restaurant burned and while Banchet was waiting for the place to get rebuilt, which took a whole year, he accepted some consulting assignments with Arnie Morton and the newly opened Ritz Carlton.
In 1989 he needed a change and after leasing Le Français to the Liccionis in August, he went down to Atlanta and opened Ciboulette in 1992 and La Riviera 4 years later.
But eventually, when the lease was over, Banchet came back to Wheeling in 1999 and after renovating and modernizing the kitchen and the dining room reclaimed his job as owner-chef of Le Français, with the help of David Sanders. He remained at his post until his retirement in 2001, when he sold the place to restaurateur Phil Mott (North Pond café) and Chef Don Yamauchi (Gordon). The restaurant, for a while got good reviews for its more contemporary type of cuisine. Then it suffered from bad post 9-11 economic times and closed in June 2003. It was purchased and reopened in November 2003 by a former regular customer, Michael Moran, who had a trucking company.
He called first Michael Lachowicz, and later Roland Liccioni back to manage the kitchen and try to boost a failing customer base. It worked well for a while and the ratings and reviews for the restaurant were getting back to a high level. But eventually Moran found out that he was losing money in this venture and closed the place without warning in late May of 2007.
What will remain in culinary history books is that Jean Banchet’s Le Français was arguably one of the most impressive French restaurants ever to gain so many raves from both critics and diners outside of New York. Jean Banchet was an incredibly gifted, inspired, and demanding professional chef de cuisine who was lucky to have the perfect partner to manage the front of the house: his wife Doris.
I heard so many stories from regular customers, as well as from other French chefs and waiters who either worked under him or had him as a friend, and I read so many articles about his creativity, his way of managing a brigade and of taking care of his favorite clients, that sometimes I wonder what part of all this is authentic and what part is mythical.
It does not matter. All I know is that this perfectionist workhorse always had one obsession: To get the best products anywhere he could source them, and to create gastronomic fireworks out of them that no one could forget.
During his first 10 years in Wheeling, he very often complained about the difficulty to find many typically French ingredients in the U.S marketplace, such as the fresh extra-small haricot vert, the real raw truffle or cèpe, good-textured Bresse-style poultry, good quality fresh goose liver, the perfect sea urchin, mussel or snail, French nutty butter, the right herb or spice that he needed for a specific preparation. Finding locally-produced sophisticated high quality meat, seafood, dairy products and vegetables was obviously an often frustrating task and that was the main thing that he regretted from his cooking days in France. Since he traveled often back to France he managed many times to bring back some of these special components, either in his suitcase, or hidden somewhere, or through other channels, not necessarily approved by U.S authorities.
When he opened the restaurant his cooking was rather classic, and the prices, though not cheap, were relatively reasonable considering the quality that he offered.
Similar dishes to those offered on his 1973 menu could have been found in any good restaurant of ‘’cuisine bourgeoise’’ in Lyon:
Bisque de Homard $ 1.95
Les Terrines et Pâtés $ 3.50
Escalope de truite à l’oseille $ 8.75
Quenelles de homards Nantua $ 8.50
Côtes d’agneau Vert-Pré $ 11.00
Chateaubriand Bouquetière $ 23.00
Caneton Bigarade $ 8.50
Soufflé Glaçé aux fraises $ 3.00
And of course you could ask for a plateau de fromages de France
It is after the fire that damaged the restaurant in 1975, once it was re-opened in more opulent settings, that Banchet jumped forward to a much more elaborate and creative cuisine, and to a more theatrical and luxurious way to present the food and to seduce the customers. Every dish and specials of the day were presented in beautiful porcelain plates or mini copper pots on a serving cart rolled to your table, and each preparation was explained by the waiters. The elaborate decoration on each large plate was in itself a work of art with its ribbons of sauces, reductions, jus, aspics, truffle shavings, etc.
The sommelier would help you to choose wines from what was perhaps, at the end of the seventies, one of the most expansive wine cellar in a U.S. restaurant. I was told that at one point in the early 80`s the content of that cellar was worth perhaps close to $ 800,000.00.
Many of the ‘’signature dishes’’ of the great period from the late 70’s to the mid 80’s, are still capable to bring tears of nostalgia and gratitude to the eyes of old customers who were regulars there at the time:
Double duck consommé Bocuse, Saucisse de Lyon en croûte aux pistaches, Mussel soup with saffran, Quenelles, Mousses of salmon, frog legs, lobster, or Saint-Jacques, Poularde de Bresse with quenelles in shrimp sauce, Foie gras d’oie, Lamb Wellington, Lobster raviolis with truffles, Rabbbit saddle, Sweetbreads Fernand Point, Endive and watercress salad with bacon, Ice cream Soufflé au grand Marnier. And all those incredibly rich and complex sauces: Champagne, Périgourdine, with tarragon.
But in 1999, when a much thinner Banchet came back to Le Français, his style had evolved a lot. Its cooking had become much lighter, but it was still as creative and perfect as ever.
Unfortunately some of the old customers did not like that new style it as much. A page had been turned.
Jean Banchet who had retired with his wife in Jupiter, Florida, passed away on November 24, 2013 from pancreatic cancer.
It is very unlikely that such a grand symbol of “haute cuisine francaise” will ever be recreated in Chicago. So let’s keep Le Français's memory alive for future generations of gastronomes.
When my wife and I discovered this marvelous cozy restaurant in 1974 at 2100 N. Halsted St. we were so happy to have found a place that reminded us of the small bistros we frequented in our Paris neighborhood of Saint- Germain Des Prés until our departure for Chicago in January of 1970. Everything we loved in this kind of eating establishments was there. The big bar counter with high stools, the small wooden tables and banquettes with their red and white checked ``toiles cirées``(oil-cloth table covers), the individual lights with their funnel-shaped shades hanging low above your table from the high ceiling creating an intimate and quasi romantic atmosphere, the daily menu chalk- handwritten on a big black board. And as we soon discovered the very warm welcome extended to regular patrons by the very ‘’sympathique’’ chef-owner Bernard LeCoq. After dinner we would sit at the bar and drink good Calvados (apple brandy from Normandy) and have lively talks with either Bernard himself and a great bartender whose name I forgot, or many French waiters or cooks who would show up to have a beer after work.
Bernard was from Brittany, and even though he had been in the U.S and worked all over the country in other restaurants, he still had the typical accent of his native province. He was an avid biker and loved nature. I remember that once, back from a trip to Wisconsin, he had picked some wild watercress still covered with spring snow and had made us a beautiful salad with a great vinaigrette.
When he opened the restaurant in May 1973* that part of town was a very unattractive neighborhood with ugly and often boarded small wooden houses. Many shady characters were roaming the street and there was no apparent sign of the upcoming gentrification that would start in the late seventies and bring a huge number of fancy shops, bars and restaurants between North Avenue and Fullerton.
So it was a bold move by former “Playboy bunny”, Sue Ling Gin, and Bernard to buy the attractive but a bit shabby 3 story corner building with a lovely turret at the corner of Dickens, and to transform the street level, that used to be a saloon, into a French restaurant. But Sue Gin was also an astute real estate agent with a vision of what this neighborhood could become, and she eventually acquired a substantial portion of buildings in that area.
