March 09, 2021

A great red Bordeaux from a famous estate for $10.00?

Will it become a new trend in Bordeaux?  A famous chateau in Pomerol creates a delicious wine without a fancy name, or appellation, for a very affordable price.

Recently, at a time of budgetary constraints, increased prices partially due to Trump’s new tarifs on French wines and cheeses, I have been drinking more Côtes du Rhône and Languedoc wines than Bordeaux. I could find very decent ones for less than 8 dollars a bottle, especially at Trader Joe’s. But I was longing to be able to renew my 50 years old  love affair with Bordeaux wines. So I started to systematically read newspapers ads, and articles in specialized wine magazines, searching for potential bargains  and specials for affordable drinkable “every day” Bordeaux. My father was a BDX drinker, my brothers and sister too. I have been myself an addict to the wines of that whole region since 1959.

Since we moved to Chicago from Paris, I explored most independent wine shops that offered a reasonably well chosen selection of Bordeaux, since generally chains of grocery stores did not offer such selections. The best wine merchants when I arrived in Chicago in 1970 were  House of Glunz, whose ancestors established themselves as a beer and wine retailer in 1888,  Schaefer’s in Skokie, founded in 1936, and Zimmerman’s. Glunz had, and still has, a very good selection of good Bordeaux and Bourgognes. Over the years I also established personal contacts with several importers and distributors of French wines who brought small but very interesting Bordeaux that would be retailed in the Chicago area for less than 12 or 13 dollars.

But it was only when a family-owned chain of liquor stores, called Gold Standard Liquors (created in 1948 by Harold Binstein who I met a few times), expanded to 12 stores in 1995, that I started to find a wider choice of decent Bordeaux at reasonable prices. The chain nowadays, called Binny’s Beverage Depot, is comprised of 44 stores all over the state of Illinois, including 7 in the city of Chicago and 32 in the suburbs. It is the largest retailer in the Midwest of the United States. The bigger ones sell more Bordeaux  that you would fine in any French supermarket or “caviste”.

My search is always based on 5 parameters: Zone of Production, Terroir and Vintage year, Price-Quality ratio, good Reviews in France and the U.S, wine Bottled by the winery not a distributor or bottler. 

The name of the wine does not necessarily implies that it was produced by a well-known winery. In fact, I am always excited when I find a Bordeaux from “secondary zones of production”, for example “Côtes de Bordeaux”, made by serious or up and coming small wineries. It is a plus if it offers a great value for under $12.00

For special occasions, such as birthdays, Christmas, Easter, or New Year’s eve, I usually look for a special treat, meaning a Bordeaux costing between 15.00 and 35.00 dollars.

In this range I recently found some great ones at Binny’s, for very decent prices such as a “Moulin d’Issan”  2018, a Bordeaux Supérieur from the famous domaine of Chateau d’Issan in Margaux for $15.99. It has become my regular “medium priced” treat. In fact this wine is one of the best pleasant Bordeaux I tasted over the last 2 years. Very  smooth provides a good balance of fruit and acidity. The nice freshness of the dominant Merlot grape  and the aromatic nose of blackberry is a plus. But I loved the good equilibrium of cassis and subtile oak. This is a very sensual wine.

My biggest discovery of 2020 was a red wine  called RONAN by CLINET  2016. Yes, this wine is made by the same team of oenologists and wine makers that produces the famous Château CLINET, one of my favorites POMEROL. It has been produced in the same vineyard for 450 years. 

Ronan Laborde is in fact the owner of this family-owned domaine. And this wine is  the result of one of his oldest and dearest dreams: to create a new type of Bordeaux with the same techniques that those used in producing the great Château Clinet wine.  They apply to all stages, from harvesting, fermentation in stainless steel,  maceration, aging 12 months in French oak, to bottling at the winery. All this operations are  tightly managed, with great care, by the same professional wine makers.

 The first edition of RONAN  was launched in 2009, and the quality did not stop to improve in the following vintage years.

BUT: the biggest difference is the price. I paid $10.99 for a bottle of excellent 2016, a great year. 

The grapes come from neighboring other zones on the right bank such as Côtes de Castillon, Bourgeais, and Lussac Saint-Emilion. They are practically 100 % Merlot, except for about 5% of Cabernet Franc,

The result is an incredibly elegant but rich mix of olfactive and tasty sensations in the mouth that blend harmoniously. Fresh but  structurally complex, with smooth tannins, the aroma is redolent of little red fruits, but assures a long finish.

I will tell you: For that  kind of money, this wine offers an incredibly satisfying moment of pure pleasure. I hope other Bordeaux châteaux will imitate that example of a perfect association of quality and value.

November 03, 2020

Les Bouchons Lyonnais Relaunch Les Mâchons

In Lyon, the French capital of gastronomy, some restaurateurs owners of “bouchons” had a great idea: relaunching  the “mâchon”, a lost morning tradition.

As it is the case in the U.S, the French restaurant industry has been negatively affected by the recent new wave of Covid, and the government restrictions: first curfews from 9:00 PM to 6:00 AM, and then other new regulations imposed in October. And at the end of October  president Macron announced that bars and restaurants will have  to  close .
French people are used to having dinner in restaurants later in the evening than in the U.S. Especially in the big cities. So the interdiction of serving after 9:00 PM had been poorly accepted by the population. And it had catastrophic consequences for restaurant owners, including many definitive closings.

In Lyon, during the curfew, the restaurateurs participating in this "mâchon" experience hoped that it would help them to compensate for the loss of dinner customers.

That was a very interesting idea, which unfortunately could not be continued in November because of the total closing of restaurants.

The mâchon dates back to the 18th and 19th century when Lyon was the capital of the French silk weaving industry. Silk weavers, the workers called “Les Canuts” lived and worked in the picturesque hilly district of La Croix-Rousse, where most weaving workshops were  located. They were hungry and needed a relaxing diversion when they ended their long night shifts around sunrise or early morning. So they would walked down from the hill to downtown, a district which is nowadays called the 1st and 2nd arrondissements, to eat soup and local “charcuterie”and drink wine in one of the numerous popular taverns. This early morning meal was called a “Mâchon” a word derived from the French verb “mâcher” which means “ to chew”.

But the living conditions of the Canuts were not ideal. They worked long hours for rich authoritative bosses who exploited them and paid them very low salaries. When a big economic recession occurred their wages were even reduced or cut. In 1831 they revolted again this accumulation of injustice and started a violent insurrection, very badly repressed by the police and the army, resulting in a large number of deaths.

2 other revolts by the canuts took place in 1844 and 1848.

Later on, in the early part of the 19th century,  women who have been cooking for rich and middle-class families, started to open restaurants in Lyon. Their talents were rapidly recognized locally, and later on nationally, and they were the true originators of the cuisine that put Lyon on top of the French gastronomy. They were called “les mères lyonnaises” and their simple but very delicious recipes are still very alive today. 

Some of the better-known original mères were Mère Filloux (Françoise Fayolle), who created the “poularde demi-deuil. Mère Léa (Léa Bidaut) opened her famous restaurant La Voûte (also called Chez Léa) in 1943. I went there once in 1980 and it was a memorable dinner. It was still one of the most popular bouchon in 2019.

La Mère Bourgeois, whose most famous regular customer was Edouard Herriot, the legendary mayor of Lyon from 1905 to 1957, and French Prime Minister in the late 20s and early 30s. Her restaurant earned 3 Michelin stars in 1932, 

But the most celebrated of them was La Mère Brazier ( Eugénie Brazier), who contributed to develop the notoriety of the cuisine Lyonnaise and was the first woman chef to receive 6 Michelin stars 3 for each of her 2 restaurants.  The year was 1933  and she kept them for 30 years. One of the famous cooks that she trained was Paul Bocuse. He became an international star. 

Curnonsky, ( Maurice Sailland) the most famous food writer of the 20th century, who was nicknamed “The Prince of Gastronomes” greatly contributed to the international success of the  Guide Michelin, (he signed his articles using the pseudo of Bibendum). He called Lyon The Gastronomic Capital of the World in 1935.

The Mères, in fact, started the concept of “bouchons”, popular and rustic restaurants, that served simple but very savory traditional Lyonnaise cuisine using good  regional products, and serving regional wines such as Beaujolais and Macon, generously poured from special bottles  called “pots” (46 cl).  

The name "bouchon" has no connection with the French word for "cork". It has its origin in "bousche"an old lyonnais dialect word to describe a bunch of small branches that the owners of taverns used to hang above their door to indicate that they served food and wine.

In the early 2019, Lyon was the city of France which had the biggest number of restaurants: 1500.

But only 50 to 60 call themselves Bouchons.

Of these only 24 or 25 can be called authentic bouchons lyonnais.

They are accredited and given an official label of certification by the trade  association Les Bouchons Lyonnais, founded in 2012. 

I have to say however that for several years, when I traveled to Lyon for business, my local contacts always took me for lunch in one of the oldest and most popular bouchons in the 1st arrondissement, Le Café des Fédérations, Rue du Major Martin.

It is not in the list of the “certified” members of the associations , but nevertheless is a very authentic bouchon. The typical decor includes wooden table covered with a red checkers cloth, banquettes of red moleskine, copper bars, vaulted ceiling, walls covered with pictures and memorabilia of the Old Lyon and paintings from local artists. But what is immediately noticeable when you enter are the big pork sausages (“Rosette” and “Jesus”) hanging down from the ceiling.

There is a limited menu but it includes all the typical Lyonnaise specialties, that you can find on the blackboard.

Here are some of them that you will find in many other bouchons:

As appetizers:

Caviar de la Croix-Rousse, a tasty salad of Lentils from Le Puy, dressed in cream and often garnished with lardons (fried pieces of bacon) or cereals, a local dry sausage.  

Charcuterie Lyonnaise, various types of cold dry sausages, and terrines.

Salade Lyonnaise, frisée lettuce, with lardons and garlicky croutons, in a vinaigrette with a poached egg on top.

Grattons ,  Cracklings, Small bits of deep-fried pork skin and fat rind. until they are very crispy.

Tripe soup 

As main dishes:

Grilled Andouillette (chitterlings) a very pungent pork sausage from Bobosse (a famous local charcutier)

Quenelles de Brochet, dumplings of ground pike, in a cream and egg sauce, sometimes served with crayfish.

Saucisson Pistaché au vin rouge, Warm pork sausage encrusted with pistachios, and cooked in red wine.

Poulet au vinaigre, chicken baked in a vinegar sauce

Poulet aux morilles à la crème, Chicken legs from the nearby Bresse area, with morels mushrooms in a cream sauce

Tablier de Sapeur, (a sapeur was a military fireman with a heavy leather apron); triangular part of the cow stomach looking like a honeycomb, that is marinated in white wine, boiled, then coated with breadcrumbs and panfried. Served with a very tasty sauce Gribiche, sort of a light mayo with herbs, gherkins, and Worcester sauce.

Gras-double, pork tripe baked in wine with onions

Gâteau de foies de volaille,  Rich chopped fresh chicken liver cake or tart. Mixed with eggs and shallots in a sort of brioche dough, and served with a tomato and olive sauce.

Sabodet,  Sausage, or headcheese, made from various ground parts of a pork’s head cooked in red wine seasoned with garlic and nutmeg

Gratin de cardon, Cardoon stems baked in cream and cheese with a brown cheese crust. Can also be made with Leeks

Gratin Dauphinois, Gratin of sliced potatoes baked in cream, butter, in a ceramic brushed with fresh garlic.

As desserts:

Cervelle de Canut, a dish of “fromage blanc” (farmer’s cheese) seasoned with fresh herbs, shallots, walnut or olive oil, and wine vinegar. 

Bugnes, small fritters covered with powdered  sugar

Tarte aux pralines, tart made with pink colored caramelized almonds. 

These are only a few examples of dishes that you can eat in a bouchon.

Now, obviously, the few restaurateurs, about 15 of them as of the end of October, who decided to resurrect the old tradition of the “mâchons” in Lyon, and to open their bouchons at 8:00 or 9:00 in the morning until 11:30, essentially from Friday to Sunday for the time being, will not offer a whole  menu. They are targeting customers desirous to have a serious “breakfast” or early lunch. They mainly want to attract adult customers eager to share some comforting and joyous moments with other people and friends, drink some “pots” of some good Beaujolais, and eat a few traditional comforting dishes. I am talking about andouillettes, saucisson chaud aux pistaches, and various “cochonailles” (pork pâtés and sausages), as well as régional cheeses  such as “Saint Marcellin”. To end that ”lyonnaise brunch” a traditional  dessert would  be a “cervelle de Canut”, or a Tarte aux pommes.

There is also an association, which would define itself as a "brotherhood" and has been fighting for several years in the defense and the promotion of the Mâchon tradition. It is called the  "Confrérie des Francs-Mâchons". It is a sort of a play on word from the Francs-Maçons (Free-Masons).

The Association of Les Bouchons Lyonnais is responsible for launching this operation under the slogan “ Cultivons nos traditions” (Let’s save and revive our traditions). I hope that it will be such a success that that more bouchons will follow that example when the curfew is lifted and when  restaurants are reopened or good.

Lyonnaise Cuisine,  Bouchons Lyonnais, Les Mères de Lyon, Les Mâchons, Crisis in French  Restaurant Industry

January 27, 2019

French Restaurants in Chicago, a 75 year retrospective, 1924-1999.


PART 1:   1924-1959, A few glorious years and then a big gastronomic desert

Flashback:  Me and Jacques French Restaurant in 1968

When I came to Chicago for the first time in August of 1968 to visit my wife’s relatives, everything was hot, hot, hot here: The weather, with temperatures shooting up to the mid 90s’, and the political atmosphere that was dominated by the very tense Democratic Convention and the riots in the streets.
From what I could observe during the 3 weeks I spent in Racine, Wisconsin, and Evanston, IL, the local food landscape did not appear very hot and exciting to me. Lots of meat, roasted, grilled, or barbecued, usually much more tender and juicier than what I was used to in Paris though, hot dogs and bratwursts, fried chicken, good corn on the cob, potatoes in all kind of shapes and cooking styles, iceberg lettuce, and cherry pie.
This gastronomic environment seemed a bit limited to me. The few restaurants where I was invited were essentially steak houses, hamburger joints, and pizza parlors.
Of course, not speaking English at that time, having no car at my disposal, and staying at my sister in law’s house in Evanston during the week I spent here, I did not have any opportunity to visit Chicago’s neighborhoods and even fewer chances to explore the local restaurant scene.

But I was told that Chicago was basically a “meat and potato” kind of town. And the idea of drinking iced tea, coffee, or a Pabst Blue Ribon beer with my meal was not a comforting element.
I sort of puzzled my in-laws when I explained after a few days that we were used to drinking wine with our meal. So, my mother-in-law took me to the local pharmacy in Racine to explain my problem to her buddy the pharmacist who had 6 remedies to suggest: Paul Masson’s Burgundy or Gamay Beaujolais, Christian Brothers Chablis or Chardonnay, a Cabernet Sauvignon from a vintner’s whose name I forgot, and the terrible Portuguese Lancers rosé.
I first tried to adjust to the fruitiness of the so-called Burgundy. Eventually I found out that the Cabernet Sauvignon was a bit dryer and I switched to it. 
When I arrived to Evanston I found a “tap” that also sold some mediocre Italian Chianti, and it proved to be a better choice. At the time I ignored the existence of Schaefer’s in Skokie, a liquor store that was in fact very close to where I was staying, which actually was a very good wine shop. Unfortunately, I only discovered it 3 years later.

Anyway, back to 1968. One day, after the convention was over and the streets were returning to a more peaceful status, I took the El to go to downtown Chicago and met my sister-in-law’s husband at his office on Michigan Avenue.  When at lunch time he told me that he was taking me to a French restaurant. I felt very excited at this idea.
We went to Jacques French Restaurant, a popular eatery that was at the time located at street level in the marvelous old-fashioned building at 900 N. Michigan Avenue. That building was demolished in the 80s.
We were seated in a very charming room that was separated from the inner garden by high French windows. I was impressed by the environment and the apparent elegance of the décor and of the customers.
Things started to go bad when the headwaiter who was speaking with a phony French accent came to take our order. My brother in law insisted on telling him that I was a Frenchman from Paris and that I was an expert on food.
Oui, Oui, Très bien… that was all that the poor man could mutter.
I had a hyper-refrigerated avocado with shrimps topped by a pink sweet sort of vinaigrette dressing, a ham omelet that was overcooked and almost compact, with soggy fries, and a very sweet, gooey lime sherbet  for dessert.
 The worst part was when the waiter asked what kind of dressing I wanted on my salad, made of course of shredded iceberg lettuce with some filaments of carrots and slivers of tired red radish. He suggested the “French” dressing of course. I could not swallow that sweet and creamy stuff that was anything but French.
I had a glass of a very jammy California Cabernet-Sauvignon. It was so bad that I switched to a Michelob beer.
I asked for an espresso, but the waiter told us that the machine was not working. I suspected that there was, in fact, no real expresso machine.
That was my first “French” restaurant experience in Chicago. 
I became suddenly very aware that I needed rapidly a fix of real French cuisine and started to count mentally the days that separated me from my return to Paris: Only 3. 

What I did not know at that time, and that I discovered while doing a lot of research for this piece on French restaurants in Chicago, was that, in fact, there were some French restaurants in Chicago in August 1968, but very few were authentically French.
For the time being, let’s just mention a few of these authentic French places that obviously none of my local contacts had ever visited at the time I was there:  La Chaumière, Les Champs-Elysées, La Brasserie de Strasbourg, and of course Maxim’s de Paris and Jovan.
I will not mention all the so-called French restaurants of the Ray Castro and Edison Dick mini empire, of which Jacques was one of the flag bearers, that existed in 1968. We will say a few words about them later on.

The interesting itinerary of Jacques Fumagally: From the Ritz in Paris to Chicago.

To get back to the origins of that not very authentic French restaurant, Jacques French Restaurant which was actually started by a French man named Jacques Fumagally. I suspect that when he arrived in the U.S., his name probably ended with an I, rather than a Y.
To be more exact, Jacques Fumagally was born in 1879 in Monte-Carlo, in the Principalty of Monaco on the French Riviera close to the Italian border. His father was a restaurateur in Monte Carlo. 
Early in his career Jacques Fumagally did stints in prestigious establishments like the Ritz, Place Vendôme in Paris, and the Sevilla Biltmore in Havana, Cuba.

John Drury, in Dining In Chicago, (published by John Day Books in NYC in 1931) tells us that in the late 20’s Fumagally was the very stylish Maitre d’Hôtel at the 180 EAST DELAWARE, a very classy restaurant just half a block East from Michigan Avenue, across from what is today the John Hancock Center.
The chef at that time was also French, one Julliard Medou according to John Drury. A complete “table d’hôte dinner” (a term not often used in France nowadays) would cost around $1.50.

Fumagally morphed that restaurant into Jacques French Restaurant in 1928 and it would remain at that location on Delaware until 1935 when he decided to lease the space occupied by the ‘’900 restaurant’’ at 900 N. Michigan.  He invested lots of money in that new place, including creating the soon to be famous summer terrace in the inner open yard of the building, 3 dining rooms, a cocktail lounge with a very modernistic bar. Everything was air-conditioned. 
The new Jacques French Restaurant opened on June 1, 1935.
Problem is, I could not find any information on what kind of French cuisine they served in the thirties at Jacques French Restaurant. I do not even know who was the chef then. But I’m pretty sure that it was at the time a real French restaurant. In fact, in 1939 they served bouillabaisse at the restaurant.
What is interesting is that the restaurant on Delaware was taken over first by an Italian American restaurateur named Gino Ritenutti. Then in 1945 (or perhaps even 44), that same place was acquired by Paul Contos who transformed it into Chez Paul.
Jacques French Restaurant was later acquired by Ray Castro, a Cuban immigrant that had arrived in Chicago in 1930 and worked as a bus boy, then waiter, and eventually captain at the celebrated Pump Room in the Ambassador East Hotel, with his partner Edison Dick, the heir to the copying machines company, in 1953. It is probably at that time that the restaurant lost its original French identity and became more ‘’continental’’ in style and cuisine. 
Jacques Fumagally retired in Florida in 1953. When he died there in 1969 he was 90 and very few people in Chicago remembered the important role he had played on the scene of French restaurants in the city.

French  restaurants in Chicago from 1871 to the  1920s  and 1930s

Very few French restaurants in Chicago before the end of WW I

I had wrongly assumed for a long time that the first real French restaurants in Chicago had started to exist after WW II.
I had done some brief research trying to find out if, at the time of the World Columbian Exposition of 1893, some French restaurants might have opened in the city since France was part of the “food scene “at the expo. But I could not find any.

In fact, even though there was a big French Pavilion at the fair, and several French-inspired exhibits, pieces of architecture, and even streets modeled after the exotic venues at the Paris Fair a few years earlier, I could not find any mention of a single French restaurant there.
The French chocolate company Menier had a big booth, there was a cider press in the French pavilion, and a French chef in…. the German pavilion, but that was about it.
In fact, I could hardly find any substantial evidence of a strong French presence on the Chicago restaurant scene before and after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
I found a mention of a French restaurant called Doussang, that seems to have been very successful around 1807. Located at 35 W. Adams St. it occupied 5 floors and offered many private rooms.
Much later, in 1882, there was another French restaurant at 77 N. Clark St. simply named The French Restaurant.

And of course the famous DeJonghe restaurant, located on Monroe Street, that is in fact better known for its introduction of French snails than for its eponymous shrimps.
The owner of the restaurant Barbara DeJonghe, a Belgian woman who arrived from Europe in 1891 and started the restaurant just before the World Columbian Exposition had a hard time at first selling her snails, imported live from Burgundy in 1894.
But according to an article published in the Chicago Daily Tribune in November 1901, the World Columbian Exposition, and the exposure to all kind of different food products  from different countries that it generated,  modified the eating  habits of many Chicago diners who developed a strong taste for snails.
 DeJonghe restaurant started to sell a lot of French ‘’escargots’’ in exponential numbers: from 1,000  snails in 1896, to 24,000 in 1898, 500,000  in 1900, and in 1901 they were expecting to import, serve, and resell to other restaurants in N.Y and San Francisco,  5 million of them.
According to this Tribune article, at that time it took 10 hours to process, cook, and put the escargots back in their shells for serving.
A similar new craving for clams and oysters occurred in the late 1800’s.

Similarly, a Loop restaurateur told the Tribune that when he tried in 1891 to offer a free pint of French Claret wine with its $ 1.00 dinner, customers did not express any interest for it.
10 years later, the Tribune wrote, 9 out of 10 guests dining in fancy restaurants in the Loop were ordering wine with their meal.

But there must have been some French chefs working in Chicago in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. I read that a French chef named Jean Bonnet was doing cooking demonstrations to wealthy housewives at Mrs. Cotton’s Cooking School established in the Athenaeum Building in 1894. He would prepare and help them cook traditional French recipes such as Coq au Vin or Veal Stew.

The experience of Le Restaurant du Pavillon de France at the New York World Fair of 1939 that stimulated the creation of French restaurants in New York in the early 40’s and 50’s.

My reason for thinking that the World Columbian Exposition and its French influence might have had a stimulating effect on the creation of French restaurants in Chicago was that such a phenomenon happened in New York at the end of the World Fair in 1939.
At this huge event, the French Restaurant Owners Association had put together an incredibly popular beautiful 350 seats restaurant called “Le Restaurant Du Pavillon de France”. Its “brigade” of 24 chefs and cooks introduced a very large variety of dishes representing all aspects of traditional French cuisine to their American guests who never in their lives had ever had an opportunity to taste so beautifully executed and served food in a spectacular décor.
At the end of 1939, the war was already raging in Europe. Henri Soulé, the Maitre D’ and some of his staff members returned to France, but then decided to return to New York to work at the Restaurant du Pavillon for the new season 39-40. With the aggravation of the situation worldwide and France being now occupied, the World Fair collapsed and so did its famous French restaurant. Soulé, who was already in his early 40s decided to stay in the U.S.  as did some other staffers. In 1941, he opened his own restaurant Le Pavillon in Manhattan with the help of a great French chef, Pierre Franey, who a few years later would become a star in his own right. It was an instant success, and it rapidly became, in spite of the restrictions caused by the war, the most popular French restaurant in the U.S until the mid 60’s when Soulé’s health declined and he could no longer impose his very strict ‘’quality control’’ principles on the restaurant’s operations.
It not only imposed high quality French cuisine and service but he also inspired a whole generation of young chefs and restaurateurs all over the country, many opening competing French restaurants in N.Y.C in the 1950’s and 60’s, such as La Grenouille, Le Périgord, or La Caravelle.

Chicago must have been a very interesting gastronomic city in the 1920s, as far as offering many places where you could eat French food.

When I read ‘’Dining In Chicago’’ the marvelous book written by John Drury, a journalist who after starting his career in N.Y.C joined the Chicago Daily News in 1927, I found out that there were several very interesting French restaurants in this town between 1925 and the end of the Prohibition in 1933.
Speaking of Prohibition, John Drury who besides being a writer, poet, painter, was also a pipe-smoking bon vivant, who once took a trip to Canada with friends just to have a few drinks, describes early in the book the various French wines you should pair with French food. He amusingly recalls that in spite of the application of the 18th amendment, you could find wine in some of the city’s best establishments. But for obvious reasons he refused to tell the readers which ones had the best wine lists.

 It is interesting to note that, according to John Mariani’s America Eats Out, ‘’ De luxe dining rooms fared poorly in Chicago under Prohibition.
The owner of the defunct Richelieu restaurant once cried: I lost a million dollars trying to make Chicago eat with a fork’’.
It is true that you had to wait until 1938, when famous Chicago restaurateur Ernest Byfield opened the Pump Room in the Ambassador East Hotel, to find a restaurant in Chicago that could become a “go to” place and main pole of attraction for celebrities nationwide. This restaurant, that still exists nowadays, even attained a relative world-wide fame.

In fact,  the evolution of the restaurant industry in the United States during the 1918-1938 period was dominated by the progressive but massive creation of cafeterias, drive-ins, soda fountains, ice-cream parlors, hamburger stands, diners, and lunch rooms. Names like Thompson, Howard Johnson, or White Castle, became much more familiar during the Prohibition and Depression years, than “21 Club”.
Americans needed to feed themselves and their families as cheaply and conveniently as possible.
The idea of dining out was more focused on hamburger and soda than on fancy French food, especially in small towns and rural areas. Obviously in large cities such as New York, L.A and Chicago, fancy supper-clubs, especially with dancing and entertainment, as well as speakeasies, never complained about a lack of clients.

Besides there were also some strong reactions in the restaurant and hospitality industry in the U.S. towards anything too French.  The International Association of Hotel Stewards  in 1922 was eager  to endorsethe elimination of French terms on menus”, according to the blog  “taste of a decade”.

 So, it was quite a surprise to me, when I read Drury’s book, to discover the existence of the following French restaurants in Chicago which obviously opened sometimes between 1918 and 1928. Some of them seem to have continued their operations way into the thirties, and one of them, L’Aiglon, into the fifties.

The  locations of these French restaurants were not necessarily concentrated in the Loop, especially around the Randolph Street Theater district called “The Rialto”. You could find French restaurants around Rush Street, around N. Michigan Avenue, and in the Northwest suburbs.

All the following notes are directly inspired by facts found in Drury’s book.

JULIEN’S  1009 Rush Street.

Nowadays it could almost be called a family-owned bistro and would certainly have been my favorite. Started after WW I by Mr. Alex Julien, a former chef at various major hotels in town, this restaurant was the oldest French establishment in Chicago around 1931. Before he died the owner-chef transferred to his wife his recipes for the famous frog legs that he introduced for the first time in Chicago. He also had created a garlicky salad dressing that the giant food company Armour tried to buy from him for 15,000 dollars. But Julien refused to sell his ‘’secret formula’’.
The small dining room, very simply decorated and furnished with long communal tables covered with toile cirée (oilcloth) , could not seat more than 99 people who were waited on by the 2 Julien daughters.
This very successful restaurant (you needed to reserve) attracted local politicians, judges, millionaires, and French Consuls. Full Table d’Hôte dinners were priced
$ 1.50 and $ 2.00 in 1931. Lunches were even cheaper: 65 cents.

CHEZ LOUIS  120 East Pearson

The owner, Louis Stefifen, a French-speaking gentleman from Switzerland opened that fancy place in an old townhouse off Michigan Avenue in 1930. A very astute and experienced operator he knew through his European personal flair, how to please his guests and rapidly managed to attract a well-to do client base from the Gold Coast. The room was very elegantly and tastefully appointed and the Bordeaux-born French chef who had trained in good kitchens in Paris, provided a blend of French and good quality Continental cuisine that was not overpriced or pretentious.
Table d’Hôte dinners were $ 2.50.

180 EAST DELAWARE RESTAURANT  180 East Delaware Place

For Drury, it was the “most charming and interesting French restaurant in Chicago”.
For the time its décor was quite fancy: beamed ceiling, tiled floors, draperies, fireplace, candles on tables, and of course, as mentioned earlier, the sophistication and charm of the host, maitre d’hôtel Jacques Fumagally.  Its experience at the Ritz in Paris, was a big asset. The traditional French specialties by chef Julliard Medou, could be enjoyed for 75 cents during the Table d’Hôte luncheon and $ 1.00 and $ 1.50 at dinner.

BON VIVANT  4167 Lake Park Avenue in Hyde Park

Opened in the early 1920s, this modest red brick house had become a bastion of French seafood cuisine that attracted the more wealthy locals who lived in mansions, luxury apartment buildings and hotels in the University of Chicago, Hyde Park and Woodland area.
Two specialties were very popular: The fresh “homards” (lobsters) that came twice a week from Boston and Maine and the huitres (oysters), and soft-shell crabs.
Also very popular was a salad that was served with a special French dressing that people raved about. The chef-owner, Henri Delaloye, was also a very considerate maitre D’ who provided personalized attention to his regulars.
He had “invented a special butter that permeated the oysters during the cooking process which made them the “talk of the town” according to Drury who said that the place felt like a little café in Paris.
Table d’Hôte dinner was $ 1.50 and a lobster dinner only 25 cents more.

