Jean Banchet at Le Français and Jovan Trboyevic with Le Perroquet place Chicago on the gastronomical map of the U.S.
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 menu was sort of "classic" French, half-way between "haute" and "bourgeoise".
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.
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.
Jean Banchet who had retired with his wife in Jupiter, Florida, passed away on November 24, 2013 from pancreatic cancer.
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.
I do not remember when the restaurant closed. Probably around 1978. Eventually the space was taken over by Stefani’s.
I never went back there for a second try. But the restaurant stayed in operation at least 5 or 6 more years.
Nowadays Patrice Aldington, according to a friend who dined recently there, is a Maitre D' at Le Vallauris, in Palm Springs, CA.
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.
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.