And she loved food and France. Her father used to have a restaurant in Aurora when she was young. So, along with another partner, Marty Shuster, they launched themselves in that risky bet that proved to be successful over the last 38 years of the restaurant`s existence. Eventually Marty Shuster and Bernard opened another Café Bernard in 77 in Northbrook with Willy Maes and later Yves Schmidt as chefs de cuisine. Finally in the 1990’s he created a smaller but locally popular wine-bar and café, the Red Rooster, around the corner from the main restaurant on Dickens. In that same neighborhood Sue Gin and Bernard Lecoq also started a bakery on Armitage and a café-fishmarket on Halsted. Both have been closed for several years.
Bernard Lecoq was an experienced chef who had been cooking in some other French restaurants in Chicago before, such as the prestigious dining room of the Whitehall hotel, and the more rustic La Chaumière.
Bernard in the early 70`s did most of the prep, including some of the butchering, and the actual cooking himself. Eventually he hired chefs and some commis. Some of these chefs sometimes impacted a few specific ethnic touches to the overall French bistro menus. Such was the case with the Haitian cuisine of chef Marc Delphonse in 1978. Orwhen 10 years later Bernard Lecoq recruited Mohamed Mchabcheb, who stayed there 3 years and who brought North African touches to some of the dishes. He eventually opened his own Morrocan restaurant, L’Olive, on North Sheridan, that was popular for several years.
During the early years of the café, the cuisine of Bernard was simple, unpretentious, and traditional.
We really enjoyed such classics as a flavorful house veal and pork pâté, a good steak Bordelaise with shallots, a decent Boeuf Bourguignon, and I loved the Poulet à la moutarde. If I remember correctly, it is there that I found for the first time in Chicago a good veal scallop with a creamy Calvados sauce. Many regulars though came for the baby-beef liver. His crème caramel was deliciously addictive..
The wine list was limited but nicely priced. It offered a small but perfectly drinkable petit Saint Emilion for less than 5 dollars a bottle. And on lean days you could buy cheap wines in half liter carafes.
I think that around 1975 you could have a good complete dinner with some wine for 12 dollars.
Our only complaint was that he refused adamantly to serve French fries….But I do not remember the reason.
Nevertheless we still have very pleasant memories of many comforting dinners in winter there. In 2012, Bernard Lecoq decided to retire and went back to his native Brittany. Bernard Lecoq sold Café Bernard in 2012 to Dominique Tougne, who for many years was Executive Chef at Bistro 110. Tougne totally transformed and redecorated the place and renamed it: Chez Moi.
* On his web site and in many interviews Bernard LeCoq had indicated that he opened the restaurant in 1972. But in the first article about the restaurant and his partner Sue Gin published in the Chicago Tribune on June 28 1973, it is said that Cafe Bernard was "opened 6 weeks ago". Manta, the business records company, also lists the opening in 1973.
That beautiful restaurant, launched in the summer of 1973 by George Badonsky in the Belmont Hotel on North Sheridan, was more a very contemporary and often one of the most audacious American seafood restaurants ever in Chicago, than a French restaurant. But during its 13 years of existence it had many serious accentsofFrench cuisine. For some time in the late 70’s its kitchen also benefited from the experience of the very good French chefHenri Coudrier (Le Francais, La Reserve).
I loved its exciting décor, atmosphere and vitality. And I will never forget some memorable evening shows by the magnificent BRICKTOP who was brought in Chicago by Badonsky to sing there. In spite of being 80 years old she made the whole beautifully appointed dining room (with art from Andy Warhol and Peter Max on the walls) vibrate.
The restaurant closed in 1986
LE FOND DE LA TOUR
The name of this small (70 seats) but elegant restaurant means in French “The Bottom of the Tower”. And that is exactly where it was located, at street level of the Oakbrook Apartments Towers building at the junction of Butterfield Road and Meyers in Oakbrook, a 18 miles ride west of Downtown Chicago. Owned by ANVAN, a hotel management company, its nicely appointed formal dining room and charming cocktail lounge was originally nicely managed by Herb Smith, a good restaurant professional, formerly at the 95th... The very polished service was under the watchful eye of another good professional, Maitre D’ Hans Lautenbacher, who stayed for a while at the French Room and at the 95th. In spite of his German name I believe that he was French, probably from Alsace,
The first year the chef was Jean Regnier, a Haitian trained in French restaurant in Montreal. But in 1975 he was replaced by a French chef, Bernard Dervieux, who I understandprepared very goodclassic French dishes such as Velouté Vychissois, Red Snapper in tarragon sauce, Breast of capon stuffed with goose liver pate, Sweetbreads Provençale, Rack of Lamb with small vegetables, Tournedos au poivre, Chateaubriand Bordelaise, and Mousse au chocolat. At that time they had really managed to create a decent French classy bistro ambiance.
For years the quality of both food and service of the restaurant was affected by many changes in ownership and in the kitchen. I remember of a terribly mediocre lunch I had there in the early 80`s.
But its popularity among local businessmen, especially at lunch time remained pretty high for several years...
I ignore when this restaurant closed.
Opened in June in a condo building at 1 East Scott this small intimate and rather fancy dining-room, turning after 9:00 PM into a private club, was occupying the space left open by the departure of its 2 predecessors, Don Roth and Barcelona, a Spanish restaurant. The new restaurateur, Jean-Claude Berger, formerly at Les Champs-Elysées and La Grenouille, kept most of the décor but added elegant settings including nice crystal glassware, silverware, and china, white table cloth, chandeliers, and fresh flowers on the tables. But since Berger was doubling as manager and chef de cuisine, the service and the food were definitely classy French. A review in the Tribune at the time mentioned that, the à la carte menu included Moules (mussels) à la crème, Quenelles de Brochet (pike dumplings) sauce aux écrevisses (crayfish), Poularde en croûte, Escalopes de veau à la crème et au Calvados (veal in a cream and apple brandy sauce), Cœur de rumsteak sauce Choron, and brochettes de rognons de veau ( veal kidneys). A soufflé au Grand Marnier was the star desserts. And they served espresso coffee. At the time a complete dinner without wine would cost around 15 dollars which was not cheap.
I believe that the ‘’club’’ at night was a very popular discotheque with frequent sightings of celebrities.
I am not too sure but I think that the restaurant did not survive more than 18 months.
When Henri Coudrierleft Le Français in 1973, he did not stay inactive for too long.
In the fall of 1974 he rented the space formerly occupied by an Italian restaurant at 6474 N. Milwaukee Avenue, just north of Devon that faced the Northern branch of the Chicago River in the Billy Caldwell Reserve.
I suppose that is where he got the idea for naming the restaurant, even though many celebrated French restaurants also bear that name… I have been there only once for an early dinner at sunset and I have a good memory of the space itself, spacious, with comfortable tables with fresh flowers, leather banquettes, and relatively elegant settings , including white table cloth and nice silver. But the service was a bit disorganized in the early days. Coudrier was particularly proud of his aquarium full of live trouts that he would serve ‘’ au bleu’’ with a nice beurre blanc au Riesling. Veal was always prominent on the menu that had a few dishes bearing an apparent ‘’Banchet’’ style.
I think that I had a filet of venison in a mushroom sauce that was fine. My wife had a decent Coquelet à la moutarde. And perhaps a chocolate caked and apple tart for dessert.
Nice but not spectacular wine list.
At the time I thought that the prices were a bit high considering for an Ok but not spectacular meal.