L’AIGLON  22 East Ontario

Filet Mignon Béarnaise, Moules Marinières, Escargots à la Bourguignonne, Poulet Meunière, Cuisses de Grenouilles (frog Legs), Côtes d’Agneau Maison d’Or (lamb chops), Pâté de Foie Gras, Sole Marguery (in a sauce created at the famous Petit Marguery restaurant in Paris), those were only a few of the traditional dishes that you could find described in French on the menu.
By the way they had their fresh Dover sole shipped from France on ice.
The French waiters would politely explain these specialties and even put together a sample French menu for you.
The atmosphere was very Parisian. And its wine list was probably one of the most extensive you could find east of New York City and included some rare Bordeaux.
Since the owner and General Manager Teddy Majerus, a native from Luxembourg, had been working at La Louisiane restaurant in New Orleans, there were also Creole dishes on the menu.
But Majerus also had an extensive professional experience in French cuisine having worked as a caterer in some of the best places in Paris and London.
The restaurant, that was located in an old mansion that resulted from the junction of 2 old brownstone houses belonging to a millionaire, had a client-base made up of essentially wealthy and well-dressed business people from the Loop. Regular customers included celebrities from the Gold Coast, New York or L.A.
All the rooms of the former mansion had been transformed into dining rooms, public and private, ballrooms and banquet halls.
I believe that prices were among the highest in town.
Opened by Teddy Majerus and his brother Alphonse in 1926, it was sold by Teddy in July of 1962

MAILLARD’S   301 South Michigan Avenue 

Opened around 1926, this branch of a popular New York restaurant started in 1850 by Henri Maillard, a French caterer who was in charge of Lincoln’s inaugural banquet, was perhaps the largest restaurant in Chicago.  It was comprised of several rooms, located at the street and lower level of the Strauss Building, and could serve up to 1,200 diners.
It was very well furnished and elegantly decorated and the food was very well prepared. Many high society women loved the “Afternoon Tea” on the top floor of the building tower that was open in the summer time and where the view of Chicago was beautiful. Many fashionable opera-goers as well as local celebrities from the art and entertainment fields enjoyed post theater dinners there.

 Other Restaurants that either served French food or had French chefs:

NEW COLLEGE INN in the Sherman Hotel at Randolph and Clark

The head chef in this famous hotel owned by the Byfield Brothers, was a Monsieur Jean Gazebat, who had worked at Chez Prunier and at Café de Paris, in Paris.
He was one of the most renowned seafood chefs in Chicago and his specialty was a Bouillabaisse à la Marseillaise, that Drury says was as good as the one you could eat at the original Prunier in Paris

CAFÉ FRANCAIS 1922 Calumet Avenue

Drury says that this elegant mansion transplanted from the Gold Coast, that catered to a clientele of publishers, offered an excellent French cuisine with the best filet mignon in town.

CHEZ DORE  212 East Erie Street

It had a very good French chef and catered to employees of businesses, art studios, and office buildings of that district.
The cost of luncheon and dinner was $ 1.50

VILLA VENICE   Milwaukee Road and Desplaines River Road

This was perhaps at the time the only Theatre-Restaurant in the United States, It had a fantastic architecture and decoration with fountains, high trees, a river with gondolas, colored lights and terraces where you could dine and dance. It included a casino and a ballroom where millionaires from the North Shore loved to dance after a good French dinner made of very elaborate and special dishes created by French chef Pierre, a veteran of the Tour D’Argent in Paris.
In the Casino and Main dining room you could dine while watching a show or listening to musicians from Havana, Cuba or European singers.
The owner of this Monte-Carlo like ‘’pleasure palace’’, as Drury describes it, was a Frenchman named Albert Bouche, who also owned a similar Villa Venice in Miami Beach.
Some rumors mentioned that this very popular fusions of casino and restaurant was perhaps occasionally  a meeting place for high-placed figures of the “syndicate”.
The bills were quite high for the time: from $ 3.50 to $5.50 for Table d’hôte dinner + $ 3.00 cover charge on week-ends.

1939 to 1959

Not much happened in terms of creations of authentic French restaurants in Chicago between 1939 and 1959

Even though a record number of restaurants were created between 1939 and 1945, the war and its restrictions, the amplification of the ‘’cooking at home’’ movement or eating out in casual restaurants did not stimulate the arrival of new French chefs in our town.
Besides, other immigrants like the Chinese, Eastern-Europeans, Russians, and Germans, as well as Greeks and Italians started modest Mom and Pop ethnic family-oriented eateries that better corresponded to the needs and palates of that era.
There was also an exodus to the suburbs of young families who were not naturally inclined to go out and eat French food in expensive restaurants.
And generally- speaking this period was marked by a strong return, as it had been the case in the early 20’s after WW I, to a sort of ‘’eat American’’ tradition, partially facilitated by the expansion of frozen foods, fast food, TV dinners, etc.
The Korean War reinforced this return to American values and a certain isolationism in eating habits that did not stimulate the popularity of fancy French food or restaurants.
 The restaurants that really attracted a lot of new customers where fancy places patronized by celebrities like the new Pump Room in 1938, and restaurants, or supper-clubs with entertainment, like Chez Paree, or ballrooms like the ones in large downtown hotels.
Several of these places offered steaks and lobster as well as exotic cocktails rather than Coq au Vin and Bordeaux wines.

One of the rare exceptions was the launching in 1941 of Café De Paris in the Park Dearborn Hotel at 1260 N. Dearborn Parkway, where famous French chef Henri Charpentier created his signature dish ‘’Duckling Belasco’’ flavored with a Grand Marnier or Cointreau sauce.  For years Charpentier claimed to have invented by chance the ‘’crepe Suzettte’’ when he was working at another much more celebrated Café de Paris in Monte-Carlo, as an apprentice waiter in the late 1880’s.

I believe that L’Aiglon, Jacques French Restaurant and Le Café de Paris are the only 3 major French restaurants that survived that difficult period.


Part 2:  1960- 1969
A new beginning for French restaurants in Chicago

The period of the 60’s was marked first by a continuation of the all-American style of cooking in American families, particularly those living in the rapidly expanding suburbs, as it had been the case between the post WWII era and the end of the 50’s.
But then Americans started to travel again, particularly to Europe, and got familiarized with its great restaurants and chefs.
In the early part of the decade, the influence of the Kennedy White House and the well-known taste of the its First Lady, whose ancestors, the Bouvier family, were French, for French cooking, was evident.

But the real kick to this new taste for French cuisine was the publication in 1961 of Julia Child’s bookMastering The Art Of French Cooking” and even more the launching in February of 1963 of her TV series ‘’The French Chef’’ at WGBH in Boston. That program, broadcast in Chicago by WTTW, Channel 11, really motivated American women  who had a chance to travel to France, like my future American wife, Nancy, who ca to Aix-en-Provence in 1961, to expand their own cooking universe, sharpen their skills, and develop a taste for French cuisine.
They pushed their husbands and friends to go downtown to eat in ‘’ French restaurants’’ and to order good French wines, that in the mid-sixties were not easy to locate in the Chicago area liquor stores.
At the same time, many Chicago Francophiles, most of them from the upper-middle class and socialites having spent vacations in France, or even owning properties there, were pushing to create real French restaurants in Chicago, and some of them were ready to invest in such establishments.
Such was the case of Nancy Goldberg wife of the famous local architect Bertrand Goldberg, who recreated in Chicago a replica of the famous Parisian restaurant MAXIM’S.

MAXIM’S de PARIS opened at 1300 N. Astor street in December of 1963.
The man in charge of its launching was Louis Vaudable, the owner of the original restaurant on Rue Royale, near La Madeleine church in Paris.
With the help of Mrs. Goldberg, Mr. Vaudable managed to bring to Chicago several French professional waiters, captains, cooks and sommeliers who all worked at Maxim’s in Paris.   

That was only the beginning of a new ‘’French’’ trend, and a mini exodus from France to Chicago, that was going to expand until the mid-eighties.
Eventually several alumni from MAXIM’S left to start their own restaurants in Chicago and its suburbs. We will talk about them later.

That decade was also marked by the arrival in the Chicago restaurant landscape of 2 major professionals from the food preparation and hospitality fields who would become nationally recognized stars:

JOVAN TRBOYEVIC, who opened his first restaurant JOVAN on Huron street in 1967 and JEAN BANCHET, who was recruited by Arnie Morton to work as an assistant-chef at the restaurant of the Playboy Club in Lake Geneva, in 1968.

It was also the decade when several authentic French Bistros were launched by Frenchmen and were immediate successes but some of them did not last very long, Among the most popular of them we will remember:

LA CHAUMIERE (opened in March 1965 by René Martin on N. Dearborn)

LES CHAMPS ELYSEES (opened in June 1967 on East Chestnut St. by Jean-Claude Berger and Pierre Dousson)

JOVAN opened in late 1967 on East Huron by Jovan Trboyevic

L’ESCARGOT (opened on N. Halsted St. in October 1968 by Alan Tutzer and Lucien Vergé)

LE BORDEAUX (opened in March of 1969 on W. Madison in the Loop by Georges ‘’Kiki’’ Cuisance, and 3 other partners)

LA CHEMINEE opened by Burton Kallick in April of 1969 at the site of what used to be La Chaumière

L’AUBERGE (opened in October 1969 on N. Clark St. by Yvan Wiedmer and Jean-Paul Vassas)

LA GRENOUILLE (opened in December 1969 in Hyde Park by René Borderie and Jean-Claude Berger)

Several other French restaurants were opened or were morphed from existing eateries during that period, and we will say a few words about all of them later in this segment.

The arrival of these real French restaurants constituted a very pleasant and refreshing “new wave” after a long period of domination of this city by The mini empire of Ray Castro and Edison Dick.

Most of their restaurants were more French in name than in authenticity of their cuisine.
But to be honest we should add that they partially contributed to the beginning of that revival of the public’s interest for a French-style cuisine that was no longer popular in Chicago restaurants since the early 30s.
Café de Paris that we mentioned in the first part of this retrospective was eventually acquired by Ray Castro and his financial partner Edison Dick in 1952 who over the next few years was about to create an important group of “Continental restaurants” in Chicago, most of them with French names.
In spite of the commercial success of that enterprise, many serious critics and cognoscenti, while recognizing that it launched a renewal of the taste for “French” style dining in the 50’s in Chicago, admit that the Castro Group restaurants were more pretending to be French-style than authentically French restaurants.
In spite of their French names, type of menus, décor and service, today we would rather call that type of cuisine “Continental”.
Personally, I do not call them French restaurants because most chefs, cooks, and managers who worked for them were not French, or even French-trained.

But nevertheless, several of these places became very popular. Over the last few years I have been talking with many Chicagoans who are still nostalgic about dates, anniversaries, graduation celebrations, or business dinners with out-of-town guests during trade shows, they had in one of Ray Castro’s restaurants

Ray Castro was a young Cuban immigrant who arrived in Chicago in 1930. After various jobs, he eventually ended up working as a busboy at the famous Pump Room in the Ambassador East hotel when it was launched by Ernie Byfield in 1938.
He climbed many steps of the hierarchy in that restaurant to become Captain then Maitre D’ in the Beau Nash Room.  In this capacity he met one of their well-to-do clients Edison Dick, the heir of the copying and office machines manufacturing company AB Dick. 
In 1951, Castro asked him to help him financially to buy the Café de Paris on Dearborn from the previous owners Edna and Frank Giesel who knew Edison Dick well. Edison Dick accepted and in 1952 it became the beginning of a long partnership that ended at the end of 1969 when they sold their group to ITT (International Telephone and Telegraph) a New-York-based company.

At one point they owned and managed 16 restaurants, including a few specializing in Latin-American, Seafood, or American cuisine based on steaks, such as the Kinzie Steak House on West Kinzie Street, The Terrace in Lake Point Tower, or the Sea Gull, also in Lake Point Tower
Edison Dick loved to eat but did not know anything about cooking and food preparation. He was mainly the investor and financial manager. Ray Castro with his strong experience in restaurants was the actual manager of operations.

The Vice President of the Group was a Frenchman by the name of Henri Glattard
who became the manager of Le Mignon, once it was sold to ITT and re-opened in 1973.

I will simply list some of the most well known “French” restaurants in the Castro Restaurants Group and provide their date of opening.
Except for my one-time experience at Jacques, I have never eaten in any of them, since when I moved for good to Chicago in January of 1970, I was more interested in discovering small cheap and unpretentious ethnic bistros (Greek, German, Italian, Serbian, etc.), and the very few authentic small French bistros that existed at the time, than spending money in not always authentic so-called “French” restaurants.

Café de Paris, 1260 N. Dearborn Parkway.  Opened in 1941 and restarted in 1952 by Edison Dick and Ray Castro. The famous French chef Henri Charpentier was the first chef de cuisine in 1941-42. In the early sixties the chef was an Italian, Pat Nutti, who also worked at the famous Chez Paree, a night-club and supper club that was not French at all. Café de Paris famous signature dish was the ‘’duckling à la Belasco’’.

Jacques French Restaurant, 900 N. Michigan Avenue. Opened in 1935 at this address. But started at 180 East Delaware in 1928 then purchased by Castro in 1954.

Maison Lafite, in the Churchill Hotel at 1255 North Parkway, opened in 1959

La Maisonette, 3445 Dempster in Skokie, opened in 1959

L’Epuisette, 21 W. Goethe, opened in 1963

Café La Tour at 400 East Randolph in Lake Point Tower opened in 1964

Biggs, 1150 N. Dearborn opened in 1954 then acquired and renovated by  Ray Castro in 1964. Jovan Trboyevic was Maitre D’ there in 1964.

Mon Petit, 1255 N. State in 1964

Le Mignon, 712 N. Rush that never really started its operations before the group was sold to ITT but was about to be launched in 1969. It was reopened in 1973 by Edison Dick and Henri Glattard.

La Coquille, 3200 N. Lake Shore Drive. Opened in 1970, like Le Mignon it seems that it was not included in the sale of the group to ITT since it was still managed by Ray Castro in late 1970.

None of these restaurants still existed in 2010

Several of these restaurants were decorated in a very old-fashioned style that would pretend either to look like provincial country inn, or a faux “urban deluxe” fancy restaurant, complete with drapes, candelabras, golden mirrors, wood trimmings, crystal glasses, elegant silver and tableware, etc.  
The staff would wear traditional French garçon de café’outfits, and the cooks sported the traditional toques”.

The menus would propose the classics that most Americans think they would find in any French restaurants: snails, stuffed mushrooms, frog legs, lobster bisque, stuffed crepes with crab meat in a cream and mushroom sauce, tournedos forestière, steak Diane, veal Prince Orloff, rack of lamb, duck à l’orange, or in a sweet cherry sauce, truite meunière, Dover sole, omelette flambée, cherries jubilee, soufflé au Grand Marnier, etc.
But it would be quite difficult to find a simple faux-filet au poivre with real pommes frites, a veal Marengo, a navarin d’agneau, a skate wing in a brown butter and caper sauce, a tarte Tatin or a sorbet au cassis made from fresh fruit.

Most waiters would push you to order cocktails or “champagne” (often not bottled in the Champagne appellation region) but rarely would they suggest to pair the food with a good bottle of Bordeaux, because very few of them had any solid knowledge of French wines.

Coffee was still the choice beverage during lunch and even dinner (‘’coffee now or after’’ was the ritual question at the beginning of the meal), along with the cocktails and whiskies that people continued to drink with their main course.
But of course, no real espresso machine could be seen in any of these restaurants.

Now, I will differentiate 2 categories of “French” restaurants launched in that 1959-1969 period:

1.    Restaurants that were actually owned and/or managed by French people, and where the kitchen was operated by French chefs and cooks.
This list which constitutes the main focus of this chapter will be elaborate.

2.    Restaurants that sometimes served decent “French” food but were not owned or managed  by French people. A few employed French chefs and cooks.
This list will be less detailed. I would call most of the restaurants in that category as “Continental” with a touch of French…

What can be remembered about this period is that you could have a complete 3 course dinner in these establishments for a very reasonable price: from $ 2.75 in the early sixties to 8 or 9 dollars at the end of the decade
1. Restaurants that were actually owned and/or managed by French people, and where the kitchen was in the hands of French chefs and cooks.

I think that the first one of this type to be opened in the early 60’s was: CAFÉ FRENCH MARKET .

Located in the Ascott House Hotel, 1100 S. Michigan Avenue, it opened its doors in July of 1962 under the management of a Frenchman named Jean-Marie  Guillaume, a former  food and beverage manager at both Ambassador and Sherman hotels.
That man knew his business quite well and insisted to import almost everything from France, including the chef, according to Jacques Grelley, the former owner of the French restaurant Frère Jacques on N. Clark street, who worked there for a while as a busboy when he arrived in Chicago from France in 1962. That “fancy” French restaurant was in fact more American in décor than French and the menu was obviously composed to please Midwest palates: lobster bisque, soupe à l’oignon, vegetables in a chicken broth en croûte, bouillabaisse, and bizarre dishes like that beef roll stuffed with rice with a paprika cream sauce. The place closed in late 1964.
I do not know whatever happened to J.M Guillaume.

MAXIM’S DE PARIS opened in the basement of the Astor Towers hotel , at 1300 N. Astor in December of 1963.
Nancy Goldberg’s creation was quite an impressive restaurant with its red and gold décor, shiny brass trims, dark wood furniture, mirrors on the walls, chandeliers, beautiful French sterling and serving carts, and above all typical French polished but discrete service.  The whole place, that wanted to resemble as much as possible to the French original Maxim’s on Rue Royale in Paris was located in a building designed by her husband, famous local architect Bertrand Goldberg, but there was no stained-glass dome over the dining room. It was initially operated under the management of Louis Vaudable, owner of Maxim’s in Paris, with the help of an efficient “Directeur” Raymond Bompart who had a solid professional background in traditional French and European hotels and restaurants. He was a maitre d’hôtel at the Ambassador hôtel in Chicago in 1960 before going back to Paris to Maxim’s.
The menu was a repertoire of French classics: From Cream of Mussels Soup, Sole Albert, Mousse de Foie Gras, Foie Gras sauce Périgourdine, Steak Diane, Filet de Boeuf en Croûte, Pommes soufflés, to Veal Orloff, and of course marvelous dessert soufflés. The wine list was probably the richest in Chicago at the time in great Bordeaux and Bourgogne. All the celebrities who came to town and the local “beautiful people” would of course start their dinner with Champagne. All the chefs and head waiters had been trained in Paris and were brought in, along with Monsieur Bompart, by Vaudable with the local help of Nancy Goldberg.

Some of the notable chefs or cooks who worked in that famous  kitchen were  Pierre Monet, Michel Grobon, Pierre Orsi, (from 1967 to 1969 before he went back to his native Lyon and took over the famous eponymous restaurant there), and later on, Bernard Cretier who started as sous-chef in 1970 and stayed as executive chef until the late seventies,  when he created his own restaurant, Le Vichyssois in Lakemoor. Michel Maloiseau also worked as chef there for 3 years in the late 70s. 29 year-old Pierre Orsi marked his tenure at Maxim’s in 1967 with a great innovation: A prix fixe sumptuous buffet, complete from elaborate hors d’oeuvres to beautiful desserts, and including hot meat dishes served at the table from rolling carts for 5.00 dollars.  
Maxim’s  in its original format, had a glorious run for several years and totally eclipsed other Chicago fancy places such as the Pump Room as the ‘’place to see and be seen’’. But it had to close its doors in March of 1982. A very successful discothèque, The Metro, was launched there in the very early seventies. But it did not last long.
In 1984 Georges Badonski, one of the most creative entrepreneurs there ever was on the Chicago restaurant scene (Le Bastille, Tango, George’s) decided to buy Maxim`s space and to open it as a restaurant again. Louis Vaudable in the meantime had sold Maxim’s of Paris to Pierre Cardin in 1981 but did not want to have any connection with Maxim’s Chicago.  

On the recommendation of chef Hubert Keller in San Francisco, Badonski hired a young French cuisinier, Jean Joho, who was working at the famous Auberge de l’Ill in Alsace and had been trained by its owner, the legendary Paul Haeberlin. But eventually, everything went wrong for various reasons, legal, financial, and conflicting personalities and interests. And the ‘’New Maxim’s’’ did not last very long.

But many of the former French employees of the original Maxim’s  from the early sixties, such as Georges Cuisance , Michel Grobon, Michel Laurent, Jean-Paul Weber, René Borderie, Pierre Monet, Raymond Soubrier, or Jean-Claude Berger,  stayed around and opened their own restaurants, or work for some others in Chicago.
A French manager Raymond Bonaparte, left in 1966 to open a restaurant in Madison, Wisconsin
We will talk about some of these people and what happened to them later in this chapter.

LA CHAUMIERE opened at 1161 N. Dearborn in March of 1965

This small but charming and elegant place that could seat only 44 guests at a time was launched by René Martin, who waited on tables at Jacques for 8 years and was himself the son of a restaurateur in Paris, and his wife Josie  
It became rapidly a hit since it was at the time the only restaurant in town with an almost exclusively French staff. The chef was Gérard Pin and the sous-chef, was Bernard Lecoq, who 7 years later would open his own restaurant, Café Bernard, that still existed in 2010.  Both men, friends of Martin, came from France to work at La Chaumière.
One of the waiters was Jacques Grelley, future owner of Frère Jacques.  Opened for lunch and dinner, regular customers loved the relaxed bistro atmosphere and the poached turbot with hollandaise sauce.
The following year the restaurant doubled its seating capacity and added a wine bar.

But eventually it went from success to hard times and Bill Contos, owner of Chez Paul, bought the closed place in 1968 and reopened it a few months later with Henri Coudrier as chef de cuisine. A few months later, in April of 1969, it morphed into LA CHEMINEE.

DE PROVENCE- MAISON HENRI, 2820 N. Southport opened in the summer of 1965.

This tiny café was located above a pastry-deli-catering shop called Maison Henri.
Henri Naurath (born in Germany but a French resident for many years) had come to Chicago from Paris in 1960.  He made quite a reputation with his sausages that Chicagoans discovered at a French Fair at Carson’s in1963. So, in 1965, with a French partner called Antoine Sorgia, they opened De Provence, since Saugia was
From Marseille. They transformed the space where Henri made his sausages into a kitchen for their French chef and served typical French fare such as Tournedos Rossini and Baba au Rhum.
The place was BYOB. I do not know how long it operated but in 1966 the restaurant name was changed back to Maison Henri.
Antoine Sorgia, who before De Provence had worked as a waiter at La Chaumière, eventually opened his own restaurant Antoine Ambassador Supper Club in Aurora in early 1966. It was essentially an American restaurant but his chef-partner there, Marius Laura, would cook French dishes on demand.

One had to wait until 1967 to see another authentic French restaurant opening:

LES CHAMPS ELYSEES, at 260 East Chestnut Street,

It was launched on June 1, 1967 by Pierre Dousson, a former chef at Maxim’s and now the chef here and his partner Jean-Claude Berger, an alumnus of the Royal Hunt at the Ambassador East hotel, who as Maitre d’ was in charge of the dining room. The launching of this charming and elegant restaurant benefited from the financial and managerial backing of Norman Kaplan and George Weingart. Seating was limited to 80 customers, but the restaurant was open for lunch and dinner.
Most of the items on the menu were French classics: Tournedos Rossini, Dover Sole, Turbot hollandaise, Rack of Lamb.
In 1969 the restaurant would regularly welcome high school students with their French teachers for lunch. They would order in French, converse in French with Pierre Dousson, and learn about French cuisine. Jean-Claude Berger left the restaurant in 1969 to briefly join the staff at Jovan, then later that year he launched La Grenouille  in Hyde Park with René Borderie, another former Maitre D’ at Maxim’s.
More later about this restaurant.
Champs-Elysées continued to be successful until the early 70’s. In 1970. Jean Banchet was the chef there for a brief period.
Later on that space would be occupied for several years by Zaven and nowadays is the site of another French bistro: Le Petit Paris owned by Alain Sitbon.  

LA BRASSERIE DE STRASBOURG at 1934 N. Clark also opened in early June of 1967 in the North Park hotel.

The owners once again were René and Josie Martin, the couple who had opened La Chaumière 2 years before.
It was a much larger place than La Chaumière and after they had stopped serving regular lunch and dinner menus, intended to cater to the late evening diners coming out of the theater or a movie for à la carte typical brasserie fare such as Soupe à l’oignon, Choucroute Garnie, Quiche Lorraine, and cheese plates. The full 7course dinner menu was priced around $ 8.00. The ambiance was relaxed and informal  and many people enjoyed the late hour service.
They also opened a tiny 4 tables café adjoining the restaurant called Saint Honoré Pastry shop, where you could order a couple of simple bistro dishes and good French pastries, sorbets, and ice-cream, along with strong coffee.
Unfortunately, the whole operation went bankrupt and closed 14 months later.
Gene Sage, the famous Chicago restaurateur, bought the location in 1969 and intended to transform it into a ‘’French pub’’ serving small plates and bar food, a concept that was way ahead of its time in 1969.  I do not know if that project was ever finalized.

JOVAN at 16 East Huron

This very chic restaurant by Jovan Trboyevic was really a turning point in the modern history of contemporary classy French cuisine in Chicago when it opened on November 10, 1967.

Located on the second floor of a charming old house, its 60 seats dining room was very elegant and beautifully decorated with dominant cream and red colors.
Some of the walls had murals depicting French markets. They were the work of Maggie (Meg) Abbott a very talented artist and decorator, who eventually became Trboyevic’s  wife and later on decorated both Le Perroquet and Les Nomades from A to Z.
Every detail was perfect like it would be in a traditional place of haute cuisine in France.
This restaurant was about to launch the celebrated career of the man who personified a new breed of high-class restaurateurs in America, Jovan Trboyevic. 
Jovan, (his name was pronounced "Yovan"passed away in January 2010 and I will continue to  miss him for many years to come, not only because he was a great human being and a friend, but also because he really changed the way to manage a great restaurant and forever the approach to high quality French food in that city that used to be called ‘’ a meat and potato town’’
His itinerary before the creation of Jovan had been, and that is the least we can say, unusual. He escaped Yugoslavia in 1941 in an old submarine taken over by a crew of fortune, men who like him detested the take over by the Nazis of most of Western Europe, to join the British forces in Egypt.  After some commando and training missions in India and Palestine he ended up being parachuted back to his own country to re-establish links for the Brits with Yugoslavian partisans. He stayed in various fighting and support capacities in Yugoslavia until 1943. Then he was sent to Italy to spy for the British army. Then he went to Switzerland and to London to do political work. In 1944 he returned to Geneva and worked in restaurants to make a living and went to Lausanne to study at a good culinary restaurant and hotel management school. He learned all facets of that type of business and increased his already solid knowledge of food and wine inherited from his father. Then in 1954 he came to the U.S.
He worked as captain at famous New York restaurants like the 21 Club and Sardi’s and even opened a fancy restaurant in Larchmont that he kept for several years.
His first professional contact with the restaurant scene in Chicago was in 1964 when the Castro-Dick organization asked him to come here to start a real restaurant in a beautiful mansion on Dearborn St. It became BIGG’S where Jovan worked for a year as Maitre D’. But he had difficulties to adjust to Castro’s concept of what a successful restaurant should be.
Once again, the “nomad” that he always was hit the road.
After meeting with Burton Browne, the owner of the Gaslight Clubs, he worked for him as a Maitre d’in the restaurants of the DC and NYC clubs. But B. Browne wanted to send him to L.A to work at the new club. Jovan preferred to stay in Chicago, a city he had learned to like and where he had made many friends. So, in 67 with the blessing of Browne and the financial backing of 2 well-known Chicago businessmen and socialites, Potter Palmer and Gordon Bent, and two other minor partners, he became co-owner and General Manager of Jovan.
It became an immediate success helped by the talents of French chef Bernard Binder, who cooked, under Jovan’s direction, not only classic dishes such as escargots, sweetbreads, quenelles de brochet (pike mousse), rack of lamb with ratatouille, duck in a peppercorn sauce, and soufflé au  Grand Marnier, but also offered more modern ways to prepare fish, fresh vegetables, and unusual (for America) typical French cuts of meat.
In 68, Binder was replaced as chef by Jean-Pierre Tournier, and some others.
But above all the unusual extensive European management experience of Jovan himself, who was a perfectionist, and the excellent polished service provided by the dining room waiting staff, that included Gérard Humilier as Maitre D’, constituted a winning formula. A super wine list that included great Bordeaux and Bourgogne rarel found in French restaurants in Chicago in these days as also an attractive factor.
Jovan also introduced with success the concept of “prix-fixe” dinner at around 9 dollars.     

One interesting detail: Jovan was so attached to the high quality of the ingredients used in his kitchen that he supervised most of the buying, and quite often went himself to the market to select the exact fruits, vegetables, herbs or cheese, fish, or cut of meat that he wanted. And he also acquired the first espresso coffee machine ever used in a Chicago restaurant.
In fact, I would say that Jovan really introduced what was known in France as “La Cuisine Du Marché’’ to  Chicago .  
In other words, the menu was composed every day based on the best products he could find at the market. At Jovan there was no pre-printed menu.
JOVAN was awarded the Holiday magazine restaurant award in 1969
Jovan Trboyevic sold Jovan in 1977 to Dieter Ahrens, his Maitre D’, who later on became manager when Jovan was to busy with his new Le Perroquet.
The restaurant burned in 1982 and was relocated in 1983 at 1660 N. Lasalle Street.

In the Spring of 1968, a new flock of 7 French cooks arrived in Chicago. They had been hired to man the kitchens of the various new restaurants at the Playboy Club in Lake Geneva, WI
The head of that group was Michel Cipolla, who after a stint at the Playboy Club in London, took over as executive chef of the main dining room at the young age of 29.  His sous-chef was Jean Banchet who came from Monte Carlo after an apprenticeship at the famous La Pyramide of Monsieur Point in Vienne. Other chefs who eventually would make a career in Chicago restaurants were Michel Maloiseau and Gérard Parrat.
Since the Playboy Club was not a French restaurant in Chicago we will not write about it at this time.

Only one major French restaurant opened in 1968, but it was perhaps the first one to bring traditional “cuisine bourgeoise provinciale” to a neighborhood a little far from downtown, and that was at the time unusual for a French restaurant .

L’ESCARGOT at 2925 N. Halsted opened its doors in October of 1968.

The owner Alan Tutzer was not a chef but had a precise idea of what he wanted: a traditional unpretentious French restaurant offering typical dishes representative of “cuisine bourgeoise” that you would find in typical restaurants of the “province”.
So, he hired as chef and partner a Frenchman with an already solid experience in that field: Lucien Vergé, a native of Lyon, the capital of cuisine bourgeoise, who had apprenticed there with one of the ‘’mères’’ the famous women chef-owners of traditional restaurants in Lyon. He was a cook in the French army, and also had apprenticed in 4 stars Parisian hotels such as the Crillon and the Plaza-Athénée, and in 1956 at the young age of 23 had been hired at the Veau d’Or, a famous French restaurant in New York City where he worked as sous-chef until 1962.
Before starting at l’Escargot,  Vergé worked at the Mid-America Club and Chez Paul and he had a great sense of what hospitality should mean.

L’Escargot actually had the look and the feel of a real French ‘’restaurant de province’’ with the long wooden bar and its beautiful vases of fresh flowers, banquettes with wooden trimmings and coat hooks, comfortable booths, tables covered with white cloths and nice silverware, framed posters and Paris street signs on the walls. The quality of the welcome by the host and dining room staff and of the service was also very French, relaxed but professional. It was the opposite of a stuffy New-York style fancy French restaurant. Everybody, whatever clothes he or she was wearing, whether he ordered a salad and coffee for lunch or an expensive bottle of Burgundy with duck for dinner was always treated well. 
Lucien himself walked around the dining room to greet regulars and newcomers.
And the food was real comfort food with some elegance.
I loved the marvelous pâtés, the artichaut vinaigrette, the typically lyonnais saucisson chaud en croûte (a delicious hot sausage baked in a flaky puff-pastry dough), the cassoulet Toulousain, a rare find in Chicago in the early seventies, the French endives au gratin, the Cornish hen ‘’grand mère’’, the gigot d’agneau aux flageolets.
But some of his most popular dishes were based on organ meat: kidneys, veal liver soufflé, ris de veau (sweetbreads), cervelle (brains) en croûte, and fish such as stuffed trout and sole meunière.
The first years you could have a complete meal (without wine) for less than 10 dollars.
10 years later it was a bit more expensive  but you still could eat very well for 20 dollars with wine. And the wine list was very attractive and nicely priced.
The restaurant was a non-stop popular place in spite of its relatively remote location from its opening until it burned in 1979. 
Then in 1980 Tutzer and Vergé opened a 2nd L’Escargot in the Allerton Hotel at Michigan and Huron that proved to be equally popular. Lucien Vergé died in 1985. He was only 52.
Without him the restaurants (they had rebuilt the original on Halsted in the early 80`s) were not the same anymore.

LE BORDEAUX, at 3 W. Madison in the Loop opened in March of 1969

This restaurant, located in a basement of that building half a block west of busy State Street, was at the time the only French restaurant in the Loop. Until its closing in 1989 it never stopped being packed for lunch with regulars, essentially businessmen, ladies who were going shopping, and a bunch of French compatriots who considered that restaurant as being almost their own “club”. There was also a limited “pre-theater” crowd. And then the restaurant closed early.
It was started by George Cuisance, better known as Kiki, and three other colleagues, Bernard Bounaud, who became the first chef, Christian Finance, and Ramon Colom, who had all lost their jobs when La Chaumière went under in 1968.
They each contributed $ 5,000 to acquire the place which was an Italian restaurant called Pierre’s,originally. 

Kiki, one of the veteran French restaurateurs in Chicago whose Kiki’s Bistro has been a landmark at 900 N. Franklin since 1990, had come to Chicago in December of 1963 to work at MAXIM’s. But he already had a solid professional experience acquired, after he graduated from the Ecole Hôtelière of Thonon in France in 1954, in French, British, German, and Spanish restaurants and hotels in various capacities.
He became relatively rapidly the sole owner of the business and an iconic figure in the French restaurant community.
The décor was typical of a French provincial country ‘’auberge’’ with its tables covered with red and white check table cloth, small intimate lamps, French posters and paintings on the walls, and empty wood wine barrels near the entrance, at the lower level of a staircase. But the absence of windows and natural light was more evocative of a ‘’speakeasy’’.
In the early years Le Bordeaux was probably the only French restaurant in Downtown Chicago serving such typical brasserie dishes such as kidneys in a Dijon sauce, mussels marinière, sweetbreads, calf brains with capers , as well as steak-frites, boeuf bourguignon, coq au vin, quiche lorraine,  salade niçoise, and crème brulée.   Their very tasty pommes frites were hand-cut every morning, and salads, such as the Neptune and the Surcouf with shrimps, crabmeat, and avocado, were always very fresh and nicely dressed and very popular with women shopping at nearby Marshall Field’s. In the early days, Bernard Bounaud, the first chef, had his own signature dish, a very tasty filet of sole in a white wine and cream sauce; It costed only $4.50 at dinner. In those days you could have a very decent lunch with a glass of wine for less than $ 3.00. Two other French “cuisiniers” (cooks) took charge of the small kitchen after Bernard Bounaud’s departure in 1970.
In the seventies and early eighties Le Bordeaux had a Japanese chef, Yasuo Mizuchi,
(I’m not too sure about the exact spelling of his name, but many people called him Yoshi) who would nevertheless continue to cook in the cuisine bourgeoise tradition.
In the first 10 years people ordered more cocktails, especially martinis, with their lunch, than wine. But from the middle 70s French wine became very popular there.
The bar, separated from the main dining room, was populated by regulars. Several of my French friends and colleagues and I shared many great lunches there in one of the very intimate and comfortable booths.
Kiki was always a very cheerful and efficient host and never stopped joking and laughing. A lunch at Le Bordeaux was the best remedy against bleak depressing winter days in Chicago. When Le Bordeaux lost its lease  Kiki started a new restaurant Le Bordeaux North in 1989, also in a lower level a few blocks away at the corner of Michigan and Randolph. But it was not the same as the old place and Kiki closed it to move to Franklin St.
Many French chefs, cooks and waiters would stop-by Le Bordeaux and share a glass and a gossip there.

LA CHEMINEE at 1161 N. Dearborn, also opened in April of 1969 in the space formerly occupied by La Chaumière.

This time the new owner was Burton Kallick, a Chicago businessman who had been pursuing the dream of owning a French restaurant for a long time, but the manager was no other than René Martin, the former owner. And once again the decoration of that intimate and charming place was the work of his wife Josie.
The food was more or less similar to La Chaumière’s with the addition of dishes like Quiche Lorraine.
You could have a complete dinner for less than 10 dollars. But many of the favorites were more often ones found in ‘’ continental’’ restaurants: Beef Wellington, Duck à l’orange, Veal in a cream and Calvados sauce, etc. The wine list was quite extensive since Mr. Kallick was a wine connoisseur. But later on in 1977 the menu was expanded by Chef Willy Maes, formerly at the 95th and Jean-Claude Bridoux.
The restaurant, that benefited from a steady client base made of regulars and out-of-towners, was quite successful until it closed in1978 (or79)

L’AUBERGE at 2324 N. Clark St.  opened in the fall of 1969.

It was launched by 2 French alumni of La Chaumière and La Cheminée, Yvan Wiedmer and Jean-Paul Vassas and by a former chef of Chez Paul, André Bucher. The very rustic décor, red brick walls, waxed hardwood parquet floor, along with its old pieces of furniture created a warm atmosphere similar to what you would find in an old French country inn. People loved it from the start.
The menu was rich in both typical comfort food dishes such as tasty patés, including good rillettes, and veal stew with tomatoes, mushrooms, and olives, and more sophisticated specialties such as Coquilles St. Jacques, lobster, Brook trout, and beignets of calf brains
The wine list was quite interesting and essentially French with good burgundies.
In 69 when it opened you could have a nice 3 course meal for 10 bucks.
The restaurant remained a popular spot until the end of 1982.

LA GRENOUILLE at 1345 East Hyde Park was the last authentic French restaurant to open in December of 1969.

Once again, the owners were not newcomers in Chicago since they were Jean-Claude Berger, who had founded Les Champs-Elysées in 1967 and René Borderie had been a Maitre d’ at Maxim’s for 5 years.
Berger was in charge of the kitchen and Borderie  was managing the dining-room and the bar.
Food was traditional French fare and included of course frog legs served in the Provençal style. The dining room, in a building owned by The University of Chicago, was nicely appointed. Prices were quite reasonable and you could have a Table d’Hôte dinner for about 7 dollars.
Unfortunately, Hyde Park was not at the time a Mecca for foodies, and professors and students were rather frugal as far as restaurant going is concerned, and the lack of regular customers forced the restaurant to close after a while.

2. Restaurants that pretended  to be ‘’French’’ and sometimes served decent “French” food but were not owned or managed by French people.  I would call most of them ‘’Continental’’ with a good French touch,

LES FONTAINES ROUGES, at 1011 W. Irving Park
Started by Georges Soulias in 1960
It wanted to look like a French restaurant as seen by an American eye. Its name derived from 2 mini-fountains in the walls of the original restaurant that dispensed red wine.  Actually, it had a decent wine list at its beginning, and a few classic French dishes, but was better known for its flaming deserts and the background music. I have no idea if any French people ever cooked or served meals there.

LE COQ AU VIN, at 1400 N. Lake Shore Drive.
Launched in the fall of 1960 by Dominick Trolli, an Italian chef who previously worked at Maison Lafite.
It was a charming bistro that at one time served a decent coq au vin.
It lasted until the mid 70`s

RED CARPET, at 28 W. Elm st.
Started in 1960, this rather fancy restaurant actually served some interesting mix of Creole and French food like Lobster in Pernod sauce, Veal Marseillaise, or baked oysters in a shrimp and crab sauce. I believe that the original chef was from Jamaica or Haiti.
In any case the owners were also the proprietors of a hotel in Jamaica, where later on they recruited a French chef, Jacques Chevalier, who came to cook in Chicago in another of their restaurants. The Red Carpet  in the early sixties offered a good wine list. You could have a complete dinner there for 4 dollars in 1964.
Some years later it morphed into the very popular Le Festival.

MAISON MICHELE, at  2118 N. Clark
Founded in November 1961 by Howard and Anne Drake.
Howard had a formal training acquired in a restaurant school in Michigan and Anne had learned how to cook from her French mother. Michèle was the name of their first–born daughter.
The bistro had a very warm and cozy atmosphere, red and white checked table cloths and candles in empty wine bottles brought by customers since it was a BYOB. The menu was hand written.
The food was typical country-French with Onion soup, beef Bourguignon, coq au vin, rognons sautés (kidneys), cheese and fruit tarts. At one point it might have had a French cook.
It remained very popular even after its original owners sold the place in 1979.
In 1963 the Drakes opened a second but more elaborate elegant and expensive French restaurant, CHATEAU CHANTAL, at 72 East Oak.
Chantal was the name of their second daughter. It featured a full bar and a good wine list, I do not know when its closed its doors but it did not last very long.

LE BALCON, at 1646 N. Larrabee, was opened in 1963 
by  Guy Dubois, a Belgian man.
It was a small BYOB café where the multi-tasking Dubois was at the same time the cook, the manager, the  Maitre D’… and the dishwasher . Nevertheless, this very simply decorated and not very fancy small place, in spite of its surprising location, had a relatively sophisticated menu including Coquilles Saint Jacques, sole, beef tenderloin Béarnaise, or squab. And also chocolate mousse and Baba au Rhum long before these desserts became popular.

Opened in late 1963, it tried to resemble a Left Bank Paris bistro.
The décor and furnishings were a bit primitive and definitely unsophisticated.
But the food was classic bistro fare: Onion Soup, Boeuf Bourguignon, cheese.
I have no information about its management or when it closed its doors.

Opened in 1964 at 1533 N. Wells by JOHN SNOWDEN,w one of the most talented and demanding professional chef in Chicago, ho served real French dishes.
Unfortunately, it lasted only a few months and Snowden moved to open a cooking school. Eventually he became one of the foremost French cooking instructor in the Midwest.

This famous restaurant created by Paul Contos moved in 1965
from its original location at 180 East Delaware to the beautiful Mc Cormick Mansion at 660 N. Rush St.  
It would stay in this building, for a long time under the management of his son, Bill Contos,  until it closed for good in the early 90’s.
This restaurant was perhaps the most perfect example  of the French-Continental tradition in Chicago. It really had a definite French flair, especially when the dining room was managed by Jean-Paul Weber.
 It had many ups and downs during its many years of operations, but I have to admit that occasionally I enjoyed a very nice ‘’French’’ lunch with visiting French business people there.  Several French cooks, such as Lucien Vergé, waiters, and managers worked there at different times of its long history.

CAFÉ BONAPARTE, in the Sheraton-Blackstone Hotel at 636 South Michigan.
I do not know exactly when it opened, but for a few years in the early sixties it was one of the most elegant dining, dancing, and cabaret places in Chicago.
The décor was entirely dominated by Napoleon themes and the wait staff donned costumes from that era.
The cuisine was quite traditional, expensive, and continental: Beef Tournedos, Turbot in a cream sauce, Guinea hen in cherry sauce, etc. I do not know either in what year it closed.
At one point it had a French chef and French Maitre D’

THE FINNERY, at the Hartford Plaza, 365 W. Monroe,

It was a sister seafood restaurant to the FRENCH ROOM that was opened in May 1969 by Pierre Schmied, a French-speaking Swiss.
That nicely appointed eatery was essentially an upscale seafood restaurant, whose chef, Frenchman Pierre Poubelle, an alumnus from the famous French restaurant Prunier in London, eventually worked in the kitchen of Le Perroquet.  A novelty at the time was the fact that there was no menu. Customers would be presented the fish of the day, freshly delivered, and decided how they wanted it prepared for them.


 Located in an old brownstone this charming place was started in November of 1969 by Bill Contos, the owner of Chez Paul as a café specializing in stuffed crepes, quiche, onion soup and salads. But when Jean Banchet who had come in 1968 from France to work at the Playboy Club in Lake Geneva, then quit to be briefly chef at Les Champs Elysées and at the Gaslight Club, came on board as a chef it turned into a very good French restaurant under the management of Jean-Paul Weber between 1970 and 1972.

To summarize that era: It was a period of transition when real traditional French cuisine became more popular in Chicago. The highlight of that decade was the introduction by Jovan Trboyevic in 1967 of a new contemporary approach in the use of fresh ingredients, vegetables and fish, and lighter sauces. He was really the first restaurateur to launch “ La cuisine du marché’’ here.

French Restaurants in Chicago: A 75-year Retrospective. 1924-1999

Part 3.  1970-1979:  The Fantastic Decade.

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 2019.
Starting in the mid-seventies new cooking concepts of ‘’Nouvelle Cuisine’’ became serious competitors to traditional “classique” (ex-grande cuisine), “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, downtown Chicago.
So 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 my 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. No wine. 
Then, at that time, my wife started to cook more often typical American recipes for dinner 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 some other French-speaking 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 that was first published in 1972, revised in 1973 then again in 1983, was going to greatly expand my gastronomic hunting grounds 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 good 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 decade of the 1970s I often traveled back to France, about 4 times a year, either on frequent business trips or for vacations, 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’’. And 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 from Provence n 1963.
It is difficult to decide who really started that new cooking approach in 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 near Lyon, 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 70s 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 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. On sunny days, the view from tables located near the windows was spectacular.  I remember 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.
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 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 1970s 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.
I will keep fond memories of their very tasty’’duck terrines’’ and ‘’ saumon à l’oseille’’.
I also loved their fruit ‘’tartes’’.
There wine list was very extensive and included some quite good Bourgogne.

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 70s. 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.


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.
This was a delightful bistro that at the beginning was partially owned by Raymond Soubrier who had been very successful at La Chaumière 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 the mid-seventies. It was always packed with regulars, including many French locals, as well as out- of- town visitors.
 On Bastille Day  Badonsky 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 Bourgogne 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, most of the time, after eating at Le Bastille I would leave the place in a very optimist mood after a good lunch or dinner.

Also in November, 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 , a young and talented French chef named Jean Banchet took over the kitchen , for a few months and contributed to create this new positive image..

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, but their gamble worked and the place became rapidly well-known for its omelets  atl lunch, and for 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.  A rich dark chocolate mousse became also very popular.
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 opened 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.  But many people at night came to eat  savory buckwheat crepes  with fillings 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.


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 in Palatine.
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 restaurants 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 to use lesser known small vegetables as garnishes. In fact, he trained himself many young apprentices who in 2011 were 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 was still successful in 2011 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 used to be 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.


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 80s. 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.
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
.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, Both restaurants no longer exist..


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.

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 on 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 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 1940s. 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 incredibly 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 orchestral 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 2nd 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 by Jovan’s wife, Maggie Abbott. It included 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 marvelous memories of great terrines of duck with pistachios, the canneton 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, Michel Beck, Alain Sailhac, Pierre Poubelle, Carrie Nahabedian, Elaine Sikorski, Hans RockenWagner, Mary Sue Milliken, Frank Lee, and many others.

The restaurant closed 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 remembered 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 renovations at 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 St.
Both are still very successful nowadays. We will talk about them in the 90`s chapter. Sadly, Jean-Claude Poilevey died in s stupid car accident in 2016.


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 in Wheeling, 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 article with 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 he 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. 
In1989 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 9-11economic times and closed in June 003. 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.

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.
Jean Banchet passed away in November 2013.


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 for 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. Or when 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.

Note: TANGO,

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 accents of French cuisine. For some time in the late 70’s its kitchen also benefited from the experience of the very good French chef Henri 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



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 a French restaurant in Montreal. But in 1975 he was replaced by a French chef, Bernard  Dervieux, who I understand  prepared very good classic 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 original 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 Chicago 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 Coudrier left 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 cake 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.


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.


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.


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 $ 30.00 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. 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.


I regret that I never had the opportunity to dine at this restaurant that was opened in the summer of 1975  by two French professional chefs, Pierre Cabuzel, a former chef pâtissier, who managed the dining room and Denis Floch who was the chef, 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’’ that you would find in provincial establishments  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. 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 Vattel 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.



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 95th during its first year of operationIn1971, 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 were 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, 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 a 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.


I must mention rapidly a very popular so called ‘’ French Creperie’’ that opened the same year at 1508 E. 53rd Street at Harper Court 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 was still operating at the same address in the early 2000s


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 in Chicago 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.
.Until his passing in 2014 Jacques, who had witnessed D-Day in Normandy when he was a child, remained more active than ever and traveled 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 was 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, the average cost of a dinner for two would average $ 60.00.
It was a modest price to pay for such quality.


In November  a “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.



One of my most bizarre dining experiences in the last 47 years in Chicago took place at this “exotic” restaurant located on Elston Avenue at the corner of Division.
 It could have been one of the most romantic eating places in Chicago if it was located I another area and with a different management.  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 well appointed. Problem was, once you entered that small poorly maintained wood-cabin type of building, you were facing a mess and could see the entrance of the kitchen that was not 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 French guy, unshaved, wearing a stained open shirt, and holding a dirty piece of towel in his hand. He turned out to be the chef and perhaps also the owner of this rather grubby 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 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, looked  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 surprising 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.
No need to say I never went back there. 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 on its way to become one of the best and most popular French restaurants in the whole city of Chicago.
I loved the modern but very harmonious exterior as well as  the interior architecture of this 2 story restaurant designed by Spiros Zakas, the decorator of Bastille and the Pump Room, The two dining rooms offered comfortable settings, especially the one upstairs with great blue velvet banquettes, and if I remember correctly a beautiful brown 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. He  apprenticed when he was only 15 at Troisgros, in Roanne. He stayed there for 3 years, then spent 15 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 dishes  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.
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 temples of modern French cuisine with strong provincial “Bourgeoise” roots that you could find in the Chicago area.
But surprisingly enough it was opened in July 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 French cooking 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 alumnus 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, Poulet Provençal, 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 dessert menu . offered some of the best Fruit Sorbets that you could find in Chicago.
In 1979 you could have a 3 course dinner 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. At that time  she had 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 a lease disagreement with 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 ingredients was not always consistent from what I read.
But this chef decided to quit at the beginning of 78.. 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.



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 spring of 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 Le Rendez-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. I
But 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.


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 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 2018


When Frenchman (from Normandy)  Jacques Barbier opened this charming French Country Inn-style restaurant (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 Didier Durand in the late eighties...

French Restaurants in Chicago: 1924-1999.  A 75 year Retrospective

Part 4.  1980-1989. A period of transition: Younger chefs in search of a new contemporary French-American style.   

The bistro and ethnic trends expand. A new generation of “French trained” American chefs create an interesting French-American style in sophisticated dining.

I thought that after the incredibly creative and productive decade of the 70’s, the rhythm of creation of new French restaurants would slow down in the 80s, especially between 1980 and 1982 when American consumers got scared by a new double-dip recession that encouraged them to tighten their eating out budget.
Besides I also thought that the “ethnic food” fad would diminish the interest of Chicago diners for French cuisine.
Fortunately, I was wrong. The now deceased Sun-Times  restaurant reviewer Pat Bruno, in his introduction to the new Gault Millau’s Best of Chicago guide published in 1989 by French critic André Gayot, wrote that “the 1980 s will go down in Chicago’s culinary history as the decade of dining delirium”.  He said that gourmet home cooks got tired of cooking by the end of 1981 and started to rediscover the pleasure of going out to eat good food prepared by professionals.
From a purely quantitative viewpoint the number of new French restaurants launched in the eighties (around 35) was about the same as in the 70s.
Of course, these numbers are the result of my own estimates and there may be several “French eateries” that escaped my sometimes fuzzy memory lane.
As far as I am concerned, I went to restaurants for lunch practically 5 days a week, and at least 4 times a month for dinner, most often with business contacts.
My only negative remembrance of that period was related to often poorly interpreted and executed versions of the French Nouvelle Cuisine repertoire.
But that annoying phenomenon, which often materialized in improperly cooked and over-decorated mini-portions of chichi dishes in big plates, saw a blessed ending around 1986.
At that time several good American sous-chefs and Chefs de Partie, who had been trained in French kitchens or in Chicago by French chefs, started to work towards the creation of a new French-American style of cooking that would become a new trend in Chicago. This local style would continue until the new millennium.
But some local chefs, such as Michael Foley, of Printer’s Row fame, a restaurant that he launched in 1984, who also got some serious training in some good French restaurants, were in fact adapting their techniques to the principles of the American Cooking Movement, sometimes also called “Progressive American Cuisine”. That movement that started in the mid 70’s was often mixing contemporary American cooking techniques, using regionally grown produces, meat, poultry, eggs and fruits, with classic French cuisine traditions. Gordon Sinclair (Gordon’s) in 1976, and before him Jovan Trboyevic (Jovan’s) in the late 60’s, were among the first restaurateurs to introduce these new approaches in Chicago.
Alice Waters from Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA, would also be a perfect example of this trend.
It was also very comforting to notice that Chicago diners became much more sophisticated in their knowledge of French food and wines. This welcome phenomenon was partially encouraged by the development of a very important expansion of trade and cultural relations between Chicago and France.
Also, in the late eighties many books and magazines as well as TV programs about French cuisine and wines became more accessible.
And for Chicago diners it was no longer necessary to feel intimidated or to worry about the cost involved in going to a French restaurant since the spectrum of available French eateries in town got wider and more diverse. You did not need to spend as much as you would in New York in 1st class French restaurants at places such as Carlos, Ambria, or Everest to get a good illustration of what great French cuisine should be.  Good but more affordable places like Froggy’s, Un Grand Café, or Le Chardonnay would provide an equally pleasant experience.
But in the same way that the 70’s were marked by a few great restaurateurs and chefs such as Jovan Trboyevic, Jean Banchet, George Badonski, Leslee Reis, Christian Zeiger, Bernard Cretier, Pierre Pollin or Jean-Claude Poilevey, the eighties will always remained associated with the names of some restaurateurs and chefs such as Carlos Nieto (Carlos) , Roland Liccioni, Gabino Sotelino (Ambria)  Fernand Gutierrez (at the Ritz), Jean Joho (Everest), Louis Outhier (very briefly at Le Prince), or Jackie Shen (Jackie’s).
I could also mention the French chef Yves Roubaud who, after stints at L’Hôtel de France in Minneapolis, Ambria and Un Grand Café, introduced at SHAW’S a very French contemporary way to work with seafood in Chicago. But SHAWS will not be part of my list because it was essentially a seafood restaurant, not a French one.
Chicago diners also mourned the loss, in 1985, of Lucien Vergé, a veteran French chef who with the opening of L’Escargot in 1968 became one of the best promoters in town of ‘’cuisine bourgeoise’.

In 1986, some French chefs and other professionals involved in French cuisine, under the leadership of Fernand Gutierrez who became its first president, launched the Vatel Club du Midwest to promote the originality and strength of French cuisine in our region that has been for too many years forgotten in the shade of New-York and California.

The end of the decade, unfortunately, was marked by a trend that I did not appreciate at all called ‘’ grazing”.
 Essentially followed by yuppies and North Shore and Gold Coast matrons who did not want to gain too much weight when eating out, it consisted in eating very small quantities of everything, or ordering only small side dishes. The quality of the cuisine was not affected and for a while many chefs adapted their culinary talents to this new kind of demand.
In fact, it was perhaps a trend that was born 30 years too early, since around 2008, it sort of morphed in a new French trend “les petits plats”, or “bar dishes”, which are still very popular in 2014. But it was not a new invention, just a variation of the “tapas”

In opposition to stricter requirements to include a restaurant in this list of French dining places, such as French ownership, cooking, managing and waiting staff, etc., that I used in the previous decades, for the 80s I will  list any restaurant serving good French cuisine in the Chicago area, whether or not it is owned by French people



1710 Orrington Avenue, Evanston

It was opened in March in the Orrington Hotel by Dominique Beauchard, who had managed both The 95th and the Ritz Carlton in the 70s.
This 85 seats restaurant was initially supposed to be a major component of an ambitious renovation program of this old-fashioned hotel that had lost most of its charm over the years. But for some economic reasons the hotel’s management expansive plans were somewhat reduced and Beauchard decided to lease the place and to operate it by himself along with chef Christian Vullien, a native of the French Alps region.
In spite of a limited budget the dining room was elegant and the service polished. Being in a hotel and serving breakfast the restaurant baked its own bread and pastries. The lunch menu was limited to American classics as well as a “quiche du jour”. But for dinner you could enjoy well prepared dishes such as rillettes of salmon, chicken liver mousse with a sauce Périgueux, sweetbreads, roast duckling with turnips, quails, and grilled sole or monkfish with a mushroom and champagne sauce. Desserts included a good chocolate cake and a decent apple tart.
 The wine list was quite respectable for a former all-dry city like Evanston. I went there only once and I have a pleasant if not spectacular remembrance of that dinner. The cuisine was perfectly fine but too conservative and seemed unaware that even in Evanston there were some educated diners who were interested by a more contemporary cuisine, without necessarily looking for “Nouvelle Cuisine”.
I think that La Mirabelle did OK for a while but could not compete with Café Provençal and closed in the fall of 1982 when the hotel was also closed for a more serious renovation


2300 N. West Lincoln Park, Chicago

On July 1 the opening of that glorious restaurant in the lobby of the Belden- Stratford Hotel was perhaps the most audacious move that Richard Melman, at the time CEO of LEY, took during his long series of entrepreneurial coups. As a matter of fact, nobody since Jovan Trboyevic at Le Perroquet in the early 70s had been so instrumental in launching such a high class dining establishment based essentially upon the most successful and well executed principles of the French Nouvelle Cuisine. The genius of Melman was to recruit Gabino Sotelino, a great expatriate Spanish cuisinier who had learned the secrets of the trade in some of the best kitchens of the world including the Plazza Athénée in Paris, France, to be executive chef and partner in the ownership at Ambria.
Sotelino, who had started his cooking apprenticeship at the early age of 14, arrived in Chicago in 1974 and served as head chef at Le Perroquet for almost 3 years, had impressed Melman who hired him in 1977 as executive chef at the Pump Room. The tremendous improvements that Sotelino brought to the kitchen of this historic restaurant that LEY had just purchased contributed to bringing that old lady back to fame.
Sotelino was the king of creative marriages between savory and fruit-sweet complex flavors and herbs or spices in a single dish. It started with appetizers such as scallops sautéed with exotic fruits and berries, or Carpaccio of beef sirloin in a green vegetable sauce with parmesan, very flavorful and delicate pâtés and terrines (venison in season was fabulous), Foie gras aux pommes, and the famous vegetable mousses, that were an obligatory trademark of the Nouvelle Cuisine.
The main courses, often very delicate fish preparations such as Loup de Mer or Dover Sole offered as specials, were equally innovative. Most regulars raved about the Rack of Veal with truffles and the Capon stuffed with a mousse de morilles (morels), as well as the rare magret de canard aux pêches.
Salads where Belgian endive, mâche, radicchio, bib, baby string beans, apples, were often combined and dressed with very refreshing herbed vinaigrettes, were very popular.
The most popular dessert were probably the fruit soufflés, flourless chocolate cake, and the white chocolate mousse in a rich dark chocolate sauce.
The very extensive, and expensive, wine list included some of the best Bourgognes that could be found in Chicago at the time.
The strict dress code, the discrete but luxurious décor where dark wood and fresh flowers were predominant, the excellence of the service, made you feel rich, even though nothing was ever pretentious in that sophisticated place that everybody regretted when it closed in 2007.
Very few other restaurants collected as many stars and awards as Ambria.
I am very sad not to have ever dined in this so creative establishment. 