Not an unpleasant dining experience but not exciting enough to drive back again to such a far-away place and we never went back. I think that the restaurant closed in 1977 or 1978.
Note: LE BON VIVANT
I am a bit reluctant to include this restaurant in my list of ‘’French’’ restaurants since as far as I know no French person ever worked there.
But when it opened in the fall at 222 N. Greenwood Avenue in Glenview, this elegant and cozy place had obviously the ambition to become a fancy French restaurant. I do not know who actually was the owner but I know he was Greek, and I also know that the chef at that time was not French either. But that restaurant is the place where one of the best Chicago chefs known for its mastering of French bistro cuisine, John Hogan, held its first cooking job as Garde-manger in 1980.
John told me that there was no French cook there but that the dishes they served there were definitely French.
The restaurant was still alive and well in 1982, after receiving 4 stars from the Mobil guide. I never ate there or met anybody who ate there, but in its early days it got good reviews in the Tribune. They first called themselves a `’French gourmet restaurant’’ and some years later switched to ‘’Continental-French’’. That appellation from what I read in articles and review published in the Tribune in 1974, seemed closer to their real style that had no resemblance to “la nouvelle cuisine”. Huitres Florentine, Duckling in orange sauce, Marmite Henry IV, Crepes Royales, Fruits de mer Monte-Carlo, Supreme de Volaille Diane, Strawberries Romanoff, were the kind of dishes that you would had better chances to be able to order at Le Café de Paris than at Le Perroquet. In 1974 most entrees were under 12 dollars.
In 1979 one of the owners, Jovan Pajich, opened a second Bon Vivant in Elmhurst, with a French chef by the name of Daniel Secur.
I have no idea of what happened to these 2 possibly “French” restaurants.
Note: THE FRENCH KITCHEN
I hesitate to list this restaurant here that did not have any French owner, cook or waiter.
Besides, I never met somebody who actually ate at this BYOB place at 3137 W, 63rd St, on the Southwest side of the city by Lorraine Hooker, an American chef. But from what I read in a mini review published in the Tribune in 1976, it was more a Continental-French restaurant than a real French one. But according to the author of that little piece, Gloria Cohen, the menu was limited but the quality of the food was very good and some dishes, such as Crab in sauce Mornay, Coq au vin, Sole en sac, Mousse au chocolat, were definitively having a French touch.
Opened in the fall by Charles Ortu, a real Marseillais, it was another case of a French restaurant opening in a not too attractive neighborhood at 1418 W. Fullerton. The house specialty was perhaps one of the best attempts to recreate a real Bouillabaisse de Marseille, the famous aromatic seafood soup that put this lively Provençal port-city on the culinary map of France that you ever found in Chicago. I said attempt because it is impossible to find in American fish markets the same type of components that are specifically found in the Mediterranean Sea, such as Rascasse, Saint-Pierre, Chapon, Pageot, Murène, Rouget Grondin, Vive, and others. So, Chef Ortu had to compose with the freshest fish available in Chicago such as Whiting, Sea Bass, Red Snapper, White Fish, Rockfish, Shrimps and Mussels. But his Bouillabaisse was very flavorful thanks to the olive oil, saffron, herbs, and tomato. And I understand that his aioli, a fragrant garlic mayonnaise, and the pieces of toast that customers would use to sponge some of the broth were quite good. Besides he properly served the fish and the broth in separate plates and bowl. You could also order various fish and shellfish dishes as well as a good Steak au Poivre. And the restaurant`s wine list include a good rosé from Tavel, a rare treat at the time. In 1975 the cost of an order of Bouillabaisse for 2 people was around $ 13.00.
The rustic but comfortable settings were jazzed up by all kinds of strange objects that were probably found in a flea-market. Service was pleasant and efficient. I do not remember when the restaurant closed. Probably around 1978. Eventually the space was taken over by Stefani’s.
THE DINING ROOM- RITZ CARLTON
Opened in December behind the main lobby of the hotel in the Water Tower Place, this large room was as far as the décor and the food were concerned the exact opposite of places like Le Perroquet, or La Fontaine. By that I mean that the elegant wood panels, mirrors, chandeliers, fine linen, pricey sterling, and traditionally dressed waiters provided an impression of almost over done. And the food, cooked by a competent French chef, Daniel Vigier, and later Jacques Abadie, was almost too classical French for my taste. The management of the restaurant was under the control of another very professional Frenchman, the very good Food and Beverage director, Dominique Beauchard, formerly at the 95th, who would stay at the Ritz until 1979, when he left to open La Mirabelle in Evanston.
Prices were not cheap (about $ 25 for dinner in 76) but that did not stop the clientele of visiting executives, many of them staying at the hotel, and local matrons, who seemed to love such specialties as Oysters and caviar, Artichoke Hearts with Morels in a Mornay sauce, Ballotine of Pheasant, Stuffed breast of Duckling, Rack of Lamb, Trout stuffed with salmon mousse, Vol au Vent with a champagne sauce, and Crèpes flambées sauce chocolat. The wine list was one of the most extensive in the US. I read in a Tribune article that the cellar in Chicago in 1985 was rich of 450,000 bottles, including some Chateau Lafite-Rothschild dating back to 1882 and 1928 Chateau Latour.
I have to admit that I was invited to have business lunches at this restaurant only twice between 1977 and 1982.
I was not that impressed. But my point of view changed completely in 1983 when Fernand Gutierez came from the Ritz in Boston to become Executive chef of the Chicago restaurant. Fernand was not only a great man with a sunny personality, and a bon vivant, but also a great creative French chef. I have a marvelous memory of a lunch we had with him in the kitchen. He completely modernized the kitchen and created a very attractive menu. Between 82 and 85 he was efficiently assisted by sous-chef Bernard Maloiseau. He mentored many young American Chicago chefs, such as Carrie Nahabedian and Sarah Stegner, and founded a Midwest chapter of The Vatel Club, that allows French professionals in the restaurant industry to get together and share ideas and experiences.
CAFÉ DU LOUVRE
I regret that I never had the opportunity to dine at this restaurant that was opened in the summer of that year by two French professional chefs, Pierre Cabuzel, a former chef patissier, who managed the dining room and Denis Floch who was the chef, But its location, on East Main Street in Dundee, in the Northwest suburbs, was a little bit out my regular driving paths in these days. But I understand that this charming but unpretentious place, with its bright yellow walls and sunny orange and yellow checkered table cloth, remained very popular in that area for many years.
The 2 partners did not pretend to offer fancy dishes but rather simply, well prepared traditional ‘’cuisine bourgeoise’’ classique that you would find in provincial inns in France. And they were very proud of the freshness and quality of the ingredients, especially fruits, vegetables and seafood; they selected themselves in Chicago markets. And they paid attention to the aesthetics of their arrangements on the plate. Their seafood crepes, pâtés, quiche Lorraine onion soup as well as main dishes such as filet of sole poached in wine and presented in a crepe with a mushroom and Champagne sauce, duck with apples flamed in calvados, coq au vin, beef stew "Bordelaise", seemed to have satisfied many of the regulars. Their fresh fruit tarts and cakes were also praised. But the queen of the menu was the Crèpe, in all kinds of fashions.
Prices were very modest: in 1978 most appetizers were around $ 2.00 or $3.00, and main dishes rarely over $ 8 or $9. The famous ‘’ Crèpe du Louvre’’ stuffed with apples cooked in Calvados, and covered with a Grand Marnier flavored sabayon was only $1.75
Cabuzel, who is a member of the Vatel Club of the Midwest, is very attached to French traditions and always celebrated both Bastille Day and the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau at the Café du Louvre.
Cabuzel came to the US in 1968 when he was 26 year old and for a while worked as a patissier at the famous Lutèce restaurant in Manhattan.
Now at the age of 70 he is back at making all kinds of savory and sweet Crèpes Bretonnes in a picturesque small, but very popular restaurant called Chez Pierre Crèperie in Crystal Lake, IL.
LOUIS BON APPETIT
When Louis Retailleau completely refurbished and redecorated an old but elegant Victorian frame house on Main Street, downtown Crown Point, Indiana, an hour drive from Chicago, to live there with his family and have a French restaurant on the main floor, he was far from being a newcomer in the Chicago area dining scene. Between 1970 and 1971 this native of Gascony, a Southwestern French region, famous for its foie gras, where good eating is a religion, had worked at the 95thduring its first year of operation. And in 1971, he moved to Calumet City to open his first own restaurant also called Bon Appétit. He would stay there until 1976 when he found the house in Crown Point, a non- descript small city where the locals were more used to eat fried chicken, chili, and burgers than gastronomic French dishes such as Duck in a Peppercorn sauce or Veal tournedos with wild Mushrooms and Wine sauce or Confit of Goose with Truffles.
The early years were difficult but he was adopted by people living within a 30 miles radius and managed to acquire a small but loyal customer base until he retired and closed the restaurant after a last celebration of Bastille Day in July of 2003.
Once in the late 70`s, I had to visit a manufacturing plant around Merryville, Indiana. And when it was time to drive back to Chicago it was lunch time. So I asked in a gas station if there was any good restaurant not too far away and a local motorist buying gas there suggested I go to Louis, as he called the place. I was a bit skeptical about the quality of was I was going to find in my plate there. But I rapidly changed my prefabricated opinion after I was seated in a quite interesting dining room with high ceilings, antique furniture, nice white table cloth, fresh flowers, French art on the walls, and crystal chandeliers. The bread and goose liver pâté with truffles was quite good, and the stew of locally raised rabbit very tasty. I was quite surprised to be served a Belgian endive salad and some decent French cheeses, a not to frequent occurrence in this kind of town in these days. The chocolate cake was quite rich and well prepared. Added to that the pleasure of drinking a good Beaujolais and I was in relative heaven at the end of the meal. Service, under the diligent attention of his wife, was attentive. But you had to wait a bit too long between dishes. And the check was not cheap. Louis himself was quite a pleasant fellow, who was very talkative and obviously happy to have a countryman coming from Chicago to enjoy his cuisine. His cooking and saucing could not be more traditional French. Obviously Nouvelle Cuisine had not reached Crown Point, and from what I read and heard later on, some of his dishes were sometimes a bit heavy handed and the cooking time occasionally lacked precision. But Louis loved his trade and his products were, long before it became a trend, most of the time locally produced.
The place was quite charming and for a couple of hours made you believe that you were in a French country inn, very far from Chicago. Years later unfortunately I did not find the same simple qualities when he opened Cocorico on Clybourn. We will talk about this strange place in the next part on the 80’s.
Early that year Pierre Wimmer, an Austrian who was the flamboyant owner of Punchinello’s on Rush Street, bought the space occupied since 1974 by the Mayfair Club, and before that by the Red Carpet in a charming 3 story old brownstone at 28 W. Elm Street. In fact at one point there were 3 different dining rooms.
It almost instantly won raves, not only for modernizing the décor (while keeping a few remnants of the Red Carpet, including oriental carpets, velvety drapes, and marble fireplaces etc.,) of the cozy dining rooms, mixing up contemporary and old style elegance, but also for comfortable settings, very polished service and above all good French food at more reasonable prices than you would find in other quality oriented eating establishments of the Gold Coast. Wimmer for a while kept the talented chef, a Japanese guy by the name of Kanji Nonaka, who had been trained in Switzerland and had completed his mastering of traditional French cooking at Maxim’s in Paris. They created prix fixe menus that offered good value and very nicely prepared dishes. In 1978 you could have a complete 4 course dinner for $ 14.50 that include changing specialties such as oysters baked in saffron, roasted pheasant with truffles, Coq au Chambertin, Veal Normande, or Truite Grenobloise and Squab in cream sauce.
I am not sure of the date of this restaurant definitive closing; I would say that it was either in 1980 or 1981.
At the end a very good French chef, Yves Schhmidt, was in charge of the kitchen
But I know of many former patrons, including some French colleagues who loved that place.
Note: MELLOW YELLOW
I must mention rapidly a very popular so called ‘’ French Creperie’’ that opened the same year at 1508 E. 53rd Street at Harper in Hyde Park.
This creperie was owned and managed by a very nice man, Ken Pelletier, who in spite of his French name, was in fact the son of a commercial fisherman from Door County. He loved French quiches and crepes and made sure that his crepes, both savory, and sweets were cooked the right way like in Brittany with the correct ingredients. The description of the components of his savory crepes was using the right French words: Champignons, Fromage, Soufflé aux épinards, Ratatouille, Poulet à la Béchamel, and even a crèpe au Boeuf Bourguignon. The dessert Crèpes could be aux Fraises, à la sauce au Chocolat Suisse, or à la glace à la Praline. They even served bacon and eggs crèpes for Breakfast.
And you also could order Soupe à l’oignon, and salads.
The restaurant became very popular and expanded its menu considerably in the 80’s.
Ken Pelletier passed away in 2005, but his restaurant is still operating at the same address
When Frenchman Jacques Grelley, an old acquaintance of mine, opened this charming restaurant at 1825 Clark St. late in 1976, he has in fact been inChicago since 1962, after a short stay in Macon, GA, where he had landed coming from Paris the year before. In 62 he started waiting tables in various restaurants of the Chicago area, many of them French, and continued for several years. But his real passion was driving sports and racing cars and collecting miniature ones. Between the 60’s and the 80’s he competed in all kinds of professional car races in Europe including the famous 24 hours at Le Mans in his DB Panhard. He also managed over the last 50 years to put together the largest collection in the world of close to 5,000 car racing posters, photos, and other memorabilia. Nowadays Jacques Grelley at 75 is more active than ever and travels to all parts of the 5 continents from his base in Texas to exhibit and sell his posters and photos, organize classic racing cars exhibits, meet with former champions, and drive 2CV Citroen cars all over China and India, including Tibet.
Anyway when you entered the restaurant the walls of the very comfortable bar, with its fireplace and nice banquettes and armchairs, were covered with some of these beautiful vintage posters, and in special display cases you could admire some of his miniature cars.
I remember that on occasions when on week-ends we would go to have dinner there, he would give one of these small cars to my son who was an avid collector himself.
The main dining room was very cozy, with high beamed-ceilings that, with some imagination, would make you think that you were in a country inn in Normandy, the native province of Jacques.
The food was simple but typical French bistro styled: Mini Bouillabaisse, Duck Paté with green peppercorn, Snails en Croûte, Steak-frites (the frites were among the best in town), Lamb and bean stew, and the traditional Poulet au Vinaigre (chicken in a vinegar sauce) that very few French restaurants served at the time, Salmon with sorrel sauce, and of course Cheese, including Camembert. Among desserts they had one of the best Chocolate Mousse. Prices were very reasonable and they offered cheap French wines such as a red called ‘’ Frère Jacques`` that was quite drinkable.