In the meantime, Gabino Sotelino, always in cooperation with LEY, had launched other very popular eateries: Un Grand Café across the hall from Ambria that morphed years later into Mon ami Gabi, and Ba Ba Reeba, a very good and authentic tapas place, both still in operation in Chicago, and their sister restaurants in Las Vegas. Ba Ba Reeba Vegas closed in 2010.  


701 N. Michigan Avenue, Chicago.

Lucien and Lucette Vergé, along with co-owner Alan Tutzer, went through a long period of soul searching after their very popular restaurant, the original Escargot which opened in 1968 on North Halsted (see its description in a precedent chapter on the 60’s), burned in the fall of 1979. Since it proved too much of a hassle to wait for insurance, permits, inspections, redesign, before being able to actually start its reconstruction, they preferred to come downtown in the spring of 1980 and join the bustling new dining scene that had been flourishing around Michigan avenue since the mid-seventies. So, they set up shop in the ALLERTON HOTEL in a space that was occupied for a few months by a not too attractive dining-room called Theo’s. A very competent designer, Jerome Eastman, who had been a regular customer at l’Escargot on Halsted, offered to completely redo the space. And his efforts, using to their best the high ceilings, large curtained bay windows, big mirrors, wood dividers, and nice banquettes, Paris street signs, and French posters, recreated a very lively but comfortable French provincial mix of a brasserie and fancy country auberge. Close to the entrance a beautiful old-style long French ‘’comptoir’ ’covered with marble instead of zinc, with its bottles and glassware, could have been coming from an impressionist painting.
In fact, the entrance was on Huron, and the windows were facing that street too.
As it was the case on Halsted Lucien was in charge of the kitchen, but made the rounds often in the dining room to greet old regulars and a new generation of business and media people, as well as well-dressed shopping ladies, who enjoyed the very pleasant atmosphere and menu at lunch time.
Lucette was the always attentive front guardian, and Alan Tutzer was the competent and indispensable manager.
Lunch time could be very busy and it was sometimes difficult to get a table without reservation.
I usually came later around 1:30 when service was a bit more relaxed to enjoy the nice appetizers, such as terrific country pâtés and terrines, céleri-rémoulade, the leek tart, and traditional ‘’cuisine bourgeoise’’ entrées such as coq au vin, leg of lamb with flageolets beans, cassoulet, magret de canard, or calf`s brains with black butter and capers. Fresh fruit tarts were delicious.
The wine list always offered good Crus du Beaujolais, and reasonably priced small Bordeaux.
In the early 80’s you could have a complete lunch with some inexpensive wine for around 12 dollars. Dinner was more expensive.
Unfortunately, Lucien passed away in 1985. Alan Tutzer and Lucette kept the restaurant afloat until the late 80’s, but the spirit was gone.


306 N. Green Bay Road, Highwood, IL

During the summer of that year Christian Zeiger, the successful French owner of Alouette on Green Bay Road in Highwood since 1978, asked his 28 year old chef Thierry Lefeuvre, a native of Brittany, who had started cooking at Alouette in January 1979, to move a few blocks South to the same road to help managing the kitchen of his new French restaurant, along with manager and partner Gregg Mason.
33 years later Thierry Lefeuvre is still in charge of the kitchen at Froggy’s where he is a partner of the owners Bill and Sheri Cartwright.
The restaurant, which was called Froggy’s French Café in the 80s’ became rapidly popular on the North Shore.

And in spite of the fact that, in its early years, it did not take reservations, the place was packed most of the time at night, with many regulars attracted back by very attractive reasonably priced menus.
In fact Froggy’s for years kept a loyal clientele that was not coming for the very minimalist décor which nowadays is much more elaborate and comfortable than it was in the early 80’s, but for the high quality of the cuisine, that was a perfect mix of classic French dishes and contemporary creativity with obvious touches of “nouvelle cuisine” especially noticeable in the light but flavorful mousses, sauces, and a very precise treatment of fresh vegetables.
 Lefeuvre, a native of Brittany, was a master seafood chef, who excelled in exquisite scallop, mussels, salmon, pike (pike and shrimp quenelles were very delicate), crab preparations, as well as elaborate dishes such as stuffed sole with crawfish mousse, snapper Provençale, or basil marinated smoked salmon. I remember an appetizer of fresh crab in artichoke bottom that was delicious.  But he also excelled in traditional main courses such as magret (breast) of duck served rare with its confit leg in a wine sauce, a very satisfying cassoulet, a juicy herbed rack of lamb with a ragout of Mediterranean vegetables. The house salads were always full of fresh vegetables in season. And the home-made desserts such as chocolate or berries mousses, fruit tarts (apple or Mirabelle plums) were ladies favorites.
Froggy’s service was very professional, and the astute wine selection included good French regional bargains.
In the mid-eighties you could enjoy a complete six course menu for less than 20 dollars.


3048 W. Diversey Parkway, Chicago

In October, Francis Leroux, already a veteran of the French bistro scene in Chicago, whose Gare Saint Lazare on Armitage was a favorite of many French expats in the early 70s, opened this strange bistro in an old 2-story modest but charming wooden house, in a not too trendy neighborhood close to the Kennedy expressway. The space was previously occupied by a New-Orleans style restaurant called the Cajun House and the Creole House many years before. 
You had to ring the bell to enter. Then you had to go to the 2nd floor “bar”, in fact a room decorated and furnished with eclectic furniture. Then back downstairs to the small dining room where the dishes served reflected Leroux’s elaborate cooking skills.  At the time you could get a prix-fixe four course dinner, that included a good salad, dessert and half a bottle of some cheap French wine for around 20 dollars. Or you could have well prepared ‘’à la carte’’ special entrées of the day for around 10 dollars. The prix-fixe dinners could include Vol au Vent, scallops, a steak Bordelaise, bass in an herbed sauce, or moules marinière. Leroux did a good job with his soups and vegetable side dishes which were always fresh and out of the ordinary. Desserts were classically prepared but not too sophisticated. But regulars came on Tuesdays for the special of the day, a very tasty North-African lamb and chicken Couscous, made from steamed wheat semolina served with vegetables, chickpeas, and the traditional bowl of sauce along with the spicy Harissa, a paste-like condiment made from hot pepper.
The place was of course very popular with amateurs of value-oriented French bistro food. But i closed in the mid-eighties. Eventually Leroux launched another bistro in 1989, Café du Midi on N. Damen that lasted until 1997. Then Leroux became an instructor at Kendall College.


800 N. Michigan, Chicago

This posh French restaurant located in the very fancy Park Hyatt hotel (formerly Water Tower Hyatt) was named after the historic Water Tower in the square that it faced. This elegant place that could seat 110 customers had cost a little fortune to redesign and redecorate with exotic African wildlife paintings, plants, trees, sculptures and other motifs reminding you of the Henri (Le Douanier) Rousseau. And having lunch, siting in comfortable armchairs, facing the tall windows on a sunny winter day, was quite a visually striking experience. In fact, both the excellent food and service contributed to give you the impression of living and dining on a luxurious cruise ship. Everything was contributing to an atmosphere of sophistication: The flowers, the furniture, the silver and porcelain china, the beautiful crystal glassware, and of course the magnificent wine rooms and its 3,000 bottles.
Jean-Pierre Moraldo, the French manager was a perfect host and, in its early days at least, I had several occasions, during business lunches with French visitors, to enjoy French chef Paul Laubignat’s, an alumnus from Sofitel, very precisely prepared and elegantly plated dishes. They were a balanced mix of Classic French and Nouvelle Cuisine, with delicious seafood appetizers such as mousses, aspics, cheese soufflés, exciting salads with lobster and fresh small vegetables, game birds en croute, and main dishes such as ‘’magrets de canneton au poivre’’, sweetbreads in a Calvados sauce, or perfectly grilled lamb chops.
I do not remember any specific desserts.
20 years later in 2000 the main dining room was transferred to the 7th floor and became Nomi, an equally if not even better restaurant.


181 East Lake Shore Drive, Chicago

Located in the Hotel Mayfair Regent at this wonderful address, this was also a typical example of that trend consisting for international large hotel chains to create fancy French restaurants on their site. In this case the Mayfair was part of a hotel group based in Hong Kong. But in Chicago its manager, a French speaking Swiss gentleman named Jacques Hamburger, with the help of a famous NYC designer, put a real French classic touch to the décor of the 88 seats sunny (lots of windows and mirrors) and classy dining room on the 19th floor with a grandiose view of the lake and the Gold Coast. Management also insured a French classic tradition to its cuisine by hiring from France Michel Saragueta, a classically trained French Basque executive chef. Michel already had a long hotel cooking experience, including prestigious ones such as The Savoy in London, the Plaza Athénée in Paris, the Okura in Japan, and later at the Beverly Hills in L.A.
He offered the full spectrum of Haute and Bourgeoise French dishes, all meticulously prepared, since Saragueta has always been a perfectionist professional: Vegetable terrine, Coquilles St, Jacques à la Provençale, Frog legs in sauce Nantua, Dover sole, Escalopes de veau à l’estragon (Veal scaloppini with a tarragon sauce), Salad of Sweetbreads with artichoke bottoms and truffles, Calf liver, and great French desserts such as the traditional Ile Flottante and Charlotte aux fraises.
Prices were quite reasonable, especially at lunch, for such a luxurious place.
It stayed open until the mid-eighties.



50 East Oak, Chicago
In the late 70’s this same address did not provided much luck to Roger Greenfield and his associates, his glamorous bistro that should have been a success lasted only a few months.
A Swiss Wall Street broker named André Constantin came all the way from New York to re-open the place as a French brasserie at street level, and a disco-night club on the 2nd floor. The décor was very attractive and contemporary, with banquettes, big mirrors, retro lamps with adjustable lights, and typical small bistro tables.
I do not remember who was the chef, but Le Relais had found a good idea in offering prix-fixe typical French bistro ‘’formulas’’ that included an appetizer, salad, main entrée, a dessert and some beverage. You could enjoy dishes such as Cassoulet Toulousain, lamb chops, and moules marinière, as well as chocolate mousse and éclairs. Prices were reasonable: $ 16.00 to $18.00
The wine list was not very long but offered decently priced regional French wines.
Unfortunately, the place did not last much longer than its predecessors.


429 Temple Avenue, Highland Park.

On a very balmy April night, on my wife’s birthday, when we entered this small (about 55 “couverts”) but sophisticated restaurant that had opened in December, on the Eastern side of the railroad tracks, we had no idea that it would rapidly becoming one of the best in the Midwest. We were immediately seduced by the subdued, intimate elegance and subtle refinement of the place that was isolated from the entrance by an art deco styled etched glass partition. Obviously, we had not chosen a typical suburban storefront eatery. The décor was dominated by beige, pink, and caramel colors, nice contemporary prints on the walls along with indirect lighting, wood panels, and pretty bouquets of fresh flowers.
We were seated in a comfortable booth at a very elegantly appointed table covered with white linen, where both the glassware, the silver, and the porcelain (from Villeroy and Bosch if I remember correctly) added a touch of traditional style that you would find in a good restaurant in the ‘’bourgeois’’ neighborhood of a large provincial French town.
Our gracious host, Carlos Nieto, the co-owner with his wife Debbie, who started his career as a busboy at L’Escargot, was for almost 10 years a captain at Le Français under Jean Banchet. And that experience showed in all the details of a practically perfect service. At the time, we did not know who the chef was, but after the superb dinner we enjoyed a lot, we rapidly inquired about him, a certain Roland Liccioni. He was (and still is in 2019) a very talented French chef, of Corsican and Vietnamese origins, whom years later we met several times in other occasions and in other venues and learned to appreciate even more from a personal standpoint.
 The menu in the early months of Carlos was limited, but that night we feasted on perfectly prepared terrines, asparagus sauce mousseline, salmon en croute, paillard de veau, (or perhaps that night I had ordered a magret of duck with its leg), baby lettuce salad, and a sumptuous 3 chocolate dessert. The small vegetables accompaniments, especially mushrooms, were particularly spectacular. Roland Liccioni’s wife at the time, Mary-Beth, was about to become one of the best pastry chefs in the country, and well recognized for her chocolate creations.
The wine list was not very extensive but extremely well selected with great reasonably priced Bordeaux.
I think that I paid around 80 dollars for that meal including wine, espresso, taxes and tip.
Roland Liccioni stayed there until 1989, when he took over Le Français. He was replaced by Gabriel Viti, another talented chef who had apprenticed in a few great 3 stars restaurants of France and Switzerland, and eventually created other very popular restaurants in Highwood and Highland Park, Viti, Gabriel and Miramar.
In 2012 Carlos Nieto decided to completely re-conceptualize and redecorate the place that morphed into Nieto’s, a more casual-American bistro. As a result of that decision another icon of one of the most glorious and creative period  in French dining in Chicago disappeared.


2300 N. Lincoln Park West, Chicago

Richard Melman got himself another winner when this “très sympathique’’ hybrid of a traditional brasserie that you would find in the 6th, 16th or 17th arrondissement in Paris, and a more provincial restaurant of ‘’cuisine bourgeoise’’.
Opened in December on the left side of the lobby in the Belden-Stratford hotel it was facing Ambria on the right side, and was supervised by Gabino Sotelino, a partner of Melman in both restaurants.
The restaurant rapidly attracted a crowd of well-dressed Gold Coast young men accompanied by lovely, equally well-dressed, young ladies, as well as more traditional executives from the advertising, media, sport, and international business. And, during international trade shows, it was common to hear people conversing from table to table in French or Italian. This place was a favorite of my French visitors, and of my older son who insisted to choose Un Grand Café for his birthday dinner for several years. He still has a collection of all its menus.
The décor was really pleasant and comforting: a mix of dark wood wall panels, mirrors, banquettes with racks for hats and tables covered with white table cloth, and a vase containing fresh flowers. The pleasant and knowledgeable waiters wore, in a very old Parisian brasserie style, the traditional apron vest, black trousers and white shirt.
The atmosphere was very European and convivial and customers left the place in a good mood.
What I liked about the fare there is that it was unpretentious, unfussy, bistro food that did not try to pretend that it was prepared by a 3 star chef, or followed ‘’nouvelle cuisine’’ trends, but was most of the time well-prepared with fresh products and reliable.
I particularly loved the terrines of duck or rabbit, the vegetable mousses, the Mediterranean vegetable tart, the duck confit or sautéed duck breast with sliced garlic sautéed potatoes, and the sautéed chicken with very good ‘’pommes alumettes’’ (matchstick fries). My wife always enjoyed the perfectly cooked grilled salmon or the traditional steak frites and was very fond of the chocolate desserts. In the mid-eighties the chef was René Bajeux and his authentic French cuisine was really a plus to this charming bistro.
The wine list offered a few good and decently priced small Bordeaux, Beaujolais, and a few Côtes du Rhône. And they had some very good Armagnacs and Calvados.
I would pay around 32 dollars for a full meal with wine and espresso around 1985.
The restaurant morphed into Mon Ami Gabi in the early 2000s and became more of a Franco-American steak house. It was  still good and popular the last time I went there in 2013. Other Mon Ami Gabi were launched in Las Vegas in 1999, as well as in Bethesda, MD, and Reston Virginia. Another one was also opened in Oak Brook, IL.



2478 N. Lincoln Avenue, Chicago

In my 42 years of restaurant dining in Chicago, few places have instantly seduced me as much as Jackie’s when Jackie Shen, who at the time was only 28 and known by her married name of Etcheber, opened her first restaurant. She had emigrated from her native Hong-Kong in 1971 and after graduating from the University of Houston had worked as room manager in a couple of hotels in Chicago. But her passion was cooking and she learned the trade under Jean Banchet at Le Francais and La Mer, and also at nearby Ciel Bleu in the Mayfair Regent. At La Mer she worked along another young promising chef, Jeff Jackson, who helped her when she bought her own place on Lincoln avenue.
Jackie’s was not a big and flashy dining room but rather a very refined and intimate one. All the carefully chosen components, discrete but classy, such as the harmonious colors of the walls, attractive paintings, impeccable tables settings with colorful French china, a few antiques, and polished waiting staff, contributed to help the diners to fully appreciate the serenity of the atmosphere and the refinement of the dishes. In its first two years the cuisine was definitely contemporary French, and the influence of her mentor, Jean Banchet was fully evident.
Obviously she had learned that great sense of precision and quasi obsessive search of perfection from him. Her cuisine had assimilated all the classic and very precise French techniques, a great respect for first rate and expensive ingredients, and the art of plating and presentation.
She magnified the “art on the plate” visual style like few young French-trained American chefs of her generation could do. She was the first one in Chicago to perfect the inventive approach of cooking with beautiful edible flowers. Many of her sophisticated appetizers included Beluga caviar or smoked mussels. But she had also acquired a great way of making all kinds of terrines and pâtés.  Every seafood dish that she created was so close to perfection, in spite of the risks that she was taking in her cooking and assembling methods, that you would look at your plate for a while before daring to take your fork to disassemble this sumptuous blend of flavors, colors, and textures. Her Dover sole with a mousse of scallops on a perfect feuilleté nest remained one of her most popular signature dishes for years.  Her duos or trios of game meat, such as wild duck, pheasant, and quail, as well as her famous duck in 2 services (magret +leg confit), were always perfectly cooked, with great sauces, such as exotic pepper.
And I had never seen before such a maestria with the garnishes of ‘’petits légumes’’ (baby vegetables), even when it was difficult to find them in winter in the Midwest.
Progressively, while keeping her French menu, she introduced some creative Asian touches to her cooking. This “fusion”, an homage to her origins, remained more and more evident during the following years.
And I will never forget my wife’s awe and state of bliss when we tried her famous chocolate bag, a square container made of dark chocolate filled with a scrumptious mousse of white chocolate and red berries, surrounded by a coulis of the same berries.
The wine list, composed with the help of her then husband Pierre Etcheber, a former wine steward from Le Français who would himself open in 1985 his own restaurant, Café D’Artagnan, a couple of blocks away on Lincoln, had numerous great small affordable Bordeaux.
In the early 80s a 3 courses dinner would cost you, without wine and tip, around 26 dollars.
The restaurant closed in 1995 following a series of technical and personal problems.
Jackie Shen from that time worked for other Chicago restaurants, Lawry`s Prime Rib, Red Light, Chicago Cut, Argent, and City Tavern, but never owned her own place again. Our loss…


3257 N. Halsted, Chicago

Wen Yoshi Katsumura and his wife Nobuko opened this charming, intimate, and very good restaurant in what was not in those days called “Boystown”, many people thought he was taking a big risk. The neighborhood, just North of Belmont was far from being gentrified, and at night was sometimes more often populated by homeless, drunks, and “bohemians” than yuppies and fashionably dressed potential diners. But 32 years later, even though it serves a completely different type of cuisine for completely different types of customers, Yoshi was still cooking at this same address. But the menu in 2014 was much more prosaic and answers the expectations of a wider, younger, much less sophisticated and less ready to spend 2 hours and spend a good deal of money for exquisite French food.
Even though he was Japanese, Yoshi in 1982 had already built a solid reputation as a “French chef” with an approach that I would say was half-way between classic French and “Nouvelle” contemporary French, without gimmicks. He had learned French cooking techniques in some of the best hotels in Japan, and he refined them when he moved to Chicago and worked in places such as Le Bastille and Le Français. He then went to the very popular Jimmy`s Place on Elston where he was a chef-partner for Jimmy Rohr for 4 years.
I had dinner at Yoshi’s twice in 1986 and 1987. And I was totally in awe with the quality of his cuisine, the quality of his ingredients, the precision of his cooking timing, and of course the elegance of his food presentation.
The dining room itself was very small, less than 50 seats, very comfortable, unpretentious but nicely decorated like a French provincial inn, with white table cloth, French china and silverware, and nice bouquets of fresh flowers. The menu was limited but very well balanced, with about 7 or 8 appetizers, and the same amount of entrées including the daily specials. Seafood was always Yoshi’s best achievement, from his famous lobster bisque, to Dover sole Dugléré, and in some of his own original creations such as seafood sausage, mousse, or ravioli in a shrimp or lobster sauce. He was also excellent in his treatment of mussels and scallops. And many customers would rave about his simple grilled swordfish with a subtle light butter sauce.
I will keep a vibrant memory of his rich and very well-seasoned pâtés, his perfectly cooked rabbit or duck specials, and of his veal dishes, especially those with wild mushrooms such as chanterelles which I love.
And his selection and presentation of very prime quality vegetables, even in winter, was always remarkable.
The only dessert that I remember well was a light but very rich flourless chocolate cake with a raspberry coulis.
His wine list was limited but very impressive with good affordable Bourgognes,
Service was competent and unobtrusive.
Prices were reasonable for such a quality: About 50 dollars for a 3 course dinner including wine and tip.
Yoshi passed away at the relatively young age of 65 in 2015. Nowadays his daughter owns and manages the restaurant.


Note: The two following restaurants were called French in several guides and reviews, but I honestly do not think they could be classified as such, even if you could here and there notice a French influence in some of their dishes.


37 W. Main St., Cary, IL

I never ate in that small storefront restaurant that Rolf Beisner, a former waiter at Alouette, one of the many French eateries created by Christian Zeiger in Highwood, and his wife launched in March in this far away tiny Northwest suburb. But the reviews I read at the time, especially one by Paul Camp in the Tribune, did not incite me to make the trip there. It seemed to imply that this place’s supposedly French cooking style was closer to the Americanized version that you could find in some Chicago restaurants in the early sixties. Not bad but not really creative either with the quality of the ingredients just so-so and the cooking times totally inconsistent. Breast of chicken with lime, or veal kidneys in mustard seed sauce, were not very exciting according to Camp.
But the Duck breast in peppercorn sauce was fine. Food and wine prices though were very reasonable though and attracted a good number of regulars. I do not know when the restaurant closed its doors.


5819 W. Dempster St. Morton Grove, IL

When Kim Chong who was at the same time its owner, chef de cuisine, and manager of a rather fancy dining-room, opened this place, I was skeptical in its early days of the chances of a hybrid French-Contemporary American restaurant to be successful in the gastronomic desert of Morton Grove.  But I was wrong. The combination of an elegant décor with comfortable booths, white cloth covered tables, good quality china, silver, and glassware, and very reasonably priced prix-fixe dinner (about 17 dollars in 1985) rapidly attracted and kept for several years a relatively sophisticated client base of North Shore patrons.
Personally, I thought that the décor was a bit too flashy. But my only visit there in 2005 convinced me that Chong, who had worked at the famous George Badonsky’s Tango for almost 10 years, had found a winning formula. As it was the case at Tango, he was really in control with a good selection of fresh and nicely presented seafood dishes as well as home-made pasta. And his use of elegantly presented fresh vegetables in all styles and combinations, including delicious purées, was very appealing to his clientele of well-to do couples and older traditional executives. He really had a great sense of colorful assemblages. And his sauces had definitely a “nouvelle cuisine” touch. Most of his seafood presentations of classics such as Sea bass, Salmon, Mousse of scallops, or Shrimps, were always pleasantly prepared.
His pâtés and meat dishes, though were less successful. Desserts such as the always popular flourless chocolate cake were fine.  The wine list was also pleasant and affordable.
But as was the case of many new so-called French restaurants in those days, which were not in the hands of French trained chefs, I personally would not call Mr. Chong cuisine as typically French.
In fact, as it was the case for La Maisonette, I was very reluctant to include it in this list.
I believe that this place closed in 1993.

213 West Institute Place

When Monique Hooker (née Jamet) opened this very pleasant café in the fall of 83, its location, one block North of Chicago avenue and just off Franklin St. was not yet in a fancy district full of well-dressed and sophisticated Chicagoans foodies in search of new exciting dining  places. Monique was a (too early) precursor of sort who realized that this neighborhood of warehouses, and practically empty industrial buildings at the northern edge of the not yet fully developed River North district offered a potential. If Kiki’s Bistro that opened in 1990 a few blocks North on Franklin, and is still in operation 28 years later, was able to attract relatively rapidly an expanding client base, it was because he has been in business in Chicago since 1968 and drained to his new place a large part of his faithful customers from Le Bordeaux.
Monique had never owned her own restaurant before but she already had a long and solid background in the food and restaurant business and when she arrived in New York from her native farmland of Brittany in 1965 she met and worked with some well-established French chefs such as Jacques Pépin and Pierre Franey.
Monique did not benefit from local foot traffic, since there was none at the time excepted for the students of the nearby Moody Bible Institute who were not restaurant goers.
But she managed to have a nice following of young and relaxed people, and former students of her well-known cooking classes or customers of her catering business. Her lofty space was very welcoming with a simple but warm rustic décor of brick walls, old varnished wooden floors, a long counter, open kitchen, and brightly painted large AC pipes on the ceiling. The room was airy and luminous and the white table cloth and pots of fresh flowers contributed to a sunny ambiance. And she was a cheerful host. The restaurant was open for lunch only, and the average cost was
$ 15.00 for a main dish, a dessert and a glass of simple wine.
She had some regulars who came to have a simple sandwich made from her excellent home-baked bread and some French cheese or pâté.
The food was also simple French bistro fare: good pâtés and terrines, salade niçoise, coq au vin, beef and veal stews, duck, venison, salmon, pastries and cakes.
Generally the food was well prepared, but sometimes the cooking times were not always precise. The café’s food style was not particularly in tune with the trends and techniques of the Nouvelle Cuisine. But there was always a very pleasant selection of fresh seasonal vegetables.
 I went there for lunch a few times but it was too far away from my office to walk there, and in these days I was looking for more contemporary French and New American types of food.
I think that the place closed around early 1996. But Monique continued her active life as a teacher, caterer, and in 1997 published a successful book ‘’Cooking with the Seasons’’. She also hosted a TV show on cable in the Chicago area.
She moved to the little town of De Soto in Wisconsin where she produced her own organic frozen pastry crust for a while.



253 East Rand Road, Mount Prospect, IL

This rather big room with a 180 “couverts” capacity, which represents quite a challenge for a French bistro in the Northwest suburbs, was opened in July by Georges Cuisance, the genial owner of the popular Le Bordeaux in the Loop.
The concept was to offer classic French cuisine with a modern “Nouvelle Cuisine” lighter touch, with a limited menu but rich in fresh seafood, vegetables, in an elegant but unpretentious décor. So, the restaurant fared well from the start with appetizers such as escargots in the traditional butter-garlic sauce, sautéed diver scallops in a mustardy cream sauce, duck terrine, onion soup, ratatouille niçoise. Main dishes again were quite influenced by the sea such as a ‘’Vol au Vent’’ of tender bay scallops with mushrooms in a saffron sauce. But classics such as ‘’sauté de veau aux champignons’’ (veal sautéed with mushrooms) were also very popular.
More than the steak-frites, that according to a 1984 Tribune review was not that exciting which is surprising for a French bistro. But according to the same reviewer, the mocha cake made by a French patissier who had worked at Le Français was very good.
Kiki himself was very active at the Mount Prospect restaurant every night, while keeping a watchful eye on the operations at Le Bordeaux in the Loop from 11:00 AM to 3:00PM.
But in spite of all his efforts and commitment, Le Bistroquet never became as profitable as expected. It was packed on week-ends but empty during the week.
When the restaurant closed it had not reached its second birthday.


1200 N, Dearborn, Chicago

In early 1984 when Michael Beck, one of the most gifted young American chefs of his generation at the time in Chicago, opened his own ‘’French’’ restaurant on the site of what was known before as Trumpets, and long before that Le Café de Paris, he already had a solid experience in French cuisine. After graduating from the Washburn culinary school on the South side of Chicago, he did several ‘’stages’’(training periods) in France and at the Whitehall and eventually ended up as chef de cuisine at Le Perroquet under the celebrated owner Jovan Trboyevic, who taught him a lot.
This influence was noticeable during the first 9 months of operation, not only in the settings and décor, sort of late 1930’s style, of this comfortable and artsy place, but also with details of dishes such as aspics, unusual marinated fish, exciting charcuterie such as duck rillettes, beurre blanc, fresh original vegetable purées, mousses, use of fresh herbs, including ciboulette (for chives in French) and rarely served meats such as rabbit. And the desserts often included dark chocolate, delicate feuilletés, and fresh berries.
Unfortunately, the restaurant suffered from 2 main problems: inconsistencies in both food preparation and service, and overpricing for such an unpredictable quality.
Too many disappointed customers fell out of love for this place which should have been a success and La Ciboulette had to close in 1986.


2242 N. Lincoln Avenue Chicago

Opened in August in the location formerly occupied by Café Figaro, this charming place could have become one of the most authentic French bistros in Chicago if it had been managed a little more tightly and lasted a little longer. It might have been more successful if it had been only a wine bar with a few small plates. But this formula was not popular in these days.
It was the creation of Pierre Etcheber, a native of the Pyrénnées Mountains area in Southwest France, who had spent some time as a wine steward at Le Français, which can explain the very wide and good selection of French wines that he offered at D’Artagnan. He also at the time was still married to Jackie Shen, the brilliant chef-owner of Jackie’s a few blocks North on Lincoln who was a co-owner and helped him a lot in the kitchen in the early days.
It was a very casual, small, unpretentious but cozy place where patrons took a leisurely time, as it would have been the case in a provincial bistro in France, to enjoy a well prepared dinner and taste good wines, many served by the glass, and fine Armagnac. Service was good but slow, and in the summertime you could eat outside on the small patio, a rare pleasure in these days.
The chef, Stephen Langlois, had worked briefly for Jean Joho when he re-opened Maxim`s, and was very creative. He had a solid technique and inventive ways to cooking beef, veal, duck, or pork at a perfect level of doneness, with exciting but subtle sauces, sometimes reduced with brandy and ‘’fond de veau’’. He was also very successful with such typically French specialties as veal sweetbreads, calf liver, or snails. The pâtés and terrines were very delicate but flavorful and the fish dishes were very precisely cooked in the ‘’nouvelle cuisine’’style with beurre blanc or beurre rouge. The quality and presentation of mini-vegetables was also very Nouvelle Cuisine but properly cooked. Salads were often made of interesting mixes of greens dressed with light mustardy vinaigrettes.
Prices were very reasonable when considering the quality of the food and service.
But the restaurant ,for reasons I have never been able to understand, closed after 2 years.