The restaurant closed in 1980.
The Vichy native Bernard Cretier and his American wife Priscilla opened this lovely, discretely elegant but unpretentious restaurant in the far away Northwest village of Lakemoor, in Mc Henry county,a 70 minute drive from Chicago in September of 76.
The white brick stylish building looked a bit like a French country ‘’Auberge’’’such as those that you would find in Normandy or in Burgundy.
The large windows of the two spacious dining rooms with well- spaced tables covered with white linen cloth and furnished with antiques, and traditional copper pots, opened on a pleasant small patio. Fresh flowers were always in evidence, and the silver, porcelain plates and pretty glasses were nicely arranged and classy. Art work decorated the walls, and the bar in the lobby where an impressive antique desk was serving as a hostess stand, was a very welcoming place.
Cretier and his family lived upstairs when they opened the place, as it was the case in many traditional provincial restaurants in France in the good old days. Before opening Le Vichyssois, Cretier, who was trained in the kitchens of such iconic French chefs as the Frères Troisgros and Paul Bocuse, was the executive chef at Maxim’s in Chicago for 6 years.
I am sad that I never had an opportunity to eat at Le Vichyssois since from what I read and heard from other French chefs as well as from friends in Chicago, I am sure that I would have loved his traditional French cuisine, that is prepared with great care and precision.
Cretier was not an adept of the Nouvelle Cuisine and did not make a mystery of his convictions.
His repertoire was, and still is since the restaurant is still doing well in 2012, classic French.
His pâtés and terrines, such as quail with juniper berries, brandy-flavored duck, venison, or a simple pork country pâté were very popular. And so were of course his Vichyssoise soup, that all American tourists used to order at Maxim`s Rue Royale in Paris, and an oyster and lobster bisque. Favorite main courses were veal in a morel cream sauce, duck in red wine and vinegar sauce, rack of lamb with a tarragon sauce, scallops in a lobster sauce or in puff pastry, or lake trout in a Champagne sauce. Vegetables were served in small copper pans or pots, and the salad often was a mix of French endive, mâche, and haricots verts fins in raspberry vinaigrette.
Women raved about his dark chocolate and almond base desserts. And according to a 1984 review in the Tribune, Cretier would serve a very good grapefruit-Champagne sorbet between appetizer and entrée.
And the best was that nothing was very expensive, even the daily specials that changed often.
According to a review published in 84, that year the average cost of a dinner for two would average $ 60.00.
It was a modest price to pay for such quality.
Note: LA RIVE GAUCHE
In Novembera “French” restaurant called LA RIVE GAUCHE, but later its name morphed into the English translation of THE LEFT BANK, opened in an old long-closed bank building, on Governors Highway in Matteson, a small town about 20 miles south of Downtown Chicago.
The owner, one Ron Stillman, according to a mini review published in the Trib in 1977, always wanted to own a French gourmet restaurant in that town.
So the name of the restaurant refers to the famous Rive Gauche in Paris, as well as the abandoned bank.
According to that review the vault was used as a wine cellar.
Mr. Stillman recruited a young manager from the CIA in Hyde Park, NY, who gathered a team of energetic young cooks and waiters.
From what I read, the waiting staff was trying to project a French image and the chef was attempting to emulate the Nouvelle Cuisine by undercooking the vegetables.
At the same time however they insisted on flaming several dishes and desserts, which was more a continental cuisine tradition.
But altogether I understand that the cooking was rather good.
Appetizers included traditional pâtés and jambon persillé, as well as soupe à l’oignon gratinée, and main dishes were classic French Steak au Poivre Vert, and Veal Scaloppini in a cream and mushroom sauce, trio of Duck, and stuffed Quail in a Perigourdine sauce.
In 1977 you could have complete prix-fixe dinners between $7.00 and $14.00
The restaurant closed in 1980.
ILE DE FRANCE
One of my most bizarre dining experiences in the last 41 years in Chicago
This “exotic” restaurant located on Elston Avenue at the corner of Division, could have been one of the most romantic eating place in Chicago if…. Next to a boat repair yard its dining room was overlooking the, at the time rather dirty and smelly, North branch of the Chicago River. There even was an outdoor porch from where you could see boaters while drinking a cocktail. The dining room itself was relatively rustic but pleasant and well appointed. Problem was, once you entered that small poorly maintained wood-cabin type of building, you could see the entrance of the kitchen that did not seemed to be a model of cleanliness or organization. The only time we went there for lunch with some colleagues in early 1977, there was nobody at the hostess station, and in fact nobody in the dining room either. We called “Hello” and out of the kitchen came this guy, unshaved, wearing a stained open shirt. He turned out to be the chef and the owner of this strange place. I do not even remember his name. After inquiring about what we wanted he told us to seat anywhere we wanted. He grumbled a few words of welcome in our common French language and disappeared back in his kitchen. Eventually after waiting for quite a while a young woman came to bring us menus and some water. We had to call for her to return so that we could place our orders. She did not seem to be a professional waitress, seemed totally uninterested in us, and could not answer our questions about the way some food items were served. While we were waiting for our appetizers, munching on some not too fresh French baguette, we saw a big rat trotting from the entrance to the other side of the room.
As a matter of fact it turned out to our surprise that the food was quite good and classical French. Good country Pâté, decent Mussels Marinière, very tasty Veal Scaloppini in a cream and Calvados sauce, well prepared Belgian endive salad, and a good Apple tart. The wine list was not very extensive but nevertheless included a few good, but expensive Bordeaux and Burgundies. We ordered a reasonably-priced Côtes du Rhône.
Anyway, it was obvious that the man was in control of his French cooking but did not seem to care about his own or his restaurant`s look. Perhaps they had more customers and a professional staff for dinner.
The dinner menu offered surprisingly sophisticated main courses such as Turbot Dugléré, Dover sole Normande, Côte de Veau, Tournedos Périgourdine, or Bouillabaisse. These dishes contrasted very boldly with the lack of style and polish of both the chef and the premises. I never went back there for a second try. But the restaurant stayed in operation at least 5 or 6 more years.
What a pity that this very sophisticated and elegant restaurant, opened in May 1977 at 160 East Ontario by the very young (barely 25) but hyper-dynamic entrepreneur Roger Greenfield, burned a few months later in January of 1978. It was one its way to become one of the best and most popular French restaurants in the whole city of Chicago.
I loved not only the modern but very harmonious exterior as well as interior architecture of this 2 story restaurant designed by Spiros Zakas, the decorator of Bastille and the Pump Room, but also the comfortable settings of the two dining rooms, especially the one upstairs with great blue velvet banquettes, and if I remember correctly beautiful brown, a beautiful carpet, and very interesting art by French surrealist painter André Masson on the white walls. The entrance was also impressive with its white tile floor, mini garden, fireplace and a bird cage.
But I was the most impressed with was the cooking of Yves Schmidt, a young 26 year old at the time executive chef who had already an impressive French cuisine formal training started when he was only 15 at Troisgros, in Roanne. He stayed there for 3 years, then spent15 months in the kitchens of Maxim’s in Paris. Then after a few more stints in French restaurants, he was sent to Chicago where he worked for Maxim’s here for 4 years before starting at Le Rendez-Vous. What was great with his cooking was his perfect blend of classic and Nouvelle Cuisine styles and techniques. After all, this man had learned to cook with his mother in his native Forez region. So his basic knowledge was of a traditional cuisine bourgeoise with a rural touch. But he knew right away how to adjust to the taste of new consumers for lighter sauces, locally grown fresh produce and meat. At le Rendez-Vous he managed to adapt what he had learned at Troisgros to the realities of American ingredients and at the same time saving the integrity of his French country cooking roots.
My wife and I had only one dinner at Le Rendez-Vous in late 1977. It will keep in my memory as one of my most enjoyable dining experience of the 70’s. But unfortunately the only I remember we ate that night were some beautiful scallops, a duck terrine, a steak au poivre, and some veal scaloppini in a mushroom and cream sauce. I believed that we had a flourless chocolate cake for dessert. What I remember clearly is the impressive but expensive wine list. We had a very decent Listrac that night, if I remember correctly.
At the time you had to spend about 20 dollars per person without wine and tip. But it was worth it.
I know that Schmidt later on, after a brief stint at the Celtic Room in Evanston, worked at Le Festival, and at Café Bernard in Northbrook, but I do not know what happened to this talented chef since.
Located at street level of a 1928 Georgia style building that housed a retirement apartment hotel at 1625 Hinman in downtown Evanston, this delightful dining room was one of the most authentic and charming temple of modern French cuisine with strong provincial “Bourgeoise” roots that you could find in the Chicago area. But surprisingly enough it was opened inJuly of 77 by two American women, Leslee Reis, and Lizann Bradshaw, whose respective initial backgrounds did not predispose them to become restaurateurs. Lizann, who left the restaurant after a couple of years, was a graduate of Harvard Business School, and since she had some business and management experience, and had been a wine director for a local big retailer, she became the managing part of the team and took charge of the front of the house. Leslee, a bio-chemist by training who got a PHD in microbiology from Harvard at age 23, was promised a bright future in that field. When she was a new bride in Cambridge, Mass, where she had met her husband himself a Harvard graduate, she became friendly with her butcher who gave her a copy of Julia Child’s famous book. She was a regular customer of this butcher, and that’s the way she met Julia Child, who lived one block away from her, in 1963, and even managed to wash dishes as a volunteer on her first TV shows that were produced in Boston. She started to cook for her new husband and their friends. Then she had an opportunity to travel to France, and more particularly to Provence where she fell in love with the food. In Paris she went to The Cordon Bleu School to learn the basics of French cooking. Back to Boston a chef there, himself an alumni of Cordon Bleu completed her education. She also came back from France with an extensive practical knowledge of ingredients, components, and tools used in French and Provençal cooking acquired during numerous visits to open markets, food shops, and restaurants. Therefore, I considered her as a French chef by training.
She moved to Evanston in 1967 with her husband where until 1970 she had two children, then worked as a researcher at Children memorial Hospital, and later taught biochemistry at Northwestern University. Eventually she decided to abandon her 2 careers in research and teaching and started a food catering business and a cooking school in Evanston that became rapidly popular. When her 2 sons got older she decided to take the risk of becoming a full time chef and restaurateur.
Café Provençal was an immediate success. She rapidly benefited from a local client base that was well educated and traveled, and loved the type of authentic simple but well prepared country French cuisine using good quality fresh ingredients, most of them grown in the Midwest, that was so similar to the one they may have tasted in a provincial inn in France.
The dining room, capable to host more than 70 customers, was large, sunny through high windows dressed with lovely curtains, but the nicely dressed tables with their French pink tablecloth and quality silver, often graced with fresh flowers, were well spaced. The high beamed ceiling, the wood paneled walls on one side and covered with pretty fabric on the other, the beautiful fireplace, the ‘’dressoirs’’ with French porcelain decorative plates and small objects, contributed to make the place very comfortable and cozy. The back of the room also had windows facing a courtyard patio where you could eat under a canopy in the summer and a mini garden where herbs used in the kitchen were grown.
The first years, Leslee Reis kept the menu relatively short and simple but so appetizing: Creamy leek and potato soup, Salmon or pike mousse, Artichokes stuffed with ham and mini vegetables, Pâtés and terrines Lamb chops with a garlic sauce, Roast duck in green peppercorn sauce, Terrine of whitefish and vegetables, grilled Red Snapper, a Poulet Provençal that I loved, And always the marvelous ‘’pommes Dauphine’’ that so few American restaurants managed to make properly. You could even order a nice cheese platter. And, besides a very tasty dark Chocolate Mousse Cake, and a good Tarte Tatin. The wine list offered some of the best Fruit Sorbets that you could find in Chicago. Prices were very reasonable and could have a 3 course dinner in 1979 for less than 20 dollars. The wine list, mostly French, also offered reasonably priced French wines, including some half-bottles and you could limit the expenses with a bottle of decent House French red wine costing less than 5 dollars.
Later, in the early to mid- 80’s the menu became much more creative, sophisticated, and expensive. It also lost a little bit of its original tasty country French simplicity when Leslee Reis became less actively involved in the actual cooking when she started other bistros in Evanston, Leslee’s in 1982 and Bodega Bay in 1987. Both were closed in 1988.
Leslee Reis died of a heart attack in 1990. Her husband Andy took over the management of the restaurant, but following with a lease disagreement in the owner of the Homestead, he closed it for good in 1993.
The two executive chefs who ran the kitchen of the Café until its closing were Philip Stocks and Kevin Schrimmer.
Leslee Reis was the co-founder of Les Dames d’Escoffier, an association of women involved in the restaurant and fancy food industry.
The same month this tiny (no more than 40 customers could be served in one seating) but very sophisticated and glamorous restaurant opened at 914 N. Ernst Court, a minuscule street parallel to Rush between Chestnut and Walton, in the space formerly occupied by Sasha’s. The target clientele of this place, designed by Janet Schirn, was the young affluent money-spending swinging and well-dressed yuppies that loved to go out at night, eat, drink, and socialize and essentially liked places to see and be seen.
This restaurant, with its visually impressive décor full of sexy lights and mirrors, leather sofas, hyper-design chairs, walls covered with exotic fabrics, acrylic paintings, and gigantic vertical wine rack, was a masterpiece of faux-semblants. A spectacular screen of micro-lights separated the dining room from the bar. A bronze mirror in the dining room gave the impression that it was more spacious that it actually was.
Patrice was the first name of the co-owner, Patrice Aldington, a nice-looking French guy who had been working in several fancy Chicago restaurants and was a former captain at chez Paul.
The young chef that he had recruited, Gérard Reuther, was also a French man from Lyon, with an already impressive resume from various cooking assignments in very good French restaurants, and also a stint in New York. His dishes were not classic haute French cuisine but rather contemporary French: Pheasant terrines, Sorrel soup, marinated scallops, and lemon tart.
Some dishes were successful some not and the quality of some ingredient was not always consistent from what I read.
But this chef decided at the beginning of 78 to quit. He was replaced by another Frenchman, George Maillot, who was also a Chez Paul alumnus, who built a more conventional menu with ham and mushroom quiche, sea bass with spinach, or veal in a brandy flavored cream sauce. Many desserts, like fruit tarts, were prepared by Patrice himself.
Most dishes were served in oversized plates, with small vegetables.