2044 N. Halsted St., Chicago

Opened in June by two alumni of Le Français, Greg Mulcahy who was a sous-chef for 6 years, and Tom Culleeney who ended up his stint there for the same amount of time as pastry chef, the restaurant was quick to attract both Le Français former customers, and younger food aficionados. Both were still in their late twenties at the time. The small dining room, that you reached after a short walk in a garden-like bar, had green banquettes, pink walls, skylight in the  ceiling, and peacock feathers in big vases, used to be occupied by Cynthia’s.
My wife and I were immediately seduced not only by the décor and the ambiance, young and contemporary as well as lively and intimate at the same time, but also by the elegance and creativity of the dishes. But since we visited the restaurant a few months after its opening, we were not that impressed by the service that, even though the waiting staff was pleasant, was not as polished as the cooking.
The classic French training he got from Jean Banchet was obvious in Mulcahy`s cooking which reflected a perfect technical control, and many customers, especially women, would fall in love with Culleeney`s incredible pastries and mousses. He had studied at the famous Lenôtre pastry school in Paris.
 Quail ‘’en croûte’’ with truffled goose liver, Dover sole stuffed in lobster mousse  in a delicate sauce Nantua  baked in puff pastry (again), house-made fresh pasta specials, complex salads such as a seared  magret de canard (duck breast) over Belgian endive, and mushrooms dressed with a hazelnut vinaigrette, and those unctuous pâtés (splendid duck with pistachios if I remember correctly.
Practically everything was close to perfection. I loved the fact that Les Plumes offered a refreshing sorbet between the salad and the main courses.
And of course these spectacular desserts: White and dark chocolate mousse, Dacquoise, chocolate trios, terrine of fresh fruits, hot apple tart in caramel sauce, and so on.
The wine list was very intelligently composed.
But all this was not cheap: I think that with a modestly priced wine and 3 courses each, I paid 75 dollars for the two of us.
The restaurant which received consistently good reviews until 1990 had nevertheless always suffered from a ‘’location’’ and overpricing problem and was never able to secure a solid client base. Pat Bruno, a couple of months before its closing wrote a very positive new review of the restaurant in the Sun Times , even saying that it was a better deal than Charlie Trotter’s but was overpriced and not exactly answering the tastes and expectations of main stream but trendy moneyed customers. He suggested that the owners morphed it in a lower priced bistro.
They did not and unfortunately Les Plumes closed in early 1991.


1011 N. Rush St., Chicago

The name of this short-lived (5 months) restaurant is a contraction of two French words: Amandier (almond tree) and Mangue (mango). When it opened its door in September at his slightly lower than street level unusual location, there were already 4 very successful L’Amanguier restaurants in the Paris area. I used to go to the one in the delightful Rue Saint Louis en l’Isle and I thought the food was good, even though the menu was a bit limited, especially considering the very moderate prices. The décor in Chicago was similar: simple and very “green”, including the carpet, banquettes, wall covering, placemats, plants and flowers on trellises, even the outfits of the waiting staff. It made the whole environment very luminous and cheerful.  It was supposed to look like a winter garden, which was a pleasant idea to attract Chicago’s diners…in winter when the weather is dreadful. And there was an attractive bar counter. The manager was French.
Why its owner in Paris Patrick Derderian, in partnership here with the powerful food and restaurant group Sodexo had decided to open his first U.S restaurant, based on it Paris’s models,  in Chicago will always remain a mystery.
The menu followed the same “formule” found in many French brasseries, consisting of an appetizer, and sometimes a salad, and a main course for one price, usually between 14 and 17 dollars. But there were “specials” changing every week. Appetizers could be pâtés or duck mousse, quiche, warm goat cheese in puff pastry, or crab and avocado salad.
And, of course, you could finish with some French cheese or a dessert such as home-made pastries, or ice cream and sorbets. They offered a few simple but good French wines by the glass. As it was the case in Paris, main courses consisted of Blanquette de Veau (veal stew), grilled lamb chops with provençal herbs, sea scallops sautéed in butter with saffron, salmon in a beurre blanc ‘’ à l’estragon’’ (tarragon sauce), beef tenderloin, and magret de canard (duck breast) in a reduced vinegar and green pepper sauce.
I visited the place twice during its first month of operation and found the food fine, but the ambiance was quite depressing due to the lack of customers, and the absence of people passing by, which on Rush Street is a handicap.
The restaurant was such a flop that it closed its doors before the arrival of the spring in early 1986.
Too bad. It should have been a success, but it did not fit the expectations of the average Rush street diner, and was not sophisticated enough, too cheap, and the menu was too limited to be accepted as a bona fide French restaurant.


900 N. Franklin St., Chicago

I hesitated to include in my list this very original restaurant opened in September 85 in a very austere, modernistic and cold concrete décor with black chairs and fluorescent lights on the walls. The owner at the time was Jennifer Newbury, a young chef who had spent some time in L.A and New York, and she who was quite courageous to launch a restaurant in such an unattractive building of lofts and offices in an even less attractive neighborhood 2 blocks East from Cabrini Green, totally deprived of foot traffic.
The first few months it struggled to avoid being empty during the week in spite of positive reactions from the few customers who liked her traditional approach to French cuisine bourgeoise with dishes such as cassoulet, sweetbreads, garlic chicken, and purée de pommes de terre (mashed potatoes).
I had lunch once there on during the winter of 1986 and I was the only customer in a very cold and quite depressing dining room. I do not remember what I ate that day but I know  that it was good.
But then Jennifer (Jenny) developed a durable personal relationship with Dennis Terczak who had established a solid reputation as executive chef at AVANZARE. He loved her so much that he quit this very lucrative job with the Melman Group to come to Amérique as chef de cuisine. He then completely morphed the menu into his own creative contemporary-American-Italian style. Only a few touches of French cuisine were left, which progressively disappeared long before it closed in June of 1988. The place was completely redone and re-opened December 1st as a bona-fide French bistro called CHEZ JENNY. (See description later)


2635 N. Halsted St. Chicago

This very popular and good restaurant opened first in March 1985 as a very small wine bar by owner Mitch Dulin. Then it started to offer a few small dishes and eventually expanded nest door to become a full-fledged 70 seats restaurant in October. In the early days there was also a small wine shop upfront.
At that time the neighborhood had attracted several other bars and restaurants and had become a popular destination for diners.
The definitively French-styled cooking of chef Charlie Socher, who had learned traditional as well as more “ nouvelle cuisine” French techniques in several restaurants in Paris and later at the celebrated Ambria in Chicago was at the same time unpretentious and creative, and in any case very good.
So in a matter of just a few months Chardonnay became a much appreciated French  bistro that a growing numbers of regulars loved  for its value-priced French cuisine and its great selection of good wines, many of them French and served by the glass for less than $5.00.
The décor was nothing to write home about but had charming small bistro  marble-covered  tables, amusing mural paintings, and of course wine racks.
Later on, during the summer months, a few diners could eat outside on small patio in the back of the restaurant.
The waiting staff was well trained and offered lots of pertinent info and good pairing advice to the customers. They eventually served dinners
I personally dined there only once, but I will always keep a happy memory of the great “terrine de lapin” (rabbit pâté) that was a rare find in Chicago in these days. As a matter of fact you could order a selection of 3 very good pâtés with excellent condiments and garnishes for $ 4.50.
 But Socher’s most popular appetizers were several hot ones in puff pastry, ‘’moules marinière’’ (steamed in white wine, onion, herbs, and spices), and vegetable mousses.
The relatively short menu changed every week, but always included some very fresh and precisely cooked fish, grilled or in a delicate wine or calvados sauce, chicken in very original sauces, some pasta such as ravioli stuffed with wild mushrooms, and red meat such as grilled lamb steak, or veal liver.
All the vegetable accompaniments were always perfectly cooked, very flavorful, and their visual presentation attractively plated.
I do not remember much about the desserts but a few reviewers raved about a glazed strawberry tart covered with white chocolate.
In 1986 you could have a 3 course dinner for less than $18.00
From 1997 to 2010 Charlie Socher operated another very popular French bistro on Milwaukee Avenue called Café Matou.
Chardonnay closed in 1989.

3443 N. Sheffield, Chicago

Open in late winter 2005 this is another 60 seat bistro that immediately gained a solid customer base. It remained popular for 6 years in this bustling Lakeview district, just 2 blocks South of Wrigley Field, an area recently gentrified but that however at the time had not attracted any French restaurant. The 3 owners were Robert Parraga, whose family had a restaurant in Cuba specializing in roasted pig, Dave Korslund, a banker, and his brother Doug. The 2 brothers had spent their youth on a pig farm so they decided to name the place Cochonnet, which means “piglet” in French. The 3 partners had a good intuition in hiring Margaret Wangelin as their first chef. She was only 28 but had already a good background in French cooking with stints at Monique Café and Le Bastille after working at Gordon. And it did not take long for her to create all kinds of pork--based recipes with a French touch such as Provençal marinade, garlic, rosemary, tomatoes, walnuts, or prunes.
 So, you would always find pork dishes on the menu such as pork roast, grilled pork sirloin, pork chops, pork sausages, and of course delicious pâtés and rillettes.
Since pork dishes were not very frequent on Chicago restaurant menus in 1986, Maggie Wangelin was 25 years ahead of what became a trend here in 2011.
Other popular dishes in the early years of Le Cochonnet were ratatouille niçoise, salmon and grouper in beurre blanc, a rich cassoulet in its earthenware crock, and lamb chops.
Years later, you could also eat Bouillabaisse, shrimp and mushroom raviolis, stewed rabbit, and Mediterranean pasta dishes.
Most wines were French and quite affordable, especially by the glasIn 1986 you could have a complete dinner with some wine for less than $25.00
The décor was simple but pleasant.
In late 1990 the owners bought an adjacent place called ‘’Vaudeville’’ and morphed it in a small annex to le Cochonnet called simply A Côté (Next Door in French).
Le Cochonnet closed in 1991.



440 South Lasalle St.  40th Floor, Chicago

Jean Joho has been one of the most celebrated French chefs in the U.S. over more than 30years. But his first 2 years in Chicago when he arrived from France during the summer of 1984 to be the executive chef at the famous Maxim’s, on Astor St. which closing for a while was being re-launched by George Badonski were rather frustrating. He was practically given carte blanche to do what he wanted at Maxim’s, and sure enough the restaurant critics and wealthy ‘’gastronomes’’ were fast to recognize the extraordinary talent and prodigious technical skills he had acquired as a sous-chef of the great Paul Haeberlin at his world-famous Auberge de L’Ill in Illhaeusern, at the heart of his native Alsace. As a matter of fact Joho spoke little English at the time and his Alsatian accent was, and still is today, very pronounced and quite charming when he spoke in French.
Problem was that his type of cuisine, and his requirements were not cheap, at a time where many people in Chicago were not often ready, in a period of tough economic realities, to spend top dollars for a spectacular French meal.
 And even if Badonski was a great Chicago restaurateur, with a vision that allowed him to put many successes behind his belt (Brewery, Tango, Bastille, George’s,) he was not always the shrewdest money manager. He had spent a fortune to restore Maxim’s, hire the best staff, buy the best food products wine and liquor, and suddenly he was not only facing serious cash problems but also an unexpected lawsuit from Pierre Cardin, who had bought the original Maxim`s in Paris, and its trademark. So, Maxim’s Chicago had to close less than 2 years after its re-opening, and Jean Joho found himself to be an expatriate without a job.
Fortunately his reputation attracted the interest of Richard Melman who hired him first as a consultant and then in the summer of 1986 offered him the challenging job of creating 2 restaurants, one grill on the 3rd floor and a top-notch French restaurant in the ultra- private and select LaSalle Professional Club, that offered full business and spa-exercising services on the 40th floor of the One Financial Place building. Both were under the management of LEY (Lettuce Entertain You), Melman’s ever growing mini empire.
The first few months were a bit rough, since the access to the EVEREST ROOM was reserved to the members of the very chic but very pricey club.  And it was not sufficient to create a solid customer base. So progressively friends and connections of the members were welcomed as paying guests, and a bit later the restaurant opened to the general public. It was quite a trip to access the restaurant on the 40th floor, involving using 3 different elevators from the parking in the basement. And when you entered the bar, the main dining room, you could not help but to be visually shocked by the design of the carpet that imitated the pattern of the skin of a panther or leopard. Besides the walls were partially covered with murals depicting exotic animal usually hunted in Africa.
But once you were seated you were amazed by the high quality of the furniture, the large tables, their white cloth, the china, the sterling, the glasses, the flowers. Everything was pure European luxury.
The first time I went there, in the early days of the club in the summer of 1986, for lunch with a friend, who like Joho was an Alsatian, I was totally captivated by the Chicago landscape that you could admire from the very high and wide windows. We got a complete tour of the facilities from Jean Joho who then served us a most delicious meal where foie gras, veal, salmon en croute, mushrooms, and vegetable mousse as well as cheeses, were very impressive.
And of course, I never had such a delicious Alsatian Riesling from one of Joho’s winemaker friends.
Over the year the menu expanded a lot, but one of its stars was the famous Supreme de Saumon  Soufflé Paul Haeberlin, an homage to his mentor, which consisted of scaloppini  of salmon covered with a delicate pike mousse poached in wine and served with a reduction of pan juices with cream, butter, and lemon.
But several very delicate fish were found at the Everest such as the roasted filets of Saint-Pierre (John Dory) wrapped in a julienne of potatoes. And many critics raved about his Pot au feu of Lobster and micro vegetables.
Speaking of vegetables the variety and quality of the ones he served as garnish or as per-se dishes was incredible.
Joho also was a master of the risotto, one served with deboned quail and mushrooms.
In season venison was always on the menu in some kind or another.
And I think that his pears, poached or in a soufflé with an Alsatian Poire William brandy, or in a sorbet form, were among the best I ever had.
It would take pages and pages to describe all the remarkable dishes that came out of this amazing kitchen over the last 30 years. And it is not over yet.
And as I mentioned before, Everest’s selection of Alsatian Rieslings, Gewurztraminer, and ‘’alcools blancs’’ (clear fruit brandies) was as good as what you could find in some of the best restaurants in Strasbourg or Colmar.
As expected, prices were not cheap, but as we say in France “La qualité n’a pas de prix’’.


Westminster and Forest avenues Lake Forest, IL

I will always regret to never had an opportunity to dine at this restaurant which, in late fall, took over the space left empty when Gordon Sinclair (Gordon’s) decided in mid-1986 to call it quits with his SINCLAIR, which was quite popular at one time with the locals. Carlos Nieto, the owner of CARLOS in Highland Park, made a deal with Marshall Field IV to manage a new restaurant which after some redecorating was going to be a French bistro.
He hired Didier Durand, a very good ‘’cuisinier’’ born and trained in Southwest France, who had done a very good job as chef at Carlos, and eventually at La Bohème, and another French pro who had been working with Nieto at Le Français , Jean-Pierre Leroux to manage the dining room.
The menu was not at all designed in the same style as Carlos. It was rather a perfect picture of what sophisticated dinners on the North Shore would like to find in Lake Forest when they came back from their annual French vacation: Amuse-bouche of salmon or pâté on mini French baguette toasts.
Assortment of house made ‘’ravioles’’ filled with mushrooms, lobster, or vegetable mousses. Shellfish with basil sauce, Salade of Magret de Canard. Veal medallions with a sauce of reduced cooking juices and port wine and vinegar. Rack of lamb with mini vegetable purées.
2 of the most desserts were the Marquise au Chocolat and the Nougat glaçé.
Service was very attentive and prices quite attractive. You could have a 3 course dinner for 2 not including wine but with coffee for about $ 60.00
I believe that the restaurant closed in the summer of 1988. At that time the chef was another Frenchman, René Bajeux.



3170 N. Sheridan, Chicago

Opened in early 87 in the space occupied by George Badonsky’s beloved  Tango, at the street level of the Belmont Hotel, this restaurant offered many assets. The place had been totally renovated, rebuilt and redecorated and was now comprised of two dining rooms separated by a glass wall and a big bar where you could see paintings while waiting for your table. The whole space was airy and luminous, and altogether nicely appointed and comfortable. It was rumored that the whole operation had a hefty cost for the partners. I personally did not like the two murals which were a bit tacky and their colors too aggressive. I went there only once for a business dinner which was enjoyable.
The French chef, Guy Petit, had some classic training at the Plaza Athénée in Paris, and was previously in charge of the kitchen at Cricket’s after a stint at Maxim’s in Chicago.
The wait staff, under the direction of Maitre D’ Jean-Pierre Lutz was competent and cheerful, and the prices modest. And last but not least, after a short period of adaptation in the early months, according to some reviewers, the food was rather pleasant.
It was not trendy, nor Nouvelle Cuisine, but at the same time rather classic and contemporary French with some Asian and Mediterranean touches: Snails and mussels with pesto or ginger sauce. Grilled shrimps in a Dijon mustard light sauce. I loved the very tasty and very French Rabbit braised with bacon, mushroom, and onions, in a fragrant sauce over noodles. The breast of chicken Basquaise, meaning with peppers, tomatoes, and onions was quite good too.
All main courses include a pleasantly dressed salad, and good seasonal steamed vegetables.
Desserts were typical of this period: Flourless Chocolate Cake with a raspberry coulis, thin warm apple tart with a caramel sauce, and crème brûlée.
The wine list was well made with several reasonably simple French Bordeaux and Côtes du Rhône.
With a couple of glasses of wine, a 3 courses dinner, would cost about 25 to 30 dollars per person.
I believe however that the restaurant’s relatively low turnover did not allow the investors to recoup their initial investment fast enough, and it closed its doors after only 1 year.


5550 N. River Road, Rosemont, IL

It was launched in the spring at the SOFITEL hotel, the first of this famous French chain that the very large ACCOR Group opened in the Chicago area in the vicinity of O’Hare airport.
Its relatively large and elegant (in the old traditional large European hotel style) dining room was sort of partitioned in 3 different areas allowing semi-private business dining parties.
White cloth-covered tables, comfortable upholstered chairs, indirect lighting, artwork, fine porcelain, good crystal stemware, and French silver contributed to the opulent feeling.
Service was professional and discrete.
The executive chef, Christian Gaborit had come to Chicago to work as sous-chef-saucier at MAXIM’s in 1963, where he stayed for 5 years. But he had already a solid background since he had worked in various famous restaurants in Paris at the hotels Crillon and Lutetia.
The menus he created at Café de Paris where he was in charge of the kitchens for 23 years, were made of typical dishes that you would find in this kind of international hotels, but with that additional ‘’French touch’’ revealing his traditional training.
But occasionally, according to various reviewers, some dishes would miss the mark in terms of cooking time precision, or adequate seasoning.
Nevertheless, I had a couple of nice business dinners with French visitors, who were impressed by Gaborit’s fancy treatment of shellfish and seafood dishes in general, and crayfish and salmon mousses in particular.
I remember that I ate some very nicely cooked lamb chops.
The wine list was adequate but not spectacular.
A 3 courses meal, with wine tax and tip, would send the bill to $ 65.00 per person. It seemed a little high to me considering the good but not above average quality of the meal.


110 East Pearson St. Chicago

The opening in August of this large and very attractive restaurant in the space where the old BLACKHAWK had become a cherished Chicago institution for decades was an instant success that remained constant for 24 years until its closing in 2011.
The owner of the Blackhawk, Don Roth, had given his flagship restaurant to his son Doug, who was dreaming of finding local partners with a bona fide success story in the restaurant business to completely transform and expand the place in an attractive and trendy contemporary bistro that would attract both wealthy and well-known Chicagoans, but also out of town visitors.
Larry and Mark Levy, whose family owned and managed more than 25 restaurants and catering organizations in Chicagoland, were more than happy to become Doug’s partners to help develop a new concept in this prime location. Larry Levy, who was not a fan of French cuisine, on a trip to Paris, changed his mind after a few visits to L’AMI LOUIS, who partially served as a model for the future new bistro.
He also consulted with Tony Mantuano, who was very successful with SPIAGIA, the flagship restaurant of the LEVY’s GROUP.
Mantuano helped in designing and testing a menu that would be simple, rustic, very flavorful, with Italian and French touches, and whose most components would be cooked in 3 wood-burning ovens. During the first months he also supervised the kitchen which at the time was directed by Chef Peter Schomman.
Everybody loved the roasted whole head of garlic that was served as a complimentary appetizer with slices of French baguette.
And at night the baked foie gras, marinated in Cognac was a very rich and aromatic first course.
Dishes such as a roasted half chicken with garlic and herbs became a signature dish in a few weeks. Lamb (sometimes served with couscous), chicken, rabbit, salmon, and fresh vegetables as well as mushrooms, all cooked in oak-burning ovens, were very successful. But another signature dish, to keep the old Blackhawk tradition, was a large rib steak for 2 which was served with grilled vegetables and marvelous thin cut French fries, which I personally loved.
The too liberal use of herbs and garlic was objected by some reviewers and out- of- visitors.
The apple tart and a trio of chocolate mousses were sure dessert winners.
The menu took a definitely more French style with the arrival of French chef Dominique Tougne, in August of 1996, who remained at the piano until 2011. It added a definite plus to the already well-established reputation of the bistro.
The prices were very reasonable. In 1987 a complete dinner for 2 without wine would cost $ 55.00.
The wine list was also very affordable. However I never understood why they served wine in very ordinary thick small glasses that in France would be used in cafeterias…


466  South Rand Road, Lake Zurich, IL

In October 1987, along with his wife Jacqueline who was a most gracious hostess and efficient front manager (the D and J letters are the initials of their first names) Dominique Legeai  opened this most charming and very lively bistro in a non-descript strip mall that was not exactly a destination place. He asked Tokyo-born Masato Suzuki, who was the sous-chef to Pierre Pollin at le Titi de Paris, and who had a very good training in some good restaurants in France, to join them as chef and partner. They stayed on Rand Road but a few miles North from Le Titi.
I had met Dominique Legeai when he took care of my table at Le Titi, in 1976 (or 77) and was a most helpful and pleasant Maitre D’ and wine steward there. I remember that he sported a Scottish tartan patterned vest, or perhaps it was a jacket, which looked strange to me in a French restaurant.
The Legeai’s and Suzuki were a dynamic trio which contributed to the very long lasting success of what probably at the time was one of the few authentic and inexpensive Fench bistros in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago. It was still in operation n in 2016 and kept attracting a faithful group of locals with interesting events, such as the celebration of D day. In the late 80’s the bistro was looking a little bit like a rustic French provincial inn with its varnished wood floors, brick walls, murals and posters, and small portioned booths. But it was pretty large compared to regular bistros since it could seat 130 customers.
Unfortunately, it was a little far away from the Loop for me to go there often, but I remember that I had a memorable lunch once when I had to visit a company in Barrington.
The wait staff was knowledgeable and enthusiastic. And the whole operation was well organized as to please a Francophile suburban crowd, which always felt welcome and appreciated the congeniality of Dominique Legeai. D&J was not trying to attract to Lake Zurich downtown sophisticated groups of demanding gastronomes.
Suzuki’s cooking was sufficiently creative but alternated with nicely prepared French classic dishes: Appetizers such as steak Tartare, escargots, duck liver mousse with all kind of condiments and accoutrements, salade Lyonnaise, shrimp cake, fresh oysters in their shells.
And the main dishes were as diverse as Bouillabaisse, a garlicky leg of lamb, pork chops in a honey and mustard sauce, sausages with lentils served in small cast iron skillets, and steak au poivre with good fries.
Some “specials” could include a small fillet of ostrich with cactus or walleye pike with tomato and basil and risotto. Later you could also find “brandade”. And for a while they served traditional North-African Couscous on Sundays. But that was part of a special $ 29.50 menu including appetizer and wine.
In 1997 you could have a 3 courses prix-fixe menu fort $ 23.00.   
Desserts were classic French: Profiteroles, chocolate and raspberry mousse cake, crème brûlée, and rum-raisin pudding,
More than 20 wines were offered by the glass for about $ 5.00, and many good French wines were value-oriented 
Dominique, his 2CV Citroen and his historical costumes and Masato are still around in 2016 but I believe that Dominique’s children are now managing the restaurant.


200 N. Columbus Drive, Chicago

This very fancy restaurant opened in December of 1987 in the new Fairmont Hotel.
I read that it was probably the most expensive investment per customer in furniture, table cloth, silver, tableware, glassware, flowers, etc. ever made in a Chicago restaurant, since the early sixties. In its 2 first years the menu was obviously very French inspired, and the wine list included some very impressive and expensive French châteaux from Bordeaux and grands crus from Bourgogne. The service was performed by tuxedo-clad waiters, and a pianist played from a grand at night. I believe that the rare reviews mentioned that the place was perfect for romantic dates, high level business deals, but not for the average conventioneer or lunching lady. 
Since it was located 2 blocks away from my office, I went a couple of times to take a look at the place and thought that the ambiance was very depressing.
The menu was very ‘’international luxury hotel’’ type, with lots of truffles, oysters, lobster, tenderloin, pheasant, reduced sauces, ‘’en croûte’’kind of stuff , if I remember correctly.
I have a vague memory of a good business lunch there once when it was still open for lunch in 1988, but I do not remember what I ate, perhaps a lamb dish.
At the time the head chef could have been John Coletta who had some great training in a few famous kitchens, such as Ducasse’s Le Louis XV in Monte Carlo, and Robuchon in Paris.
In 93 they brought in a German chef, Norbert Bomm, who created a much more ‘’continental’’ and less expensive menu. But around 1999 the Chicago dining scene had changed. People wanted more ‘’fun’’ relaxed and inexpensive restaurants.
 Besides, the taste for fancy hotel dining was declining rapidly, The Fairmont management decided to close ENTRE NOUS in August of 2002 and replaced it one year later with ARIA a more contemporary concept.



2242 N. Clark St. Chicago

Jean-Claude Poilevey was one of the 6 cooks and restaurant professionals who were brought from France in 1968 by Arnie Morton to come to the U.S to open the restaurant at the Playboy Club in Lake Geneva, WI. The 5 other chefs were Jean Banchet, Michel Maloiseau, Michel Cipolla, Claude Petit, and Gérard Parrat.
In 1973, Poilevey and two partners (Eric Krohmer and Daniel Gautier) had opened La Fontaine, at the same address on Clark, a delightful restaurant that offered a perfect mix of classic and contemporary French cuisine and service. It used to be one of my favorite restaurants in Chicago and its success lasted for more than 15 years.  In 1986 the restaurant added the small CAFÉ DU PARC to the old red brick building, a French bistro with a charming outdoor café with French fare at moderate prices. However, it did not prove to be a perfect formula.
In 1987 Poilevey bought the shares of his two partners and became both the single owner and chef of JEAN CLAUDE which opened in February of 1988.

I never had the opportunity to eat there but I regret it since Jean Claude was a very good chef, with a solid background in traditional cuisine Lyonnaise (his area of origin), but also with a well-balanced contemporary approach. Poilevey got some first-class training at the famous Greuze restaurant in Tournus.
Jean-Claude benefited from generally positive reviews from both the Sun Times and the Tribune. They liked the décor of the 4 intimate dining rooms, which could remind you of an elegant French country inn, the terrace, the  good quality of the silver and glassware, the flowers, the elegance of the plating which I personally enjoyed so many times at La Fontaine.
Many of the dishes they liked were familiar to me: The sautéed chicken with garlic and thyme. The creamy potato Gratin Dauphinois. The cold salmon terrine, and of course the delicious pâtés, especially the duck and rabbit terrines. Jean-Claude in those days was one of few restaurants in town to offer a rabbit stew. I understand that the fries accompanying the traditional Steak-frites were very good. So were the Cassoulet, the Duck Bigarade, and the great lamb chops that he already served at La Fontaine.
And he had kept the rich flourless chocolate cake and the apple tart.
You could have a 3 course dinner, without wine, but with tax and tip for about $55.00.
Poilevey sold the restaurant in 1993. The new owner called it Margaux, but it did not last very long.
Poilevey was going to renew with success a little later with his 2 new bistros, LE BOUCHON, and LA SARDINE which are still in business in 2018. Sadly, Jean-Claude Poilevey passed away in 2016.


2275 Rand Road, Palatine IL

Veteran and always successful French restaurateur Christian Zeiger (Le Titi de Paris, Alouette, Froggy’s, and Le Domarais in Paris) decided to locate this new bistro in February 1988 in the building where he had launched the very popular Titi in 1972. He had sold it to his chef Pierre Pollin who moved the restaurant in larger quarters in Arlington Heights in early 1998.
The space was modernized with the adjunction of wicker chairs and the walls were painted in bright colors.
Being a good marketer Zeiger sent newsletters to his customers, many of them returning old regulars of Le Titi, informing them of the often new or special dishes on the menus and of special events and annual parties. He recreated the very successful prix-fixe $ 14.50 four course dinner formula during the week that he had launched at Alouette. The menu changed every week but some “standard dishes” were always available such as pâtés, cheeses, escargots, duck confit, steaks, grilled chicken, salmon, rack of lamb, always served in good portions with attractively selected seasonal vegetables. Special salads of mixed greens, potatoes, haricots verts, tomatoes and avocado were also very well prepared with a typically French emulsified vinaigrette dressing. Good quality oysters were often available in season.
The first year Zeiger had hired the sous-chef from Alouette to be the chef, and he was able to not only prepare good savory dishes but also fine desserts such as fruit mousse cakes and almond tarts.
Many decent French regional wines were served by the glass at bargain prices.
In 1988 you could have a very pleasant 4 course (including salad) dinner with tax and tip, with a glass of wine for less than 30 dollars. Amourette closed in 1992.


323 East Wacker Dr. Chicago

When this superb restaurant opened in October 1988 at the lower level of the SWISS GRAND HOTEL (later renamed Swissotel) on this dead end portion of East Wacker Drive, I was very excited with great gustatory expectation. The owners of the hotel, Swissair and Nestlé, had asked  Louis Outhier, a man for whom I had a lot of admiration, to consult in creating the restaurant, and design its menus.
From 1954 to 1988, Outhier had been one of the most creative and respected chefs and restaurateur of France with his extraordinary L’OASIS, in La Napoule on the Riviera who was awarded 3 Michelin stars in 1970. Outhier decided to go in a semi-retirement and to close the restaurant 1988, while looking for a new chef-owner he had selected to take over which took 3 years to materialize.
 In the meantime, Outhier consulted on the launching of several big hotel restaurants in Japan and in the U.S (New York and Boston).
I was lucky to be invited for dinner at Le Prince in November 1988 and I was quite impressed by the whole thing: Décor, food, and service.
In fact it was perhaps one of the best meals I ever had in a restaurant in Chicago. The dining room, with different eating areas separated by big pillars on 2 levels, projected an image of subdued but classy elegance. It was not very spacious and could seat only 80 guests.  There was enough space between tables to allow private discussions, and the plush but not flashy comfort, especially when seating in one of the few booths for two, and the soft but creative lighting, created a luxurious dining environment. Of course, the silver, crystal glassware, white china, table serving plates and utensils were of prime and tasty quality. And the staff was extremely attentive, sometimes a bit too much perhaps, and eager to make sure that everything was meeting your highest expectation.
The very gifted chef de cuisine was Hervé Guillaume, a protégé of Louis Outhier, who had spent 12 years in some of the best hotel kitchens of Tokyo including Hotel Okura. He eventually became the general manager of L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, when it opened in 2005 in the MGM hotel in Vegas. Guillaume assisted Outhier in the creation of the original menus in the beginning and then supervised all the actual kitchen`s operations.
The menus were supposed to change according to what was available in each season. There were two prix-fixe options, one at $ 55.00 for 3 courses, and a ‘’degustation”7 course menu at $70.00.
The choice of appetizers, main dishes, and very attractive desserts was quite large.  You could even choose some good French cheeses, a rare option in Chicago in those days. 
I remember the ‘’Salade Composée d’Automne’’ a sumptuous affair that included, besides fresh greens and wild mushrooms, slices of fresh pan seared foie gras, and truffles dressed in a very lively vinaigrette.
But you could also start with oysters poached in Champagne, incredibly fragrant soups, and duck or scallop mousses in brioche.
Some of the most spectacular entrées were the Lobster in a gingery cream sauce, Sea bass sautéed with a coulis of beets, Magret de canard in an Armagnac reduced sauce, Roasted lamb with Provençal herbs. The accompanying vegetables, or crispy potatoes sautéed in butter, were very artistically plated.
The stars of the dessert list were usually based on fresh fruit, such as the Charlotte.
The wine list was not as varied and original as you would expect in such a classy restaurant and most French wine were pricey.
The major handicaps of this fine place were its poor not easily accessible location, the fact that it was not on the main floor of the hotel, and that its existence was neither posted clearly outside or inside the hotel, nor advertised. Besides it was really too expensive for the average Chicago gourmet diner.
The restaurant closed 9 months after its opening in July 1999.


1960 North Clybourn, Chicago

This spacious and very congenial ‘’brasserie’’, meaning a place larger than a bistro but less formal than a restaurant, was launched in October1988.   The 2 partners  were Louis Retailleau who for years was the owner of Louis Bon Appétit ,a very popular restaurant in Crown Point, Indiana, and Karl-Heinz Granitza, a well-known German-born soccer and former Chicago Stings star player. Their respective wives, Christel Retailleau who managed the daily operations front, and Roswitha Granitza, were also partners in the business.
Located in an old renovated manufacturing plant from the 1920’s on Clybourn, which at the time was not yet the very busy and trendy ‘’commercial corridor’’ it has become, the place was  a spacious, airy space on 2 or 3 levels, whose wooden floors, and beams,  large windows, and  halogen lights, were contributing to the warm, luminous and very casual atmosphere.
 The open kitchen also helped to make the guests feel comfortably relaxed and at home.  The warm personal greetings given by Granitza to every arriving customer, as Retailleau, or John Vlandis, when he was in Crown Point, stayed in the kitchen supervising the cooking, was also helping to create a cheerful ambiance. On good nights the restaurant could seat 160 people.
 Cocorico is the French equivalent of ``cock-a-doodle-doo’’ meaning the crowing sound of a rooster. And the rooster, often called ‘’ Le Coq Gaulois’’ is the national emblem of France. So, the first thing the new customers was the presence of more than a hundred of roosters in all sorts of shapes and materials, all over the place, including on the uniforms of the wait staff. 
The food was typically French, well prepared, and very reasonably priced: Escargots, Moules marinières, pâtés, onion soup grâtinée, salmon mousse, Roasted chicken or Basquaise, Cassoulet Toulousain, Bouillabaisse, Steak frites¸ angel hair pasta with goat cheese, marinated and roasted monk fish, steamed salmon in a basil sauce, Duck au Grand Marnier.
The whole brasserie repertory was there.  The vegetables were fresh and some pasta or couscous accompaniments were often available.  The desserts were also quite tasty: Profiterolles, Baked Alaska, strawberries in puff pastry.
The wine list offered French, German, and Californian wines at very affordable prices.
You could have a complete meal with wine for two for $50.00.
The restaurant closed in late spring of 1991 after the mysterious disappearance of Granitza to Europe that generated many dramas, business and family ones, and ruined Retailleau both financially and personally.
At one point Granitza returned to Chicago and tried to restart the restaurant that he renamed Café Granitza. But it did not last very long.


3651 N. Southport , Chicago

Opened in October 1988 by Charlie Socher (ex-chef at Chardonnay), as chef and partner, I understand that it was a pretty decent and fun French bistro, with some interesting specials by the always creative Socher.
At one point they had started to serve dinner on a sidewalk terrace to the people who attended screenings at the Chicago Film Festival taking place at the Music Box Theater, half a block away.  It increased the popularity of the restaurant for a while. But then this short period of success faded away. The rock music background annoyed many customers.
I never ate there. It closed in March 1991.


900 N. Franklin St. Chicago

On December 1 1988, Jennifer Newbury and her partner (both in life and business) Dennis Terczak (formerly executive chef at Avanzare) opened their new restaurant on the site of their old one Amérique, opened since 1985 that they had closed in the spring.
During 2 pre-opening dinners the week before, 270 guests, including many
well-known names in the Chicago restaurant trade, showed up, an indication that the location, near Cabrini Green, was perhaps no longer a serious handicap. Some of the customers the first night were also regulars at Sole Mio, the very successful Italian restaurant the couple had opened on Armitage in April and that I liked very much. But, for a long time, Jennifer had been dreaming of having an authentic French bistro with a touch of rusticity.
So, first they traveled to Paris where Dennis worked in the kitchen of the iconic Benoit, one of the most celebrated and beautiful bistros in the world. Benoit  is still at the same address as when it opened in 1912, 20 Rue Saint Martin in the 4th arrondissement, but it is now owned by Alain Ducasse since 2005. And Jennifer familiarized herself with French bakeries, pastry shops, French wines, and visited many stores selling decorative items, tableware, and restaurant supplies.
Jenny and Dennis asked the same interior designer, Bruce Gregga, who had built the space at Sole Mio to transform the austere and cold concrete environment of Amérique into a warm rustic space divided in three different areas. The exposed wood beams to cover the concrete ceiling and AC pipes, wood pillars, beautiful varnished pine floor, wooden banquettes, a beautiful copper covered counter in the large bar area  near the entrance, a hand-painted Monet-like  mural, blinds and curtains, and many nicely selected decorative items  such as French plates, and lights gave the  whole place the comfortable feeling of a provincial French inn. The waiters were all dressed in the traditional French combination of black pants, black vests, white shirts and black ties. In the early months of the restaurants there were no busboys.
The menu was very traditional bistro fare, with good pâtés, escargots, onion soup, cabbage soup, sweetbreads, leg of lamb with beans, rib-eye steaks (entrecôte), duck confit with lentils, rabbit stew, ratatouille, warm apple tart, chocolate soufflé, crème brulée, and sorbets.
The wine list was essentially French and allowed you to buy reasonably-priced regional wines or expensive Bourgognes and Bordeaux. A 3 course dinner for 2 with salad and coffee would average $60 dollars in 1989.
There were some cooking mistakes the first few months due to the fact that Terczak was often too busy at Sole Mio. But things got better when René Bajeux became chef.
The restaurants had many ups and downs but had to close after a too short existence on August 12 1989. The couple separated later and Terczak started a new life in northern Indiana where he died of illness in April of 1999. He was only 49.
Georges ‘’Kiki’’ Cuisance, who had lost the lease of his beloved Le Bordeaux on Madison, took over the space in November 1990, and opened KIKI’s BISTRO there where it is still successful in 2019.



2118 N. Damen, Chicago

Once again Francis Leroux, whose beloved Gare Saint Lazare on Armitage had been destroyed in flames in November 1987, and in the meantime had owned Chez Chose on W. Diversey, between 1980 and 1984, decided to launch in January of 1989 a new unpretentious and reasonably-priced French bistro for a similar type of client base in a recently gentrified neighborhood.
But this time he got the help of a partner, Bernard LeCoq, who was also a veteran of the French bistro scene in Chicago where he had the popular Café Bernard on Halsted since 1973.
Café du Midi, I suppose was originally inspired by Southern French cuisine, since ‘’ le Midi’’ in French defines a zone South of an imaginary line going from Valence in the East to Bordeaux in the West. In this Southern region, that includes Languedoc and part of Provence, Occitan based languages used to be spoken.
In fact, when the restaurant was opened there were many dishes that reminded us of the sunny Midi and included typical ingredients, cuts of meat, and produce such as tomatoes, eggplant, lamb chops, merguez sausages, couscous, bell peppers, ratatouille, thyme, olive oil, onions, basil, garlic, capers, anchovies, and of course fish soup.
But pretty soon he added more classical components of the bistro repertory. Chicken liver pâté, Chicken sausage with chanterelle mushrooms, Crepes with ratatouille and goat cheese, Steak au poivre in a cream and cognac sauce, Duck breasts with cherries, One different fresh fish every night, Sautéed sea scallops, Baked brie en croûte with almonds and fruits, and the popular cheesecake and flourless chocolate mousse cake were sure winners.
And many regulars came on Thursday for the Couscous, complete with its vegetables, chicken, lamb, merguez, aromatic cooking broth, and spicy harissa condiment.
The wine list was short but was mainly composed of affordable French wines.
In 1989 you could have a 3 courses meal for $22.00.
Most reviewers liked the place but a few complained about an occasional lack of consistency in the cooking of certain dishes such as the scallops and the chicken.
The décor was simple but comfortable with attractive black and white ceramic tiles on the floor,
Creamy white walls, nice bistro tables with white cloth covered with butcher paper, and fresh flowers everywhere, the dining room, with its large windows, was very pleasant.
The restaurant was closed in 1997 and was sold to new owners who eventually would open MERITAGE in that space.


711 N. State, Chicago

I walked by this place many times and I entered in it once to check it out, But I have to admit that do not have a clear memory of this charming and adventurous restaurant opened by David Dorabi in February. I met the very interesting owner briefly a couple of times when I visited his incredibly rich antique shop, one block South, which was full of original French objects and vintage clothes that he discovered and used to import himself. He was born in Iran from an Iranian father and a French mother and spoke French fluently. He also had a collection of more than 2,000 corkscrews. The restaurant itself was elegant and decorated with many of his French antiques, including plates and mirrors, prints, and of course corkscrews.
He loved French wine. I think that many of the interesting dishes on the menu were his own creation, and most of the time prepared and cooked by him. He used to get up early to be able to buy the best fruits and vegetables he could find at the market, and back to his restaurant would create his own menus every day.
I would say that its menus were half-way between Traditional and Nouvelle French cuisines.
 In the very positive reviews he got in local newspapers in 1989 I found very original dishes: Fresh Oysters with a cream of leak, asparagus in pastry shells, Mussel soup with saffron, Bay Scallops in vinaigrette served with artichoke hearts, asparagus, spinach, and fresh herbs. He loved fresh fish and cooked Whitefish in a Beurre Blanc with parsley, and Salmon with capers. But he also did very well with his Duck with a Grand Marnier sauce and a spicy Chicken in lime sauce.
He also would bake his own pastries, or simple pears poached in red wine.
I do not know when the restaurant closed. Probably within the next year.


2011 W, North Avenue Chicago

This place, located under the L tracks at the Northern edge of Wicker Park, was opened in July 89 by Wulf Ward and Claude and Gisèle Laura.
 It might have been named originally after Wulf, since Loup means Wolf in English, or later after the Laura’s dog which was half wolf.
 Claude Laura, the chef de cuisine, had been previously cooking in the kitchens of Tango and Zaven’s and also worked on cruise ships. But his taste for Middle-Eastern and North African dishes was acquired during his military service in French Algeria. At Le Loup you could enjoy traditional appetizers such as Tahini, Hummus, Taboule, served with pita bread and lemon wedges, and continue your meal with a very satisfying Moroccan Couscous with  lamb and chicken, a meal in itself with a ridiculous price of $9.50.
Or you could have a straight French diner with pâté, artichoke fritters, Oysters Rockefeller, and various salads, then Bouillabaisse ($ 11.00),  served only on Friday , Cassoulet ($ 9.50)  Rack of lamb ($ 13.00) or  a filet of Mahi-mahi with a green peppercorn cream sauce.

 Fresh fruit tarts ($ 3.50) were considered their best desserts. The service was so-so, according to most reviewers and friends who dined there.
Alltogether it was not a fancy French restaurant, but pleasant value-oriented bistro.
Eventually they moved the restaurant to 3348 Sheffield. I believe that it closed in the late 1990’s.


60 East  Walton Street, Chicago

Another example of a very pleasant French bakery- pastry shop-fancy food grocery-delicatessen-restaurant, that in spite of all his qualities and a great location, never really took-off and closed after only a little more than 2 years of mediocre business.
Its parent company, a very large French food Group with an American subsidiary in New-York, had invested a big bundle of dollars in this place and brought in high quality French products, and a very competent executive chef, as well as French trained employees. But it did not have a precise idea of what they should do to succeed in the Chicago market place and what Chicago customers, even well-to-do ones, expect from a fancy place like this.
 Opened officially on July 14, 198 (Bastille Day), it was, on paper at least, the perfect equation to attract sophisticated Francophile gourmet customers from the Gold Coast, and a perfect lunching stop for ladies shopping on nearby Oak Street.
There were 2 levels: At street level, the shop sold fancy food items such as French cheeses, including ‘’fromage blanc’’, hams, home-made sausage, caviar from Petrossian, tea, candy, French condiments, chocolate truffles from La Maison du Chocolat in Paris, Calissons from Aix en Provence, and the very crusty home-baked bread, croissants and pastries. At one point they also sold the famous bread from Lionel Poilane in Paris.
Around Christmas time it was one of the rare places in town where you could buy high quality ‘’marrons glaçés’’ (glazed chestnuts),  and the pastry chef baked very nice traditional ‘’bûches de Noel’’ (yule logs).
They also offered a few already cooked and packed dishes, salads and sandwiches. There were a few tables where you could have a snack and a glass of French wine.
 In fact they sold some good regional French wines at decent prices, and you could find bottles of nice wines from the Loire Valley, the Côtes du Rhône, Languedoc and the southwest made by independent small winemakers. Or a bottle of Bulle De Pêche, a delicious peachy sparkling wine. Later on in 1991, they had a few tables outside and when it was sunny it was a pleasure to share a simple French lunch with pâté, rillettes, Bayonne ham, saucisson and cheese with a baguette, and of course a bottle of wine and a good espresso with some French colleagues. And it was always nice to have a chat with Didier Maillet, the executive chef and also the store manager, an affable Frenchman who later went back to Paris to be the chef and partner at La Sologne  a very good restaurant in the 12th arrondissement that was well-known for its venison-based dishes.
This shop and restaurant was a point of friendly gourmet rendez-vous for many members of the French community, and was more popular with them than with Americans.
On the upper level was the restaurant per-se, very comfortable and simply but nicely decorated with nice French photographs. Tables were nicely spaced, china and glassware were French, and unfortunately so were several of the young waiters who obviously were insufficiently trained and did not speak fluent English. In fact, the too often poor quality of the service in the restaurant caused a lot of problems to its reputation. It was too bad since the food was generally good, but overpriced, especially at lunch time. Classics such as Leek and potato soup, Assiette de charcuterie, Magret de canard, Skate wing, Fish soup, Sweetbreads, Ratatouille, Veal Blanquette, Grilled Free-range chicken, and light desserts, such as fruit or chocolate mousses, were well executed.
The restaurant suffered financially and the last year the number of clients had significantly decreased. C’est Si bon closed in early 1992 


200 E. 5th Street, Naperville, IL

Jean-Paul Eskenazi, a Frenchman who was a captain at Le Français in Wheeling for several years during the reign of Jean Banchet opened this great restaurant in October in a former factory, or more exactly in its vast boiler room. His great idea was to have recruited as chef the very talented Suzy Crofton who was a sous-chef at Le Français while he was there. When I ate there for the first time in early 1990, I was really impressed by her cooking style, as well as by the quality of the service, very formal but professional and friendly. Of course the décor, the airy and comfortable  multi-level space, with its brick walls decorated with interesting pictures, the nicely spaced white-clothed tables,  great stylish high-back chairs, pretty French china, and stylish waiters in tuxedos  was inviting to relax and enjoy the meal and the good wine. And the presence of the huge old boiler which had been repainted in white was another impressive element contributing to an exciting atmosphere.
The menu was traditional French with well executed classics: A very flavorful and rich onion soup. Some incredibly smooth and aromatic pâtés, especially the duck liver one. A delicious galette de crabe, in an exciting chive or mustard sauce. A very refreshing Frisée salad with goat cheese and bacon . ‘’Médaillons de Veau’’ (veal filets) in a cream sauce with a garnish of perfectly cooked and seasoned wild mushrooms. Rack of lamb, marinated in olive oil and garlic then roasted with fresh herbs, and coated with a light breading spiced up with Dijon mustard and parsley, and served with French haricots verts, sautéed mushrooms, and a small ‘’galette de pommes de terre’’. And her Filet de Saint Pierre (John Dory) a rarely served fish in Chicago, was sautéed in ginger and lemon flavored butter.
I personally will always remember one of the best Coq au Vin I ever had in Chicago during my second visit.
Desserts were also drawn from the classical repertoire: Profiterolles, Crème Brulée in the manner of Jean Banchet, and of course, another Le Français heritage,  Soufflé au Grand Marnier
The wine list was pretty eclectic, with a nice mix of French and Californians.
A 4 or 5 course dinner for two, without the wine, could easily cost you over 100 dollars. But it was worth every penny.
Suzy Crofton eventually moved to her own restaurant in Chicago ‘’ Crofton on Wells’’.
Montparnasse closed in September of 2000, and the space was sold a month later to Leon Demerdjian, and his son Raffi who morphed it into a Mediterranean restaurant, Raffi`s on Fifth. It closed in the fall of 2012


5 East Roosevelt Road, Villa park, IL

I have never been there, and to be frank I do not quite understand why the Zervakis brothers decided to close their popular Sweet Pepper all-American restaurant and completely transformed the space, after a substantial redecorating job, into a French restaurant that opened in late November 89 .
Even if the reviews had been excellent, and they were not, except for a relatively positive small piece by Phil Vettel in the Tribune, I would never have taken a drive to Villa Park to try a French restaurant. But they tried hard and hired Dominique Fortin, a good French Chef with solid Chicago credentials including Le Français, and Nick Katinas a pro whom I knew when he was a captain at Le Perroquet to manage the dining room.
From some reviews from early 1990 some meals could be quite decent, and some disastrous according to Pat Bruno who obviously had a bad experience there in March.
According to Vettel , Fortin’s dishes were classic French: medallions of veal with a mustard sauce, sweetbreads in a port wine sauce, pork loin in a white wine sauce. Or grilled salmon again in a mustard sauce served with ratatouille…Roasted breast of duck  in a green peppercorn  sauce. Obviously, the rich sauces were Fortin’s forte. He had also recreated the famous Duck Consommé from Le Français.
And the desserts were also classics such as soufflés and crème brûlée.
The tab was not cheap. A 4course dinner for two, without wine, but including soup and salad went as high as $ 78.00.
The restaurant did not last very long and closed in the fall of 1990.


44 Yorktown Conference Center, Lombard, IL

This restaurant, whose name means ‘’suburb’’ in French, was opened in November 89 by Steve Byrne who had worked at Ambria for a quite a while since its opening in 1980, and Emilio Gervilla. Gervilla, had also worked as a chef at Ambria at the same time and also across the hall at Un Grand Café, and later at Café Ba- Ba- Reeba. Then he launched and developed under the initial tutelage of his former boss Gabino Sotelino his own very successful restaurants such as Emilio Tapas Bar in Hillside, Meson Sabika in Naperville, and later others Tapas restaurants in Chicago.
He therefore had a great practical experience of the Western suburbs dining habits. They opened this storefront bistro in a difficult to locate place in a rather non-descript small strip mall in Lombard. But once inside diners would discover a charming dining room with wooden floors, murals painted on one of the walls with faux marbre, curtains serving as a separation with another eating area. Antique lamps, and recorded accordion music contributed to create a sort of neo-Parisian atmosphere. But the rapid success of the place was essentially due to the talent of John Hogan a very good chef who had a solid training in some very good French restaurants, and more recently was a sous-chef for almost 2 years to Jean Joho`s Everest room.
John had a real talent to not only cook all the French classics, but also to elaborate on some of them with his own creativity. Some successful appetizers include an unctuous soupe de poireau pomme de terre (potato leek soup), flavorful Duck Terrine with pistacchios, Sautéed Shrimp Provençale, or Scallops in a delicate basil cream sauce , steamed mussels with cream and Calvados. Among the main dishes a perfect Steak Frites, a fantastic roasted chicken, and a duo of braised leg and breast of Duck, were the favorites.
Desserts included the classic crème brulée, flourless chocolate cake, tarte Tatin, and dark chocolate mousse with a white chocolate sauce.
Wine list was relatively short but very affordable with many by the glass options.
A 4 course dinner for two with tax and tip but no wine would cost an average of $ 58.00
The restaurant closed in July of 1996.
 John Hogan eventually became a celebrated  chef at Kiki’s Bistro.

Part 5. 1990-1999. The end of the “cuisine classique” dynasty and the confirmation of the bistro supremacy

During that period fewer customers still wanted to spend a lot of money in fancy establishments specializing in French “Haute Cuisine”, or even full meals of less elaborate “Cuisine Bourgeoise”. Bistros and brasseries were the places where Chicago French food lovers found what they wanted: good casual dining offering traditional but creative dishes and value.

However, during the 1990s new French restaurants continued to open, both in the city and in the suburbs. In fact, a Zagat survey published in early 2000, listed 69 “French” restaurants in 1999 in the Chicago area, an increase of 50% over a 10 years period. But it is obvious that some of these so-called French eateries mentioned in that survey were not authentic examples of what I call French cuisine.

Even though some of the most popular French restaurants were still owned or managed by French expatriates, quite often in the 1990s these restaurateurs let talented young American chefs, sous-chefs, and cooks, run their kitchens. The waiting staff and front managers were also most of the time locals and younger than their predecessors 20 years earlier.
This new generation of American chefs had learned their skills while working under older French chefs de cuisine or in American culinary schools such as CIA (Culinary institute of America in New York and California), the ICC (International Culinary Center, in NYC and California), Kendall College in Chicago. Locally the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago (morphed into Le Cordon Bleu) also trained very good chefs, cooks, pastry chefs, and restaurant managers. Many of these schools regularly employed former French chefs, patissiers, cuisiniers, and other professionals, as instructors.
And Chicago could be proud to have one of the best baking and pastry schools in the U.S with The French Pastry School founded in 1995 by two great pastry chefs Jacquy Pfeiffer and Sébastien Calonne.

In the mid-1990s a new generation of urban diners, principally young professionals in their 30s along with their wives or dates, who were spending more money on sophisticated drinks and wine, started to go out more often to lunch or dine in restaurants that served better and more trendy foods. They also spent more time reading about them. In that group of people an interest for more diverse and exotic ethnic food and drinks started to develop.
The traditional French cuisine was preferred by older people, more conventional in their eating and drinking habits, who traveled to France for leisure or on business, and were nostalgic of their dining experiences there.
But it became obvious that the decade was dominated by Italian cuisine, from Neapolitan-style pizza baked in wood-burning ovens to sophisticated Northern Italian dishes. The creative home-made pasta had replaced the heavy red sauced Italian-American spaghetti with meatballs of the past, and well-grilled fresh fish with regionally-grown beautiful vegetables, had become more popular than the traditional breaded veal scaloppini.
Now pasta-based dishes, and small creative non-traditional pizzas were often found on the menus of French bistros.
The trend of serving small dishes with a glass of good but inexpensive wine was also becoming more commonly found and appreciated in bistros with a French influence in the Loop and on the north side, notably by people on their way to see a show.

This decade was marked by 2 important factors: Customers wanted to feel more relaxed when eating in French restaurants and be able to “have fun” while eating. And the type of French restaurants that they preferred could be classified as “upscale casual”.
Therefore, the success of “bistros”, that we more often call “bistrots” in France, such as Kiki’s Bistro or La Sardine


River Tree Court Shopping Center Vernon Hills, IL
(In 2005 the restaurant moved to 1762 Milwaukee Avenue in Libertyville, Il)

It is one of these French places that I always regretted not to have visited when it was opened in September by Jean-Marc Loustaunau and his American wife Mari in a small strip mall near the popular Hawthorn Shopping Center.
The environment and décor were charming and comfortable, with French posters on the softly colored walls. While on business in the area one afternoon, I made a detour to take a look at the dining-room that one of my American friends who lived nearby had told me about.  I was sorry not to be able to stay for dinner after checking the attractive menu.
This 90 seats restaurant was launched at the right place at the right time since many hungry shoppers were eager to find a comfortable place to eat lunch or early dinner. Loustaunau had a solid French cooking background acquired both in France and for 12 years as a chef at the Titi de Paris when it moved from Palatine to Arlington Heights. During its first years of existence the restaurant was often packed. No wonder since the price-quality ratio of what was offered there was very attractive. In 1991 a prix-fixe 4 course meal would cost you $18.50. And you could choose between 3 good items for each course. An “à la carte dinner” (without wine or tip) would set you back at around 23 dollars per person. And the choice of dishes, most of them in the typical bistro tradition would include escargots en brioche, seafood raviolis stuffed with lobster mousse, good terrines, duck breast confit, sautéed pork tenderloin in a mustard sauce, grilled salmon with scallop mousse. The sides were often delicate vegetable mousses. And the desserts did not disappoint: home-made patisseries, crème brulée, chocolate mousse cake, and a ‘’Délice des Pyrénées’’ (cake recipe originated in the chef`s native area) made of chocolate meringue and chocolate mousse. The wine list was more than adequate with decently-priced Bordeaux and other wines from the Southwest.
Unfortunately, in the late 90s and early 2000s, the economy got its moments of ups and downs, and the average age of their client base got older, as the taste for classic French food declined. The move to Libertyville, difficulties to attract a younger client base, and big road work projects near the restaurant did not help. But Mari was still full of energy and always searching for new marketing ideas to attract younger customers, such as music and wine tastings.

W. Taylor St. Chicago

Opened in November, I think I was one of this new bistro’s first customers when I had a birthday lunch there with a colleague. I had heard from a friend who was a regular at Le Français that the chef-owner Joseph (Joe) Doppes had worked in Jean Banchet’s kitchen and, before that in good French restaurants in New-York, L.A, and Chicago with Michael Foley at Printer’s Row.
 So, of course, I was curious to check out his French cooking skills. I was wondering why someone would open a French restaurant in an enclave of traditional Italian cuisine. But when we entered the relatively small but very luminous dining-room we were pleasantly surprised by the decidedly French bistro décor and ambiance: lace half-curtains on the large bay windows, nice little bistro chairs and tables covered with butcher paper, French posters on the walls.
And there was a bar behind which Annie, Joe’s wife, served us an aperitif. She was a cheerful woman who did not hesitate to drop a few jokes in the conversation, including one about our French accent. But she was glad to have French customers. The food was classic French bistro fare, with good duck pâté with cornichons for me and moules marinière for my friend, a good steak-frites for me and salmon in a mustard sauce for my colleague. The frites were more ‘’pommes allumette’’ (shoestring) than traditional French pommes frites but nevertheless excellent. So were the peppercorn sauce and the fresh vegetables garnish for the salmon. I had decent small profiteroles and my friend a flourless chocolate cake. We drank a good bottle of Côtes du Rhône and ended up our very satisfying meal with a Calvados at the bar. Another day I discovered that they had a very good pizza whose crust had the texture and almost sweet taste of brioche, and a very authentic and tasty salade niçoise. But unfortunately, as it was common in those days, the tuna was fresh poached instead of canned in olive oil as it should be.  The wine list was short but offered a decent selection of French wines. The whole tab before tax and tip with wine and coffee was around $ 35.00 for two.
Years later, Joe Doppes sold the place and in 1999 opened Bistro Margot on N. Wells, a very lively  bistrot  that that remained very popular until it closed in 2016.