The restaurant was very popular for a while. Some rumors said that it was in part for the availability and wide use there of a white kind of powder that did not come from the corn starch pot in the kitchen. But for some reason that I ignore Patrice sold very abruptly his parts of the business to his partner Ed Gentry and left Chicago in 1979.
That year the restaurant got a new French chef named Victor Tambourin who had worked in the kitchen of Le Perroquet.
The restaurant was taken over by a Cuban in early 1980 who completely changed the formula. That was not a very bright idea since the new restaurant did not work too well without Patrice, and closed for good later that year. Nowadays Patrice Aldington, according to a friend who dined recently there, is a Maitre D' at Le Vallauris, in Palm Springs, CA.
Another success story from Christian Zeiger, the very astute entrepreneur-restaurateur who had opened Le Titi De Paris in Palatine in 72
After selling it to his chef Pierre Pollin he opened Alouette in the springof 78, at 440 GreenBay Road in Highwood, that little town just North of Highland Park that until now was better known for its Italian restaurants and food shops than as a bastion of French gastronomy.
Alouette, and later on Froggy’s, and Carlos on the other side of the train tracks in Highland Park, definitively put Highwood on the map of destination places for good eating in the far Northern suburbs of Chicago.
Alouette, which remained popular with North Shore regular diners until it closed in 1994, was another comfortable “French Country Inn” type of restaurant, but on the sophisticated side.
It was even pleasant to wait for your table sitting on plush sofas surrounded by antique furniture and big vases of fresh flowers. The whole décor had been designed by Christian Zeiger and his wife, Agnes.
The dining room with its beamed ceiling, elegant chairs and white clothed tables decorated with porcelain birds on little bells, very expensive looking china and sterling silver, oil paintings and tapestries on the walls, was much fancier than its usual less formal French Bistro counterparts.
The menu also was rather elegant. It followed the seasons and changed very often. It was rich in fresh fish in all kinds of styles, as well as shellfish, sometimes in form of delicate mousses, or accompanied by very tasty light sauces influenced by the Nouvelle Cuisine trends. Crawfish, lobster and scallops were particularly well prepared.
High quality veal, lamb, and duck dishes once again were frequently offered in specials and graced by brandy or peppercorn flavored sauces with a light cream or raspberry vinegar base.
The rack of lamb and loin of lamb “en croute” were very popular specials.
Great attention was brought to the precise cooking of the vegetables accompaniments such as asparagus, haricots verts, cabbage, artichokes, mushrooms, Belgian endive, or broccoli.
Thierry Lefeuvre, a very gifted young chef from Brittany, who had already built solid references in hotels and restaurants in Europe and in North-America, was the opening chef. Roland Liccioni, before crossing the tracks to become the executive chef at Carlos, worked for 6 months in that kitchen in 1979. But is probably Michel Coatrieux who was hired by Zeiger while he was on vacation in Chicago, who had worked in glorious 3 stars French restaurants such as Lucas-Carton and Taillevent, who contributed to the reputation of this restaurant for the longest time from 1978 to 1987. In the mid 80’s he got the assistance of Michel Laurent, who cooked for Zeiger in his Parisian restaurant, and Charlie Socher, who eventually created his own bistro, Café Matou, in Chicago.
In 1980 you would expect to pay $25 for a full meal without the wine.
Located at 2920 N. Clark St, this restaurant that had perhaps the ambition of becoming one of the fanciest Haute Cuisine French eateries Chicago used some furniture and fixtures from the old Pump Room. I did not find any precise info on its cuisine and chefs, but I know that it closed the same year after a few months of operation. It probably overpriced itself from what I read.
A few months after the loss of his LeRendez-Vous on Ontario, Roger Greenfield decided to open a new “New York style” restaurant at 50 East Oak Street, between Michigan and Rush, at the heart of the fashion and art dealers’ district. I think that this idea of creating a chic but relaxed bistro where the “beautiful people” of the neighborhood such as show business people, clothing shop owners and fashion designers, artists, lawyers, architects, politicians, would stop by to have a drink and something to eat and socialize with their friends and clients, and essentially have some fun..
So he asked the same inspired decorator, Spiros Zakas, who had designed Le Rendez-Vous, to create very contemporary environment on two floors with plenty of audacious geometric patterns and colors.
The two rooms would seat 200 people. The street level room was a bustling place with nice banquettes and small tables close to each other in circles and there was a piano bar. The busy and noisy crowd there would drink and graze for less than 20 dollars and do a lot of schmoozing and “See me” and “You look wonderful Darling” type of games.
The upper dining room was quieter, the tables nicely separated by glass partitions, and service a bit more formal even though the décor was again very stimulating with lots of mirrors and lights.
One again Greenfield had Yves Schmidt as chef, and besides some trendy appetizers like “caviar d’aubergines” (eggplant purée) or Mozzarella fritters with spicy tomato sauce, he also offered a few dishes that were successful at Le Rendez-Vous such as his famous White fish Grenobloise, Coquilles Saint Jacques, Magret de Canard, and Mousse au chocolat.
The food prices were much lower than at Le Rendez-Vous, but the wines were still quite expensive.
I would in fact say that this restaurant was more a blend of contemporary American and Continental cuisine rather than French..
But like many other future Greenfield ventures the place was poorly managed and in spite of an attempt to completely change the formula and rename it Le Rendez-Vous after 4 months, it was closed the same year and morphed into Le Relais under a Swiss-born Manager.
Bob Djahanguiri, an Iranian who came to Chicago in 1964 to study civil engineering. But in order to survive he had to work small jobs. As a bus boy, then waiter in some Chicago restaurants such as the Pump Room he got acquainted with well-established restaurateurs such as Dick Castro and Arnie Morton. They encouraged him allowed him to have access to more managerial positions in some of their restaurants. They also gave him the virus of restaurant management and entrepreneurship, so much so that Bob Djahanguiri in spite of getting a diploma in engineering decided that he preferred the restaurant business. That is how in December of 1978 he was about to open TOULOUSE, his first restaurant at 49 W. Division. In fact a big snow storm did not help the official launching of the place and it could well be that the restaurant started to actually operate only in the spring of 1979.
The name and the logo were an obvious reference to Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec the famous French Painter of the Belle Epoque.
It was both a very classic restaurant and a sort of cabaret where singers and musicians entertained the diners. And it became rapidly a popular destination place for dining cum entertainment.
The cuisine was “continental-French” but with a very French overtone. In fact one of the first chefs, Daniel Sucur, was French.
I have been there only 2 times but I liked the room and the relatively sophisticated but unpretentious ambience. The food, without being spectacular, was very decently prepared. Some popular dishes were a Ballotine of Duck in green peppercorn sauce, Grilled breast of Goose in a port wine sauce, Saucisson en Croute, Veal Stew, Rack of lamb with ratatouille. Prices of both food and wine were very reasonable the first few years but the check became quite expensive in the late 80’s. In 1979 you could have a 3 course dinner for 18 dollars without the wine. The restaurant closed in 1993 at its original location, and Djahanguiri, who had opened 2 other restaurants just North of Division, Yvette and Turbot, created a new luxurious TOULOUSE ON THE PARK in Lincoln park in 1994. It closed for good in 1999.