900 N. Franklin St. Chicago

Opened in December in the practically untouched rustic and intimate décor of what used to be Chez Jenny (closed in August 89), this great authentic French bistro immediately became one of my favorite French eating, drinking, and meeting place in Chicago. As a matter of fact, more than a quarter of a century later it is still the place where I go almost every week to eat some of my favorite French comfort food and drink some extremely well-chosen French wines. But above all I go there to spend some time and share memories during long and nostalgic conversations about France with the owner, my friend Georges Cuisance, aka Kiki.
 I have known this wonderful human being since the early seventies when he had the very successful Le Bordeaux on Madison St. which, as it is still the case nowadays at Kiki’s, was already a joyous get-together place for many local French expatriates as well as American Francophiles working in and around the Loop.
Kiki is quite a case in the small world of French restaurants in Chicago. Always in motion all around the 3 spaces of the restaurant, that includes a great bar near the entrance, he has an incredible ability to survey all the activities of the service while never stopping to greet, say goodbye, or chat with his customers, many of them having been regulars for years. In fact, this bistro’s continuous success besides the consistency of the cooking and of the service (many servers and kitchen help have worked here since the restaurant’s early days) is essentially the result of Kiki’s charm, professionalism, and constant attention to the needs of his guests. And he certainly is a pro who studied all the aspects of the trade at one of the best French cooking and hospitality schools in the 50s, and then worked in all kinds of different restaurants in various European countries.
He came to Chicago in 1963 with other French professionals, for the opening of Maxim’s on Astor St.
When he opened this restaurant, he benefited greatly from the presence as the head chef of John Hogan, an excellent practitioner of French cooking techniques that he had learned from some famous chefs in France and had perfected them as a sous-chef with Jean Joho at the Everest, and as a very successful chef at Bistro Banlieue. So, his forte was to apply a perfect mix of traditional and “nouvelle cuisine” methods to his own cooking but with the added value of his personal creativity.
The first year we were always excited when he brought to our table the result of one of his newest inspirations such as a grilled rabbit sausage with potato salad in a lemony mayonnaise dressing, or a preparation of foie-gras with lentils, or a very delicious individual thin crust pizza with smoked mozzarella, prosciutto, or wild mushrooms.
Speaking of mushrooms, his fricassée of wild mushrooms in a fragrant shallots and madeira wine sauce, has long been one of my favorite appetizers, as well as the Terrine de Canard aux pistaches (duck pâté with pistachios) served with cornichons and tiny pickled onions.
And some regulars said that both the “soupe à l’oignon gratinée’’ et the ``escargots’’ in their pastis flavored garlic butter was better than the ones they had in Paris.
But what I liked best at Kiki’s, and still enjoy a lot nowadays, besides the owner himself and the friendly atmosphere he creates, was the always reliable comfort food, especially during the winter months.
Some of my favorite dishes in this category are the cassoulet, with always nicely cooked beans, the braised duck, the very rich coq au vin, and a boeuf bourguignon that Julia Child would have liked.
I regret that the choucroute garnie alsacienne, which was one of the best I ever had in Chicago, with its high-quality charcuterie components from Paulina Market, is no longer on the menu. The always tender and tasty navarin d’agneau is still very popular.
But so is the very French steak au poivre, a very nice piece of sirloin steak, with its marvelous cognac and cream-based black pepper sauce.
 And Kiki’s fries, which are in fact “pommes allumettes” rather than traditional pommes frites, are very addictive.
 My favorite dessert was and still is the poached pear in puff pastry with slivered toasted almonds in a caramel sauce with a touch of whipped cream. But my wife is still a fan of the mousse au chocolat,
The ‘’carte des vins” (wine list) always offered reasonably priced traditional Bourgogne, Bordeaux, Rhône, and Alsace wines from serious producers, but also lesser known regional little treasures from the Loire Valley.
Needless to say, the big bar attracted a bunch of regulars enjoying glasses of some of these wines, as well as French beers and spirits, while waiting for their table.
In 2019 Kiki`s Bistro, which is no longer open for lunch, remains one of the most durable and authentic French eating institutions in Chicago.


2625 N. Halsted, Chicago

Strangely enough I had never heard of this bistro which opened in January, even though I walked by its location many times. And curiously, in spite of intensive research, I found only one short review of this restaurant by Don Rose published in the Sun Times in April 1991.
The article does not mention any name for the owner but an anonymous reader made a comment in December 2017 to let me know that Jean-Marie was operated by one Jean-Marie Vandenbulcke, a well-known Maitre 'D who was Belgian with a long career in French restaurants. Before that he was Maitre 'D at Brasserie Jo, Everest, and later on Savarin.  
 I think that the chef in 1991 was Keith Brunell, but this bistro did not last more than a year since in May 1992 it had morphed into a Greek place called Mia Zoe.
Anyway, based on Rose’s review it was a typical French bistro offering all the classics at affordable prices:  Onion soup, Terrines, Moules marinière, Soupe de Poissons with garlic aioli, confit de canard, gratin of endives with ham, and steak au poivre.
That’s all I can say unfortunately since in spite of many searches I never found a single person who had eaten there.

1210 N. State St., Chicago

It was started in August by a Frenchman, Jean-Luc Heiz and his wife, in a location where several restaurants, the last one being Turbot, had various life cycles and disappeared.
But this very lovely bakery-pastry shop, that rapidly expanded its operations to become a full fledge café and restaurant, with a liquor license, opened at the right place at the right time. It attracted well-to-do matrons of the Gold Coast at tea time or for brunch, as well as young and ambitious professionals on the run, and young couples on dates.
Or, more simply, people who followed the trend of the time and loved crusty French baguettes, rich flaky croissants, brioches, hard rolls, petits pains au chocolat, and scrumptious patisseries. Heiz, an enthusiastic and dynamic manager who had a great sense of communication and marketing, had recruited good bakers and pastry chefs from France in the early months to launch the production and train the staff.
 He also imported a French oven from Alsace that customers who opted to seat in the booths of the inner room could see in operation in an open kitchen.  This great-looking place was attractively furnished and decorated with its tricolor stripped awnings outside and many potted flowers. It was divided in three rooms and was even expanding during sunny days to the sidewalk through opened French windows into a lively café. The most popular time was lunch where you could order freshly made sandwiches, I personally loved the French ham sandwich with cornichons on a buttered piece of baguette, which reminded me of the traditional quick lunch that many Paris employees ate for lunch while standing at the counter of a café near their working place. Saint-Germain also served charcuterie, cheese, croque-monsieur, omelets, salmon, salads, crepes, and soups. The very well-prepared sandwiches were served with pommes gaufrettes (thin waffled fried potatoes). There were also specials, such as grilled chicken breast with fresh vegetables.  Eventually they also had a buffet. Prices were very reasonable for this neighborhood. A nice ham sandwich would set you down at less than $ 7.00.  Needless to say, the place that attracted many young people from this fancy neighborhood was packed from 7:00 Am until midnight. It remained very popular until 1998 when it closed.


1515 N. Sheridan Road, Wilmette IL

Nancy Barocci opened this charming little bistro in Plaza Del Lago in March, which took over the space formerly occupied by Mélange a popular place that burned. But she was already a well-established fancy Italian food and wine purveyor and restaurateur with her famous Convito Italiano practically next door in the same Spanish-styled mall. I suppose that the decision to create an unpretentious but elegant French bistro geared towards the sophisticated client base of the North Shore was partially inspired by her regretted friend Leslee Reis, the very successful owner of Café Provençal in Evanston from 1977 until her death in 1990.  Leslee and Nancy traveled together several times to Provence and the Italian Riviera.
And the menu was obviously a mix of French and Italian memories, but adapted to the tastes of the North Shore palates.
In fact, during its first year the chef of this relatively popular restaurant was Kent Buell, the former sous-chef of Café Provençal. I have been there only 2 or 3 times, for lunch and once for dinner, but I remember that I liked the country pâté, and as a main course a very moist rotisserie chicken served with ‘’ frites’’ as good as those served in a Parisian brasserie. Another day I also enjoyed a decent Veal Marengo. But the customers at the table next to ours seemed very pleased with their Bouillabaisse that looked pretty close to the real thing. I was not impressed though by the frisée au lardons, a typical salad from Lyon, which was not all Lyonnaise-tasting.
Desserts were good, especially a kind of crème brulée au chocolat.
Service was very pleasant and unobtrusive. And the décor, elegant but simple with comfortable chairs and white-cloth and paper covered tables, and soft lights, was very relaxing.
The wine list was limited but offered a few decent and reasonably-priced French wines by the glass. A whole 3 course meal with a couple of glasses of wines would cost around 28 or 30 dollars.

1746 W. Golf, Mount Prospect, IL

This lively contemporary Franco-American bistro, located in a not too sexy strip mall on Golf was opened in May by Dominique Legeai, and his Japanese-born partner Masato Zusuki. Zusuki already had a long experience of French cooking in Tokyo, in France, at the Titi de Paris, and at Legeai’s first bistro, the very popular D&J Bistro in Lake Zurich, that Legeai and his wife Jacqueline had launched in 1987.
He created a sort of “fusion menu” that happily blended French classic bistro cuisine with Asian touches. I remember that during my first visit there in 1994 where I was a guest of research executives from Motorola, I was so impressed by the “pommes frites” which were the garniture for my good steak, that I asked for a side order as a dessert. They will remain in my memory as some of the best I ever had in Chicago. I also had a decent rustic pork pâté. And the wine list was small but included a few good regional French wines such as Sancerre, Beaujolais, and Côtes du Rhône. Nothing was spectacular, but everything was well-prepared in the traditional French-American bistro style and inexpensive. The walls were covered with large black and white photos of Hollywood actors from the 60s, but it was the only thing’’retro’’ in this unpretentious but pleasant restaurant which is still popular in 2017.

LE PERROQUET (Re-opening under new management and chef)
70 East Walton St. Chicago

The original restaurant created at the same address by Jovan Trboyevic in 1972 was perhaps, along with Le Français in Wheeling, the most celebrated French restaurant in Chicago in the 70s and early 80s. In 1985 Jovan sold it to the Nespoux brothers, Jean-Pierre and Gérard Nespoux who had been Maitre’D and Sommelier respectively there. For 6 years they did everything they could to keep the quality and tradition alive. However, without Jovan the spirit was not there anymore, the taste of Chicago gourmets for fancy and expensive French food was on the decline, and the recession did not help. Le Perroquet closed its doors at the end of 1990.
But in March 1992 the restaurant was re-opened by Michael Foley, a very competent chef and restaurateur with a solid experience in French dining, who for a while was trained as a chef de cuisine in the kitchen of the Perroquet in its early years. Michael Foley who had apprenticed in Lyon, France, was also a strong believer in sustainable and organic farming. Between 1981 and 2004 he used both his knowledge of French cooking techniques and his passion for high quality products in creating a sort of Nouvelle Midwestern Regional Cuisine in his very successful Printer’s Row restaurant on South Dearborn. I had several great meals there in the 80s and early 90s.
He made all the right decisions in preparing for this renovation. He kept most of the décor intact, bur refreshed the furniture and made the dining room more luminous by removing the drapes from the windows. He re-hired, as a Maitre D’, Gérard Nespoux, who constituted a familiar and reassuring factor for the older customers. Gérard had been working with Jovan T. since the opening of the restaurant in 1972. And with the new French chef, Didier Durand, a gifted cuisinier who had acquired an excellent reputation in Winnetka at La Bohème, they kept or adapted some old recipes and classy dishes such as the Duo of Duck with a peppercorn light sauce, roasted sweetbreads with potato galettes, vegetable mousses, and the signature soufflés.  At lunch I loved a roasted juicy capon leg stuffed and sauced with shallots and parsley. In fact, Durand`s cuisine was a perfect blend of classic and contemporary French cuisine that was very flavorful but light. Fresh herbs always played a major role in the composition of most dishes.
They kept an attractive profile to the menus but avoided fancy and expensive components to keep the prices down without diminishing the quality of the products.
The first year you could have a delicious 4 course prix-fixe dinner   for $38.50. And the wine list, that included many good affordable but judiciously selected French wines from good but not overpriced famous estates, was very attractive.
Even though the restaurant was well received by both gastronomes and critics, its re-opening took place at a time where the tastes and eating trends of Chicago diners were in the middle of a period of transition. Fancy French dining was not as popular anymore. Le Perroquet was forced to close its doors for good in the spring of 1994.


2442 N. Clark St, Chicago

On April 2 François de Melogue and Brian Sylva opened this classy sophisticated French restaurant in the space occupied for many years by Jean-Claude Poilevey with his successful La Fontaine and Jean-Claude. But in 1993 the restaurant business was suffering from the recession and diners in Chicago were not looking for fancy expensive French cuisine. So, it took a lot of gut and determination to these two men, both experienced chef and pâtissier, to go against the trend towards more casual dining.
My wife and I dined there only once during its first 2 months of existence and I remember that in spite of the elegant but comfortable settings, the obvious good will of the waiting staff, and the culinary ambitions and savoir-faire of the chef, we were under the impression that this whole operation was a work in progress. The ingredients, scampi, scallops, foie gras, sweetbreads, wild mushrooms, turbot, squab, rabbit, duck, grouse, wild boar, caribou, and even the baby vegetables were first rate, perfectly prepared, and artistically plated.
De Melogue’s forte was his talent with elaborate sauces, where truffles and Cognac were often a generous component. But you had to wait a long time between courses. And I heard from people I knew, who were very knowledgeable, say that sometimes some meat dishes, many of them from venison that became rapidly the house specialty, suffered from an imprecise cooking time.
Desserts were very well prepared, especially the tarte Tatin. The wine list, essentially French was limited but dominated by some excellent Bordeaux.
There was also a limited but well-chosen selection of French wines by the glass.
Nevertheless, I still think that the concept and the menus of this restaurant were too sophisticated and not appropriate for that time. The prices of most dishes, dictated by an elevated food cost, were too high. After a year of very limited commercial success De Melogue tried to reduce the scope of his ambitions and his prices. But it was too late and unfortunately Le Margaux had to close in October 1994.

2424 N. Ashland Avenue, Chicago

 Way out of the traditional restaurant districts, this very lively and pleasant place looked more like a typical Chicago neighborhood tavern than a French bistro. But it was actually a good wine bar that served a few inexpensive typical French bistro dishes such as soupe à l’oignon Lyonnaise, pâté de campagne, mussels in a Provençal-style garlic and shallots tomato broth, cassoulet, steak-frites (the frites were great), roasted  chicken, rack of lamb with herbes de Provence, and a very decent chocolate mousse. The space was small (15 tables) and the décor was rather rustic: small tables, metallic bistro chairs, checkered tablecloth covered with butcher paper, and above all a pretty long bar where you could order a dozen of pretty good regional, but very inexpensive (less than $5.00), French wines by the glass. The menu was hand-written and simple. The food was generally well-prepared, and also inexpensive.
When I discovered Rudi’s, in 1994, you could have a 3-course meal, without wine and tip, for $18.00 to $20.00.
The waitresses were good-humored and relaxed, maybe more with the numerous regular patrons than with strangers or new customers though.
The speakers played the type of French songs that the average American knew at the time, Piaf’s and Brel’s.
 The owner was a man called Whitey But for the many faithful patrons, the main attraction was Rudi. Always sitting at the bar, he was, a very cheerful guy, who even though he was not the owner, always talked with them about many subjects, the most important one being wine. Lots of customers thought that he was the manager. But he was not.
His real name was Peter Rudiger and he was a former wine importer who had a business called Orange Imports in Northfield in the late 80s. He also gave courses and seminars about wine
He really loved and knew his wines, particularly the French. I had a brief conversation with him once at that bar and he was happy to know that I lived in Avignon and Aix-en-Provence since he had a special fondness for Rhône and Provence wines.
But over the years some serious disagreements developed between ‘’Rudi’’ and the owner, Whitey, who had financed the restaurant whose success was in fact almost entirely the work of Rudiger. So when it appeared that Whitey was not going to allow Rudiger to become a full partner as it had promised, Rudi left and went to Bistro Ultra on Clybourn where Juan Hurtado, Rudi’s Wine Bar former chef was now the owner. Rudi’s stayed open, but often mostly empty, for a few months then closed for good in the spring of 2002. Peter Rudiger died in November 2002 at age 55

310 Green Bay Road, Highwood

Opened in May by Highwood’s native Gabriel Viti, who had just left his job a block away as executive chef at Carlos in Highland Park, this small (in its early days) but very elegant and European in style Italian-French restaurant, was a perfectly tuned-up classy place.
Normally such a restaurant should not figure in my list, because the menu was predominantly Italian. But it also offered a few classic French dishes such as a duo of duck magret and leg confit, served as it is common in France with flageolets and purée de pommes de terre (a signature dish of Robuchon). Or a rack of lamb in a thyme sauce with ratatouille

The main reason I wanted to mention Viti is because this very professional owner-chef was one of the very few American restaurateurs ever to operate a restaurant, and to direct a kitchen in such a typically French controlled and precise way. It was especially noticeable a few years later when the dining room, which had expanded from 75 to 125 seats, was very often packed with regulars and even out of town visitors. Through the window of the open kitchen you could see that Viti, who always wore a traditional white toque, was literally directing his, also white-toqued, cooking staff, and similarly the whole “brigade” as would a music director. But the whole affair was neither pretentious or contrived.

The atmosphere and the service were very stylish but convivial, and Viti took the time to greet and converse in the dining room with his regular customers who loved him.
The reason for his mastering of French cooking and restaurant managing techniques was that Vitti, a very gifted CIA graduate (1986), had spent 6 years in some of the best kitchens of France, and Switzerland. His already very formal training was greatly enhanced by his working under such luminaries as Joël Robuchon in Paris, who had a major influence on his techniques, and Freddy Girardet in Crissier, Switzerland. But he also spent some time with Michel Guérard in Eugénie Les Bains. And his stays in the kitchens of Taillevent in Paris, and La Pyramide in Vienne, where the legendary Fernand Point is one of the creators of modern French cuisine, were also very influential.
He ended his European series of training in Italy, the country of his ancestors at the famous San   Domenico in Imola, Italy. But he also had spent some time at La Lampina in Milan.
Viti closed GABRIEL in 2012, after opening MIRAMAR a French-Cuban bistro, also in Highwood. Since that time he has devoted his energy to the climbing some of the highest mountains in Asia (Everest, K2), Europe (Eiger, Mont Blanc), and South America.

1958 N. Damen Avenue, Chicago

In June, just a few months after the sale of his very successful restaurant Jean-Claude on Clark St. (where his own La Fontaine used to be), Jean-Claude Poilevey could feel that downsizing was a must for a French restaurant wanting to succeed in these difficult economic times.
 He opened this bistro in the small space (40 seats) formerly occupied by Gavroche, a restaurant specializing in “couscous”.  It is still packed every day in 2018. And the décor is the same as it was in 93: charming, intimate, provincial, and very comfortable in spite of the high level of noise, due to the animated conversations. You really feel at home there. Many of my French business contacts coming to Chicago for a trade show would call me in advance so that I would reserve a table and make sure that there would be lapin, and mousse au chocolat, as well as bottles of Morgon from Marcel Lapierre, an excellent vigneron friend of Jean-Claude who unfortunately died in 2016.
I love Lyon, the 3rd largest city in France located 100 miles South-East from Geneva, which is well-known as the French capital of gastronomy. And when I used to travel there often on business, my local colleagues who knew about my love for “la cuisine de bistro” would often take me for lunch to a “bouchon” (wine cork), the name given by the Lyonnais to the hundreds of informal small restaurants. In a bouchon you can eat good regional charcuterie, and Lyonnaise specialties often based on meat and offals. A few of typical foods found in bouchons are andouille grillée (grilled chitterlings sausage), tripe (pig or cow’s stomach), boudin noir (blood sausage), quenelles (veal or pike dumplings in a cream sauce), Cervelle de Canut, (cream cheese with garlic and chives), salade Lyonnaise (lettuce with bacon, croutons, mustard vinaigrette, and a poached egg), gateau de foie (liver cake) or onion tart, breaded pig trotters, and coq au vin or rabbit stew in a mustard sauce.
A typical dessert, after some Saint Marcellin cheese, would be a poached pear in red wine.
And, of course, your table would drink several “pots” de Beaujolais or Côtes du Rhône produced North and South of Lyon. The owners and the waiting staff would have lively conversations with their regulars, and the general ambiance would be joyous and comfortable.
Several of these dishes could often be found at Le Bouchon.
But some of the favorites were his onion tart, the saucisson, the salade Lyonnaise, the ``lapin chasseur’’ (rabbit stew in a wine sauce with mushrooms and lardons) or ‘’à la moutarde’’, and the crème brulée.
A 3-course dinner in 1993 would cost under 20 dollars per person (without wine, tax and tip)
Jean-Claude was a perfect Lyonnais host, who knew how to put his own numerous regulars, both French and Americans, at ease. His sense of humor was more accessible to French customers. But his smile was contagious. The food and the atmosphere were, and still are, authentic. Olivier, Jean-Claude’s son, is now the chef.
Very sadly Jean-Claude passed away in a car accident in April 2016.
We will miss him forever.

2140 N. Lincoln Park West, Chicago

Between 1979 and 1993, Bob Djahanguiri an Iranian immigrant who, in spite of degree in engineering, worked is way up from busboy to manager in various restaurants of the Ray Castro and Morton groups, had a very popular restaurant-cabaret called Toulouse. The name was a reference to Toulouse-Lautrec, the French painter, who was famous not only for his very bold and colorful posters, but also for his love of people of the night, including singers and prostitutes, as well as of the good life. The atmosphere was very relaxed and happy, with singers and musicians playing for diners who enjoyed a mainly French-Continental menu. Then Djahanguiri opened Yvette, a very popular bistro-piano bar, at 1206 N. State St.
In October 1993, he transferred Toulouse in a vintage building on Lincoln Park with a completely new formula: a totally baroque 75 seats dining room with mirrors all over the walls, chandeliers, red drapes, columns, and red walls decorated with slightly half romantic half naughty paintings in the style of Fragonard. When I visited the place, Bob told me that he wanted the whole affair to be reminiscent of Versailles.  Across the hall he created a clubby Cognac Bar, with live musicians and singers, that pretty soon became more popular than the restaurant as a destination. In the beginning the menu created by French chef Jean-Louis Montecot, an alum of La Côte Basque in NYC, was classic French upper-bistro.
But it was too complex for the client-base, and Djahanguiri after a few months brought one of his cooks named Burkett from Turbot, a seafood bistro next to Yvette, who downsized the menu in a more ‘’continental’’ style.
I do not remember exactly when this overambitious restaurant-nightclub closed its doors. I would guess 1995.

833 W. Randolph, Chicago

This vibrant place was opened on December 29, by a trio of entrepreneurs-restaurateurs who were about to launch a trend of flashy restaurants on what was going to be called in a matter of 3 years the Randolph “restaurant row. Marché was a fusion of brasserie, bistro, and trendy night bar and eatery, where “people” went to see and be seen.
 It was an immediate success that lasted for many years, before being progressively strangled by the growing competition in that district and serious lawsuits against it creator.
The trio of flamboyant Jerry Kleiner, astute lawyer Howard Davis, and former broker Dan Krasny, after their early success in the South Loop with Vivo, rapidly created other “different” eating and drinking establishments where beautiful, young, and fun-loving people loved to spend their evenings in original and very nicely designed places. Most of them were located in the rapidly gentrifying and developing West Loop, around Randolph and Fulton Market, and in the South Loop. In the West Loop several restaurants of the group, called KDK restaurants, were very successful since their launching in the 90s until 2010 when most of them were forced to close for financial reasons.
The headquarters of KDK was in Marché’s building. (Marché means Market in French). The décor of the bi-level restaurant itself was quite visually impressive with its painted columns, drapes, high ceilings, iron chairs, and a large counter forming a half circle in front of the open kitchen, where several cooks were super-busy preparing the non- stop flow of orders. KDK had recruited a very talented young but already very experienced chef, Michael Kornick, who was chef at Gordon’s and The Pump Room, before working for two years in the kitchen of the Four Seasons in Boston. He stayed at Marché until 1998 after a disagreement with Kleiner.  Later on, he was replaced by Paul Wildermuth.
The first few years the cuisine was definitely influenced by a French brasserie style and was pretty good: Brandade de morue, onion soup, escargots, steamed mussels, rabbit terrine, great chicken roasted on cherry wood, whole lamb shank, a great dish of whipped potatoes with garlic, specials such as duck confit or cassoulet.
But the best were the steaks and for lunch a terrific hamburger served with some of the best pommes frites I ever had in Chicago. And the basket full of 3 or 4 different breads was brought to your table with an excellent butter.  For dessert, made by a very good pastry chef whose name I forgot, we loved the fruit tarts and a spectacular boozy chocolate mousse.  The wine list was decent, with good small Bordeaux, but a bit pricey. A 4-course dinner for 2 without wine would cost over $70.00.
The big problem with that restaurant was the excessive noise, and in the early 90’s, the smoke.
But for long time it was one of the most exciting restaurants in town.
After he left Marché, Michael Kornick opened his own successful restaurants such as MK.


160 E. Huron St. Chicago

In May, I was very happy when this charming restaurant, with its sidewalk “terrasse” café was opened by Roger Greenfield and Ted Kasemir in the Radisson hotel. It had an obvious Mediterranean touch in both the colorful dining room, with its red tiled floor, and the attractive menu, created by Michael Altenberg, a very good chef whose very tasty Italian cuisine I had very much enjoyed in the late 80s first at Tucci Milan, then at nearby very successful Avanzare, both part of the LEY group. Cassis is the name of a delightful small fishing port, 22 miles east of Marseille, where you can eat very good fresh seafood and drink a delicious locally-produced white wine. During my first visit, there I thought I was back to my native South of France while eating fresh artichokes with aioli, brandade de morue, a creamy cod fish puree whipped in olive oil, that you spread on pieces of garlic rubbed toast, grilled lamb chops with pan-fried potato, onion and leek pancake, washed down with a very good Côtes de Provence. He also served a great French endive salad with Roquefort, and walnuts, and it was good to finish with a Hazelnut cake, or a Sorbet au cassis. Another day I had a good ‘’tapénade’’ and a very decent steak-frites.
But the majority of customers came for the Bouillabaisse and other seafood such as scallops and mussels.
But unfortunately, Altenberg did not stay long, and my next, and last visit was very disappointing.  A few months later he was replaced by another excellent chef, Suzy Crofton, but I never had an opportunity to taste her version of Provençal cooking. Anyway, as it is often the case with restaurants opened by Roger Greenfield, Cassis was soon sold, and in early 1997 it had morphed into a Mexican Grill.
Michael Altenberg, who later on had been very successful at Bistro Campagne a very good French bistro, died in 2012

700 W. Northwest Highway (in the Foundry Shopping Center), Barrington, IL

What a relaxing and charming restaurant it was, especially in the summer. We had lunch there only twice, a couple of years after its opening in May 95, but it will remain a very pleasant meal in our memories.
The owner, Jean-Pierre Leroux was a most gracious host and served us an apéritif (a pastis) outside, but we ate in one of the very spacious and luminous dining room that was simply decorated but very comfortable.  I knew his wife Denise who worked at the French Consulate, and I had met Jean-Pierre when he was the manager of the very good Ciel Bleu restaurant in the Mayfair Regent hotel on east Lake Shore Drive. He was a real pro, with a long experience in the food and wine and hotel management business, who decided to come to Barrington and open his own place when the Mayfair was converted into a condo building. He brought with him the Ciel Bleu’s chef, Brian Newkirk, who stayed a couple of years. But then Leroux hired a very gifted ‘’cuisinière’’, Nadia Tilkian, who gave a very pleasant modern Mediterranean color, as well as a more traditional French bistro mark to the dishes she created, especially the daily specials such as duck, cassoulet, and calf liver, as well as scallops with porcini mushrooms, or pork tenderloin in thyme sauce. But for lunch you could appreciate simple bistro fare such as a very well-made croque-monsieur, a salade frisée and a cassis sorbet.
There was an excellent wine list, and the prices on the menu were very reasonable.
The restaurant closed on December 20.

59 W. Hubbard St. Chicago

JO was Jean Joho, the well-respected French chef who was hired in 1985 from France where he had acquired great cooking skills at the famous Auberge de l’Ill in Alsace, by George Badonsky to be the executive chef at Maxim’s on Astor.
Unfortunately, the restaurant which had been restored to his original splendor at a very high cost was closed after only one year in January 86.  So, Joho got into a partnership with Richard Melman, the genius restaurateur and creator of the LEY group to launch the EVEREST, a luxurious and very creative restaurant on the 40th floor of a commercial high-rise in the South Loop. He still manages it in 2019.
But in 95 he partnered once again with LEY to re-create a typical French brasserie where the menu could include a few traditional Alsatian hearty dishes such as the “choucroute garnie”, and “tarte flambée” accompanied by French beer and Alsatian white wines such as Riesling.
The very large two-tiered dining-room, could seat more than 200 guests in a relaxed, relatively elegant, but very lively environment, where you could eat and drink while listening to sold standard French songs. It also had a long bar where you could order simple small dishes such as sausage and potato salad, or drink an espresso with a delicious Alsatian fruit brandy such as Mirabelle or kirsch. It was a favorite meeting place at lunch time and very late at night before or after a show. The décor with its tiled floor, wooden bistro chairs, white table cloth, potted green plants, and its large train station clock behind the bar was really helping creating the atmosphere of a Parisian brasserie.
The menu also was composed of standard brasserie dishes: Smoked salmon, pâtés, soupe à l’oignon, brandade, cassoulet, filet of skate in a browned butter sauce with capers, coq au Riesling, duck confit, steak-frites, salade frisée Lyonnaise aux lardons, and very good profiterolles and sorbets for dessert. They had a different Plat du jour every day of the week. Sometimes in the early days the menu would occasionally feature a very pleasant dish of braised rabbit, which I liked a lot.
The crowd was quite diverse with well-dressed young couples, tourists out of a tour bus, old couples, or students. Everybody was always merry and satisfied when they left the place.
The prices were quite affordable. During the first 3 years you could have a 3-course meal for about 25 dollars (plus wine, taxes, and tip).

But in around 2007 both trends and the expectations and tastes of more sophisticated customers at night in that district started to change and the restaurant was closed in August 2010.
The 2 sons of Rich Melman replaced it with a younger, more clubby and “branché” (trendy) French-American contemporary bistro called Paris Club. Brasserie Jo continued to exist in Boston.

455 Central Avenue, Highland Park, IL

In November Carlos and Debbie Nieto owners of the very successful CARLOS, a fancy French restaurant also in Highland Park since 1981, decided to open a more casual French bistro next door to the old movie theater on Central St. They knew that people wanted to eat well but in a more relaxed atmosphere, specially before or after a movie and this 70-seat comfortable but intimate French bistro, that they called a “French diner” in its early days, proved them right for several years.
They asked their chef at Carlos, French-born Jacky Pluton, to create a typical bistro menu, with moderate prices and it was successful.
It included all the classics: soupe à l’oignon, country pâté, pissaladière (a recipe from Nice of a warm flaky onion and anchovies tart), mussels marinière, marinated herrings, roasted chicken flavored with herbes de Provence served with purée de pommes de terre (mashed potatoes), steak frites, salmon grilled with baked small green lentils, and for dessert, besides good profiteroles, a traditional tarte Tatin, and fresh tropical fruit sorbets.
The décor was definitively French provincial bistro with its small windows, Big wall mirrors, original French posters, white table cloth. The plats and wines du jour were written on a black board.
Pluton’s French sous-chef, Frédéric Boyer became the chef de cuisine.
A 3-course dinner would set you back at only $24.00. But the nice little lunch menu cheaper
This restaurant was still open in 2017 but had lost some of its original French bistro charm.


546 N. Wells St. Chicago

When Didier Durand and his wife Jamie Pellar opened their first own restaurant, they named it after the hero of Edmond Rostand’s famous play Cyrano de Bergerac. Didier is himself a native of this charming city in Southwest France, an area well-known for its duck foie gras and terrines, goose-based dishes, wild mushrooms, marvelous black truffles, and of course the excellent wines.  So, this chef was raised in a region famous for its gastronomy, and he still loves and defends all these traditional specialties. He also benefited from a very solid culinary training at famous
3-stars restaurants such as Michel Guérard in Eugénie Les Bains. The resulting savoir-faire has been evident in the various Chicago area restaurants where he showed his talent for cooking traditional French cuisine for 10 years before opening Cyrano’s. La Bohème in Winnetka, Carlos in Highland Park, La Forêt in Lake Forest, Gordon’s in Chicago and Le Perroquet where he was the head chef when Michael Foley reopened it for a year in 1992.
 With its banquettes as well as more traditional bistro tables and chairs Cyrano’s was a very comfortable restaurant where the walls were painted in a warm and luminous ochre color, and the high ceilings in royal blue. Fancy mirrors and French posters completed the décor.
The bar was welcoming customers who prefer to sip on very unusual wines from Southwestern France selected by Jamie, who often also manages the front of the house, as well as nibbling on some appetizers.
During its early years Didier’s menu offered bistro dishes such as a great steak with spectacular frites that were slightly spiced up with a touch of red pepper, Coq au vin, Bouillabaisse, sweetbreads, as well as a delicious cold Vichyssoise, and various pâtés, including a very mild but tasty one made from ostrich meat. But you could also taste more original and regional dishes such as rotisserie chicken, duck, and sometimes rabbit that I loved, as well as a very flavorful braised pork.
My favorite dessert was a delicious apple TarteTatin with rosemary flavored ice-cream.
For several years the restaurant was open for lunch and it was very nice in the summer to have a lengthy lunch outside on the sidewalk terrace.
In 1996 a 3-course meal would cost about 25 dollars.
After having renamed the restaurant Cyrano’s Farm Kitchen in 2012, and spent more time on his very popular Cyrano’s Café on the River Walk during the summer on the lower East Wacker Drive, Cyrano’s closed its doors at the end of August in 2015.

3443 N. Southport Chicago

Carl Segal, and his partner Casey Eslick, opened this 225 seats café-restaurant in June on a street that was becoming rapidly popular with young couples first because of its famous movie theater The Music Box, at the corner of Grace st., and later on because of all kinds of interesting shops and restaurants that populated the western sidewalks all the way South to Belmont.
The zinc in France is a popular name for a long bar that you find in almost every café in France. It is also called “le comptoir” and the expression “boire une bière au comptoir”, or, “manger un sandwich au comptoir” means that that you have little time to sit down at a table and will eat or drink something at the bar. When I was a kid, after the war most bars were made of wood but the top of the bar, was covered with zinc. Nowadays the zinc has been replaced by copper.  When you used to say to a colleague or a neighbor “Viens boire un apéro sur le zinc?” it meant that you wanted to share a quick before -dinner drink with him at the neighborhood café. 
Bistrot Zinc had a front room, Café Zinc, with large French windows that from May to October were open on a very busy “terrasse” on the sidewalk. It was a very pleasant café where you could eat small dishes such as omelets, quiche, charcuterie, sandwiches, crepes, soups, salads, and ice-creams or home-made pastries, while sipping good French wines and beers. Most of the good bread used there was also home-made.
 It was in this room that you could admire the famous zinc, a beautiful French antique, that used to be at the entrance of the main dining room of Les Nomades on Ontario in the 1970s. I remember drinking my aperitif next to it before going to my table to eat. But Jovan Trboyevic, the owner of this splendid private dining club, had told me that he would have to get rid of it because it was too big for that little space. So, I was quite surprised when I saw that beautiful piece 20 years later on Southport.
The back of the restaurant consisted of 3 dining rooms decorated with simple elegance as would be a French provincial bistro.
The first chef, René Bajeux was a real French pro with a long experience in France, Maui, California, and Chicago where he often delighted me with traditional bistro dishes at Chicago restaurants such as La Bohème, Le Bastille, Un Grand Café, or Bistro 110.
I very often took French visitors there for business dinners and everybody loved the place and the food. Dishes were all classics. Belgian Endives and ham au gratin. Lapin Chasseur or Poulet “Grand Mère” (my favorite), Great steak-frites (one of the best in Chicago in those days). Roasted Chicken in a Thyme sauce. Leg of Lamb (Gigot) with a wonderful aioli. Confit de Canard aux lentilles. Roasted Pork loin in a great Calvados (Apple brandy from Normandy) sauce. Poire belle Hélène, and of course the very popular Crèpes au Grand Marnier.
Nothing revolutionary or avant-garde, just plain satisfying bistro food.
A 3 course meal would cost no more than 22 or 23 dollars, without wine, taxes, and tip of course.
The restaurant closed in January 2002. But a new Bistro Zinc opened In 1998 at 1131 N. State St.  Still open in 2018, it is charming but its French look and cuisine are not as convincing as the original on Southport.

64 Green Bay Road, Winnetka

Jacky Pluton, a native of Aubenas in Southern France, was chef at Carlos from January 1995 until he left in October 1996, and at Café Central (see above). But he had a previous solid experience in various good French restaurants in Florida and in Philadelphia. And he was trained in France in well-known Michelin-starred establishments. So was Frédéric Boyer, his sous-chef then chef at Café Central and now his partner when they open in November this luminous (where yellow and blue were the dominant, very Mediterranean, colors) and nicely appointed 82 seats restaurant in the space previously occupied by the Winnetka Grill.
 I went there a couple of times on an early afternoon and had an interesting  conversation with Pluton. On that occasion I just tasted a bit of a very good brandade a specialty of pressed codfish and olive oil from Nimes, the city where I was born. But I did not have a chance to come back and have a full meal and I regret it because so many dishes on the menu were obviously very authentically Provençaux, especially his treatment of fresh vegetables, lamb and seafood.
 I also would have come back to try his Pan Bagnat, often spelled Bagna, a traditional Provençal sandwich originally from the Nice area, which consist of 2 round buns doused with olive oil and stuffed with canned tuna, anchovies, lettuce, tomato, sliced hard- boiled egg, small black olives, and a little it of vinaigrette. When I was a student in Aix-en-Provence I used to buy one for my lunch from a vendor selling them fresh-made out of his food truck.
A friend of mine who ate there a few times raved about his braised lamb shank with ratatouille, And I understand that his lavender-flavored crème brulée was a treat.
A 3-course dinner ran around $25.00 in 1996.
The restaurant suffered a fire in early 1999 and was reopened later as Jacky's Bistro.


33 W. Monroe, Chicago

This neo-brasserie opened in January in the space previously occupied for a long time by the very popular City Tavern. It became also rapidly a busy lunch meeting place for people working in offices located at the heart of the loop and for those needing a quick dinner before going to see a show at the Schubert theater located on the side of the street. I believe that it had the same owners as Bistro110, Anyways Voila’s chef worked in the kitchen of Bistro 110 for several years.
I have been there only once for lunch and was not overly impressed. The food which was a mix of French classics such as Croque-Monsieur, Quiches, mini home-made Pizzas, Herbed Roasted Chicken, Hachis Parmentier, Onion Soup, and slightly more exotic Mediterranean grilled dishes based on chicken and fresh vegetables, was O.K but not very exciting. Desserts were not very original: Crème brulée, ice cream in puff pastry with a hot coffee sauce.
The biggest asset of this restaurant was the location, the large menu, and the very low prices. You could eat a decent lunch for 15 dollars and drink a glass of French wine for $4.50.
But in the summer customers loved to have a lunch or a dessert with an expresso on the sidewalk terrace
The restaurant closed in April 99.

1846 N. Milwaukee Ave. Chicago

Charlie Socher, the chef and owner of this simple but charming 2 rooms place that opened in September, had already an extensive training in well-known French restaurants on his resume before returning to Chicago to work in 1st class restaurants such as Ambria. And his love for traditional French “cuisine bourgeoise” was evident when I checked the menu during my first and unfortunately only visit in this not too attractive section of Bucktown. His charcuterie, especially the pâtés which were quite authentically French both in taste and in presentation, as well as the Jarret d’Agneau aux légumes (braised lamb shank with vegetables), and even the Tarte aux fruits rouges, in fact raspberries, would not seem out of place in a French country inn.
His carte des vins offered of course a good selection of small Bordeaux as well as lesser known French regional wines and several of them were proposed by the glass for less than 6 dollars.
The restaurant that had a faithful following of regulars, including families with kids, remained popular until it closed in 2010.
In 1997 a 3-course meal without wine before tax and tip would cost you $25.00


1962 N. Halsted, Chicago

Eric Aubriot was barely 26 when he left his job as chef at Carlos and came downtown in the spring to open this very pretty, small storefront (56 seats) but sort of a formal gem of pure gastronomical pleasure. He was efficiently helped by his charming wife Stephanie who was a perfect host and front manager.
Eric  already had a very impressive culinary resume both in France here he acquired great skills in the kitchen of luminaries such as Alain Ducasse and Michel Guérard, and in Evanston where he worked at TRIO.
Aubriot had a typical French chef passion for first rate products. He did not hesitate to incorporate the best he could find in the marketplace or from local and regional producers, to use in its very sophisticated menus.
Fresh Foie Gras, great fresh ocean fish such as bass and monkfish, mussels and crustaceans, Wisconsin veal, lamb, duck and rabbit, and always beautiful fresh seasonal vegetables and mushrooms. He had a special knack with vegetables, either grilled, sautéed, or in subtle cream sauce. And of course, the crown of each dinner was an elaborate dessert or pastry such as incredible soufflés and semi liquid chocolate cakes, created by Cindy Schuman, who at the time was one of the most gifted pastry chefs in Chicago.
Eric Aubriot’s cooking was a very balanced mix of traditional French classicism and modern, post-nouvelle cuisine that was sometimes very bold in its elaborate association of ingredients, not hesitating to integrate caramelized and savory elements in the same dish. Everything was very flavorful but light, perhaps an inheritance from Guérard. And his sauces, often delicately flavored with light cream, home-made broth, and fresh herbs or exotic spices, were very elegant.
Unfortunately, such quality had a relatively high food cost, and after a period of success, many customers became more reluctant to pay the price, and Aubriot eventually was transformed in a more casual French restaurant called ESCARGOT in 2003. It had to close the same year.

Since that time Eric worked in more than a dozen restaurants of various types (French, Middle-Eastern, Vietnamese, Italian, Japanese, etc.…) and in all kinds of capacities:  chef, line cook, food consultant, as well as partner or manager. Those stints lasted from one month to several years. As far as I know he was still cooking in a Chicago restaurant in 2017, possibly Osteria Langhe.

2300 N. Lincoln Parkway West, ChicagoI

Gabi is the diminutive for Gabino, the first name of iconic chef and restaurateur Gabino Sotelino, who for many years was the co-owner with LEYE’s creator Rich Melman, and executive chef of AMBRIA, a fancy and much celebrated and loved restaurant located just across the front lobby of the Belden-Stratford apartment hotel.
In fact, Melman and Sotelino had launched this French brasserie-bistro under the name of UN GRAND CAFÉ in 1981. (see my description in the 1980s chapter). But it was slightly re-decorated and its menu simplified under its new name in June of 1998.
But it was still very comfortable with its leather banquettes, bistro tables, and the steaks, with great frites, the plateaux de fruits de mer (shellfish platters), and the pates, and the profiterolles, tarte tatin, and mousse au chocolat as good as ever.
The staff, dressed in the traditional outfits that you will find in a Parisian brasserie, was very well trained and efficient.
The selection of Bordeaux, Burgundies, and Côtes du Rhône, was quite affordable.
This restaurant is still popular in 2019. 

1791 St. Johns Avenue, Highland Park, IL

When they opened this simply decorated but lovely, elegant, and sophisticated restaurant in June and named it after the first name of their newly arrived from L.A French chef, owners Dean and Barbara Becker probably did not guess that this charming, very gifted and already famous man Gilles Epié would stay only 4 months.  I never had a chance to try it but I heard that it was pretty good.
When he arrived from Paris in 1995, without speaking English, but with very strong cooking and entrepreneurial credentials, he rapidly became a darling of the well-heeled “people” in Los Angeles, the stars of Hollywood and the big names in American and French politics.

His incredibly creative and light cuisine, especially in seafood drove L’Orangerie, that had almost perished before he took it over first as executive chef and then as owner, to a new celebrity status. He was even named Best New Chef in America by Food and Wine in 1996. He also got married with a beautiful American model Elisabeth, who became his professional associate since that time.
But I had personally enjoyed his cuisine in Paris at Le Miraville, on the quai de l’Hôtel de Ville where he became in1980 at the age of 22, the youngest chef to get a Michelin star. And I also had good meals at La Petite Cour, rue Mabillon, in my old neighborhood and at one point also enjoyed his Mediterranean cuisine at Campagne et Provence in 1994.
After 10 years in the U.S He flew back to Paris for good to open Citrus Etoile near the Champs-Elysées in 2005 with Elisabeth. He just sold this very fancy restaurant in July 2017.
Gilles was renamed Cuisine Française in October 2008. Gilles went back to LA.

5111 N. Carpenter, Chicago

Jean-Claude Poilevey, and his wife Suzanne, whose Le Bouchon (see above) had rapidly become very successful in a few weeks, opened this larger bistro on September 14. In those days, the West Loop and more particularly the most Western part of Randolph had not yet established itself as a foodies and restaurateurs paradise and in some way a laboratory of new culinary trends.
To oversee the kitchen Jean-Claude had recruited David Burns, a young talented chef who had honed his French techniques under Jean Banchet in his Atlanta restaurant and had worked for a while at the Ritz-Carlton when Sarah Steigner was still in charge there. He had been the first chef at Le Bouchon, where Poilevey trained him in traditional cuisine bourgeoise and lyonnaise. It was a real pleasure for me to find during the first years at La Sardine some of my favorite French bistro dishes: Brandade de morue de Nimes, Tarte aux poireaux, rillettes, Salade Lyonnaise, bouillabaisse, steak-frites (Burns’s frites were among the best in Chicago) and my all-time favorite comfort food very meaty, tender, and well-seasoned Lapin Chasseur, or Lapin à la Moutarde  (rabbit in mushroom and wine, or mustard sauce) that was served with delicious fetuccine pasta.
La Sardine also served a very seductive Gâteau au chocolat Praliné, and a great crème brulée.
The dining room was very spacious and luminous with its very large bay-windows.
But my favorite place was the long bar where you could drink very well selected regional French wines and great Calvados and Armagnac brandies. It was a very pleasant place to congregate with French friends after hours, or have a lively discussion about Beaujolais  at lunch time when Jean-Claude was still there.

701 N. Wells St.  Chicago

I had multiple occasions to enjoy John Hogan’s solid French technique and creative talent at the piano when he was the executive chef at Georges Cuisance’s Kiki’s Bistro, from its opening in 1990.
So, I was quite excited when he told me about his plan to open his own French restaurant, with a couple of partners. But it took 6 months more than expected and a few legal, technical, and financial obstacles to beat before that date in October where the quite elegant SAVARIN, could finally open on the spot previously occupied by Lola’s. Hogan aptly gave it the name of the famous 19th century French culinary and food writer (“The Physiology of Taste” is his major book), epicurean, and gastronome Anthelme Brillat-Savarin whose name was given to a famous triple-crème Brie cheese.
The main floor that looked a bit like a French provincial brasserie, complete with booths or tables, tiles on the floor, chandeliers, wood paneling and trims, white tablecloth and napkins, good quality flatware and glasses, flowers all over, was quite comfortable. So was the upper floor lounge with a bar, small tables, sofas and deep seating armchairs.
But the main attraction was a series of hand-painted portraits by Tim Anderson of well-known local chefs who were either friends, former employers, or mentors of John Hogan, such as Jean Joho, Jean Banchet, Paul Bocuse, Tony Mantuano, Gabino Sotelino, or Roland Liccioni.

But the best feature of this restaurant was that it was covering a very eclectic panel of what French cuisine is made of: classicism and modernism, bistro and comfort traditional cuisine bourgeoise, as well as sophisticated touches of intelligent “nouvelle”.
So, you could order a traditional meal of escargots, or soupe à l’oignon, a salade Lyonnaise, coq au vin, or steak-frites maître d’hôtel, if you wanted to stay in a “bistro” mood.
Or if you wanted to impress a date or a future business partner, more sophisticated offerings would do the job: seared foie gras, sea urchins in lobster sauce, crab mousse, duck prosciutto, white asparagus in a delicate cheese and white truffle sauce, Dover sole, or a carré de veau roti aux champignons. And a very dense and satisfying chocolate mousse.
But when I was there the first time I was very happy to find on the menu that day a timbale of lentils with foie gras that John had asked me to taste 8 years earlier, just after he had produced his first sample in the kitchen at Kiki’s, to have my comments. I had loved it.
Savarin had a very well selected wine list full of reasonably priced Bordeaux and Burgundies.
In 1998 a 3-course dinner would cost you no more than 35 dollars (excluding tax and tip)
The restaurant, in spite of very good reviews, was probably too ambitious for that time period, and did not attract a sufficiently large client base. It was forced to close in July 2000. What a shame.       

235 N. Wabash avenue, Chicago

I was very hopeful, since this address was exactly located at 2 blocks away from my office on Michigan avenue, that I was going to find a nice lunch replacement place for my dear, but now defunct, Café Angelo, a cozy and peaceful Italian institution owned and managed by the charming Angelo Nicelli, whom I had known for years. In fact, he had acquired the place in 1970 the same year I started to work in that district. From the outside the bi-level big dining room looked elegant, comfortable, and promising. It was still located in a hotel, the totally renovated Hotel Monaco (formerly Oxford House). But it took several months for the work to be completed and the restaurant finally opened in November.
 Mossant was a celebrated French hat maker in the 1800s and this building was actually itself the site of a hat factory.
So, the whole décor was themed around the hats which were in evidence all over the place. I went there a couple of times for lunch and the so- called French dishes were as so uninteresting and mediocre in their presentation that I had the impression to be back to a “continental” restaurant of the early seventies.
  I did not return until 2000 when they recruited the talented Steve Chiapetti as the executive chef who revamped the menu reflecting a more modern French cuisine including escargots en croute, fresh seared foie gras, lobster and salmon mousse, tapenade, aioli, and brandade, as well as Tournedos Rossini, roasted sea bass, vegetable Tagine, and Baked Alaska for dessert. By now it has attracted a more sophisticated clientele, especially pre-theater at dinner time. 
But that successful period did not last more than a year and ended with Chiapetti leaving for more interesting venues.
The restaurant morphed into South Water Kitchen in 2002. Then I lost track and interest.

10 W. Jackson Naperville, IL

This comfortable 3 dining rooms restaurant was more contemporary American than traditional French. But the cuisine had an obvious French influence, inherited by the owner-chef David Oland who for quite a while was the chef at the authentic French restaurant Montparnasse nearby. I have not been there but from what I read and heard Oland obviously had a decent knowledge of French cooking techniques. It was reflected in a nice selection of seafood dishes, based on scallops, salmon, and monkfish, as well as braised rabbit in a mustard sauce, duck confit, and even a cassoulet.
For dessert, his risotto of oven-dried pears, with mint ice cream and crème anglaise seemed to have some fans.
But, in spite of reasonable prices (about 30 dollars for a 3-course dinner) I do not think that this place lasted more than a year.


462 Park Blvd. Glen Ellyn, IL

The 2 “fat Guys”, that the name of this very ambitious and very inventive and high-quality restaurant refers to, are 2 brothers with, at the time, were endowed with a pretty noticeable girth.
Michael and Thomas Lachowicz were two professionals with a lot of experience, Michael the chef has been refining his tremendous knowledge of both classic French cuisine under Jean Banchet in the kitchen of Le Français in Wheeling, where he stayed 2 years. But here in his own kitchen in Glen Ellyn, he added a whole new dimension, his own, where French modernism was obviously an important source of inspiration in the bold dish and sauces that he created in his famous “tasting menus”.   Michael regularly came out of his kitchen to talk with customers in the dining-room
Tom, the maître d’hôtel and sommelier, was his indispensable complement. But their personalized contact with the many foodies who packed the place, as well as with their local “regulars” was also part of the success of the restaurant until October 2003 when they closed the place to become partners with Mike Moran at a re-opened Le Francais.
They opened the restaurant in January (or February), and it rapidly got raves not only in the local press but also national recognition.
Located in a strip mall, this relatively small (65 seats in 1999) two rooms place was nevertheless at the same time comfortable, intimate, and extremely well decorated and appointed, with wood panels on the walls, white table cloth, fancy French china.  The service was faultless. And the whole atmosphere was definitely French with its menus written in French
(with English translation). The $70.00 prix-fixe dinner was a big winner in 2002.
 And the dishes were made of the best ingredients that money could buy: Lobster, veal, salmon, scallops, monkfish, oysters, duck, quail, foie gras, wild mushrooms, venison, risotto, quenelles, organ meats, and of course lots of truffles, and small fresh vegetables and fruits, were declined in all kind of shapes, types of “cuisson”, soups, mousses, “entremets”, sauces, and often “en croûte”. For example, the famous Pithivier de Canard created by Jean Banchet was a favorite. 
And Lachowicz did not hesitate to combine savory and fruits flavors.
Everything was at the same time rich and delicate, never overdone, or pretentious. Needless to say, the wine list was one of the best in Chicago.

1119 W, Taylor, Chicago

Joel Kazouini, a very nice and professional French-speaking Moroccan man, had already a Chicago experience as a restaurateur before he opened this 67 seats charmer in an old Italian neighborhood in May. He and his brother had for several years a popular bistro, Clark Street Bistro.
I always enjoyed the French atmosphere and décor there (nice old posters on the walls), where you immediately feel welcome, the pleasant service in spite of a very often packed dining room, especially on week-ends. I have to also admit that the noise level makes sometimes private conversations difficult to follow, the fact that tables are so close to each other does not help. But after all it is also the case in many bistros in France. Anyways, I go there for the food, and it is really good and well presented, in this unpretentious but very classic French bistro, with good quality ingredients. The bread is delicious, and the wine list includes a very attractive selection of French wines at reasonable prices.
My favorite dishes are or were, since some of them might have change from the early years: brandade de morue, pâtés, especially country and duck liver and their typically French accoutrements, tarte aux poireaux (warm leek tart), steak frites (good fries), lamb shank with mushrooms, and a very decent roasted chicken. And I love their pasta dishes. The fine apple tart with Calvados was always my dessert of choice.
A 3-course dinner would cost 35 dollars,
Chez Joel is still very popular place in 2019.

1504 E. 55th street, Chicago

It took me a while to find out where this discretely elegant French restaurant was hiding on a small courtyard surrounded by a mini mall in Hyde Park. Living in Evanston at the time, it was quite a long drive to get there just to eat. And the only time when we decided to stop by for an early dinner after an afternoon at the Oriental Museum, it was closed. So even though we went there a few times to check the very appealing menu and the comfortable clean dining room with its white cloth covered nice table, we never ate there and still regret it. Because everything we read and heard about this attractive restaurant had a great appeal to me. Perhaps we will eventually go one day since its opening in June 1999 it has been enjoying a good success and is still in operation in 2017 under the same two owners Mary and Michael Mastricola.
Both were alumni of the University of Chicago, went to the famous Le Cordon Bleu school in Paris and then trained in several good restaurants In France, her as a cook and him as a Maitre D’ and sommelier.
So, it was no surprise that her menu and the good wine list reflected the serious French techniques that they acquired there.
From seared Foie Gras, Tarte aux Poireaux or onions and gruyere, to Rabbit Pâté aux pruneaux and cognac, éventail de Magret de Canard and its delicate wild mushrooms stew, or Loin of lamb with pesto in feuilleté, to Roasted Cod with ratatouille, or the Médaillons of Veal with a goat cheese polenta, everything made me drool with envy.
Her tartes and sorbets looked also very tempting desserts.
And the wine list, a well-balanced selection of French wines, was modestly priced.
In French, “faire une petite folie” can mean to treat yourself to an extra-special meal in a fancy, and usually more expensive restaurant that you could normally afford.
But at la Petite Folie, you obviously could, and still can, enjoy a very good 3 course French meal for $ 35.00 between 1999 and 2002. Which was not a “folie”.
The restaurant is stlll very popular in  2019.

1437 N. Wells Street, Chicago

Joe Doppes for many years was the first restaurateur to have dared to introduce French cuisine in the heart of an Italian neighborhood on Taylor Street with his successful Taylor Street Bistro. He took more or less a similar gamble when he opened in October this relatively large 2 room French bistro, in a section of Wells St. in Old Town that was not yet at the time as attractive to young professionals in search of condos near Lincoln Park, as it would become eventually. One portion of the population of that neighborhood was also aging and not necessarily in search of French bistros. But a couple of years later the wind turned in his favor with the opening of a sidewalk “terrasse” that became progressively popular and attracted many younger customers and tourists who wanted a dink and a quick lunch.  
Margot was Joe’s daughter name.
A very astute restaurateur, Doppes created a menu that was not too intimidating or to eclectic. He selected a limited number of classic bistro dishes that did not required long preparation and were easily recognizable, with standard but tasty sauces. And he kept the prices affordable. Pâtés, Escargots, Seafood terrrine, Steak frites, Sole meunière, Lamb chops with ratatouille, Duck magret and confit, Roasted chicken with herbs and lemon and frites, or Coq au Vin with noodles were good sellers. But I would say that his desserts were neither original or special.
The wine list was O.K but not very imaginative either.
The place could be very noisy when packed with people who had sometimes heated discussions after a few drinks.
But the restaurant was popular and remained successfully opened until it closed in December of 2015.

That’s all folks!

This fifth and final part of what I called a retrospective of 75 years of French restaurants in Chicago marks the end of the 1900 millennium. It was somewhat a deliberate choice on my part since 2000 was really the beginning of a new way for Chicagoans to go out for lunch or dinner.
Even though Chicago remained the “meat and potatoes” town it had always been for more than a century, people here in the 1990s were more adventurous in their choices of food, especially “ethnic”, wines, cocktails, creative desserts, and even particularly styles, decors, and ambiances of eating venues.
A key word that characterized that period is FUN. Chicagoans, especially the younger generation, wanted to go out to eat with friends and family to have a good time, in a relaxed atmosphere. They wanted to be waited on by unpretentious and friendly service staff who knew what their customer’s preferences were  and had a good interface with both the kitchen and the ability from the bar and possibly the sommelier beverages to provide good advice.

In fact, more often than in the past, the customer knew the name of the chef who sometimes paid a visit to the table of regular customers.
The formality that had often characterized too many French restaurants meaning intimidating menus, arrogant staff, too sophisticated dishes, unorthodox and sometimes strange assemblies of components on the plate, and above all too high cost a meal, progressively faded away with the massive invasion of the “bistro”.

At the same time the generalization of the use of fresh products in cooking, especially from farmers markets, the multiplication of stores selling cooking ware and equipment, as well as cooking classes, encouraged home cooking. The regular American restaurant client was by now much better informed about food components and their cookng.
Also, many customers read food and wine articles in their local newspapers and even had subscriptions to specialized F&W magazines. And they occasionally got together to cook and taste some recipes they had read.
The number of new TV shows devoted to food preparation grew exponentially in the 1990s and early 2000s. But at a time when traditional French cooking was in regression in restaurants and ethnic cuisines from Italy, Mexico, and Asia were progressing in restaurants, the same trend was noticeable on TV. Very few of these shows were hosted by French chefs well established in the U.S. The only brilliant exceptions were Jacques Pépin  and   Hubert Keller.

One of the most obvious trend of the 90s in French restaurants was that the kitchen in a majority of them was now under the authority of an American chef, and often  still in his or their late thirties or forties, who had trained under a French chef, here or in France, or a French teacher in a cooking school.

Another trend in French bistro was to offer small dishes that you would eat, possibly at the bar, with a glass of a French lesser known and cheaper house wine which could be from Languedoc or the Loire Valley.

 Going to a French restaurant for lunch was no longer a long and costly affair. Many bistros would serve a croque-monsieur with a salad, a salade niçoise, or a small steak frites, with a glass of wine, and a cup of expresso, or a “lunch special” for a tab rarely going over 20 dollars.
You went to a more fancy French restaurant at night for a special occasion, such as a birthday dinner.  

Well, it is time for me to say “Au Revoir” and a big ‘’Merci” to all the professionals, owners, cooks, waiters, who shared their memories with me over the last 7 years.  Their patience and knowledge of the French dining scene was invaluable.

Obviously I did not visit in person all the restaurants which are mentioned in this work. I could not have done the lengthy and necessary research without the help of the many books and magazines I read. And I have to thank all the food and restaurant critics whose reviews and features I read in various local and regional newspapers. The rich archives of The Chicago Tribune and Sun Times were particularly helpful.
I also would like to apologize for all the errors, confusions, misspellings, and, above all, the nice or less nice French restaurants that I neglected or forgot.  I will read and, if possible, comment on any valid complaint on this blog.

Alain Maes

January 2019