Note: JIMMY’S PLACE
When Jimmy Rohr, in July 1978, opened this long and narrow, simple but sophisticated, dining room in a non-descript part of North Elston Avenue (3420 N.), not particularly a mecca of fancy dining for Chicago diners, some food pundits and critics thought that it was a mad idea, similar to Gordon Sinclair’s decision to open Gordon in 1976 in one of the worst parts of N. Clark. Street,
They were all wrong. First, the very social Jimmy Rohr had already a crowd of fans who knew him from his many years as a waiter at L’Escargot on Halsted, and then at La Reserve where he was a Maître D’, and immediately became enthusiast customers of his new venture. And secondly he hired a very talented Japanese-American chef, Yoshi Katsumura, who had some training in France, and also perfected some very good French cooking techniques under Jean Banchet at Le Français. Yoshi, only 29 years old at the time of Jimmy’s opening, who later on became Rohr’s partner in the restaurant to the point that it was renamed Jimmy and Yoshi`s, was a great cook with any type of seafood, and his sashimi and sushi types of raw fish such as marinated salmon, scallops in a very delicate cream sauce with ‘’petits légumes’’, a typical Nouvelle Cuisine dish that was really becoming very trendy at the time. He also served very well prepared veal scaloppini; duck with turnips or a duck sausage en croute au Madère (in puff pastry with a Madeira light cream sauce), very nicely seasoned lamb stew, pheasant, and occasionally some rabbit that I loved. The pastry chef whose name I forgot also baked marvelous fruit tarts in the Alsatian tradition. And prices were very reasonable considering what you got on your plate, the musical ambiance (Rohr was an opera fanatic), and the very knowledgeable waiters. Rohr was a very lively and gracious host.
In 78, on Sundays, lots of people showed up for the famous 4 course brunch for the very accessible price of $8.50.
Jimmy Rohr, who suffered from allergies discouraged fragrances and cologne wearing customers to come to his restaurant. Smoking was not in favor either.
Jimmy Rohr always insisted that his restaurant was not a French restaurant. It was I fact one of the first French–Asian fusion restaurants ever to exist in Chicago.
The white walls were decorated with beautiful posters, and programs, related to opera, music, dance and theater. No wonder that you were almost certain to see a couple of ‘’people’’ from the show business there.
Problem was, the tables were very close to each other and you were sometimes forced to listen to conversation of some of these “people” who deliberately told dining companions how important their lives were.
And the constant opera music was at times distracting.
Unfortunately, Yoshi left at some point to create his own restaurant on Halsted, that became also very popular and the subsequent replacement chefs were not as gifted, Kevin Shikami in the late 80`s being the exception. In fact Shikami had been trained by Yoshi. Later on prices went up, at a time when the quality went down.
Jimmy’s closed in 1995 and Rohr died in 99.
A few weeks ago while I was sorting some old files, I found all my membership cards for Les Nomades starting with the first one dated 78-79. In fact when the restaurant opened in February at 222 East Ontario in a charming 3 story old brick house, the bistro’s client base was entirely made up of about 600 members, who had been selected, invited, or their application accepted by Jovan Trboyevic. I remember that when we had a conversation at the corner of Michigan and Ontario, and that he gave me my card; I did not have a dollar bill in my wallet to pay the membership fee, so I gave him 4 quarters which he accepted. We had a good laugh about it. This place was the product of his long-time dream to have his own bistro, making his own menus based on old French classics that he loved and could modify as he wished, and welcoming guests and some old friends, that he had enjoyed talking with for years since or before he had opened Jovan on Huron in 67 and Le Perroquet on Walton in late 1972. Jovan, who himself had been a “nomad” for half of his life, from his native Yugoslavia, to Switzerland, England, France, and many other places, felt comfortable with well-traveled people who like himself had interesting stories to tell, and enjoyed and appreciated the good life, including good food and good wine. Many “people” in Chicago felt offended or were very critical by this selective approach to “clubby” dining, especially those who were not allowed to become member of this quiet little piece of gastronomical paradise. But for me who had admired and loved the man for years, it was always a renewed pure moment of pleasure on each of my birthdays to sit at the same little table, just one step up from the marvelously decorated, like all the restaurant by his artist-wife Maggie Abbott, entrance where an authentic French “zinc covered bar” was the piece de resistance. But this bar, that he loved dearly, was too cumbersome and he was forced to sell it a few months after he opened the restaurant sold it to the more spacious “Bistrot Zinc” on Southport. The space settings were relatively simple, with its bare wood floor, simple bistro chairs and tables covered with a plain white cloth, and not too fancy silver or china, but Maggie’s decoration and the lighting, as it was the case with Le Perroquet’s and Jovan’s, was of a subdued but very seductive elegance, making the place at the same time very comfortable and intimate but as close as can be to what a fancy Parisian bistro in the 7th arrondissement would feel like. In the winter the wood burning “cheminée’’ (fireplace) added to this good feeling.
I loved the authentic bistro food and have great gustatory memories of dishes such as the light but very flavorful cassoulet, the duck terrine, the rabbit in a ‘’Bonne Femme’’ or mustard sauce, the coq au vin, the pot au feu, and very delicious fine apple tarts. And at the end of our dinner, Jovan would bring me a good Calvados, sit down with us and we would talk about France.
I have never inquired about the name of the chef there.
It will always remain one of my top 3 or 4 favorite French restaurants in Chicago.
Jovan Trboyevic sold Les Nomades to Mary Beth and Roland Liccioni in 1993. It is still doing well in 2012.
When Frenchman (from Normandy) Jacques Barbier opened this charming French Country Inn style restaurant (yes… that was perhaps the 5th one in this category that year) in the Laundry Mall at 566 Chestnut St. in Winnetka that elegant Northern suburb was still dry. So it was a BYOB place, something unusual for a French restaurant. But La Bohème became rapidly popular with the locals who loved the good traditional French cuisine and the BYOB formula.
The pretty large dining room was simply decorated capitalizing on the bricks and wood settings that were there
Menu was short and pretty standard. Escargots in garlic butter. Terrine du Chef, Beef Tenderloin au poivre in a cognac cream sauce. Veal Normande with salsifis. Whitefish in a lemon and caper sauce.
All dishes were garnished with fresh vegetables.
For dessert the Strawberries Romanoff were very popular.
Nothing there to suggest creative Nouvelle Cuisine. Just solid well prepared French fare.
The menu and the creativity of the cuisine vastly expanded when the restaurant kitchen was taken over by the very good chef Didier Durand in the late eighties...
The Seventies will perhaps be remembered in 50 years as the "Golden Age" of French restaurants in Chicago. It marked the turning point in switching from traditional to creative for many, often younger, chefs practicing French cuisine in our city. The time for Beef Wellington, Breast of Chicken in cream and tarragon sauce, Duck in a cherry and Grand Marnier sauce, and Crepe Suzette, was at last behind us. But also and most importantly, we entered in an era where fresh, regionally produced ingredients were more often used by this new generation of young chefs. It was also the decade where more Chicago-based business people traveled back and forth to France and started to become more demanding about the creativity and authenticity of what they wanted to find in French local menus when they were back in town. The fact that it is during these 10 years that many French companies decided to open subsidiaries, shops, and even sometimes their U.S headquarters in Chicago contributed to this welcome return to favor of good quality French cuisine in this old "meat and potato" kind of town. And I loved that trend that continued until the late nineties.
All comments and suggestions, even of corrections that I should make to repair involuntary errors, omissions, or neglects, are welcome.