If you still think of French restaurants as those serving up attitude du jour, bills equal to the GDP of a small Caribbean nation and food rich enough to slow a hummingbird’s metabolism, you haven’t visited any of these exceptional Chicago-area eateries. Add gracious service, the scent of romance or warm camaraderie and deep wine lists and expect a French dining experience of excellence.
840 N. Wabash Ave.
Chicago, IL 60611
Originally hailing from Paris, France, Chef Martial Noguier hasn’t had to throw fleur du sel over his shoulder for luck but made his mark at restaurants around the country and city with hard work and vision as his currency. Racking up “Best Restaurant” and “Chef of the Year” awards over the past few years, Noguier’s aim is to bring current French cuisine to Chicago diners. Expect modern cuisine rooted in French culture that showcases seasonal ingredients from Midwest farms: the chef’s mother’s house-made country pâté, cheese and charcuterie, mussels and frites, lovely fish soup, crispy duck confit as well as delicate desserts and a 100-plus bottle wine list. The restaurant’s name is a combination of three words – bistro, gastronomy and economic – that describes the contemporary French eatery that is both approachable and affordable.
2100 N. Halsted St.
Chicago, IL 60614
Chez Moi means “my home” and indeed it is as if you are in Chef Dominique Tougne’s sweet abode in Lincoln Park by way of Alsace as he works his culinary magic. Tougne truffled at the venerable Bistro 110 for 16 years, opened his Chez Moi and it was named as One of The Best New Restaurants of 2013 by Chicago Magazine. Count on classic bistro food in a polished yet unpretentious setting and not unlike Parisian bistros, the bar gets livelier at night as French visitors and expats laugh, sip, drink and feel very much at home. Choose among escargot, frog legs, foie gras, delicious cheeses, scallops and duck. This is the only French restaurant that serves cassoulet all year long, making it a favorite stop for lovers of the hearty dish.
505 Main St.
Evanston, IL 60202
Oceanique, a French-American seafood restaurant, may be one of Chicago’s best-kept secrets. Chef/Owner Mark Grosz and his wife/partner Renee André can be proud of its ranking as the number one seafood restaurant in the Chicago metro area by the prestigious Zagat Guide. Twenty-five years old, and recently refreshed in design, decor and food options, the restaurant’s latest menu complements the excellent wine program. A brand new bar offers a roster of seasonal artisan cocktails, craft beers and small plate dishes, too. Not-to-miss items include the signature Maine lobster brioche sandwich with saffron-togarashi aioli; Virginia Misty Point oysters roasted with Pernod, spinach and Parmesan; and Elysian Field Farm’s lamb T-bone, grilled with heirloom tomatoes. Oceanique has won Wine Spectator Magazine’s “Best of Award of Excellence” every year since 1993, so don’t deny yourself a juicy glass or bracing bottle of grapes.
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The path to great French restaurants in Chicago was forged by Chef Michael Lachowicz who turns out drop-dead-gorgeous and lovingly prepared classic French cuisine, butter and cream included. Haunting dusky flavors inhabit hors d’oeuvres such as butter-fried veal sweetbreads and sautéed escargots over truffle-scented pommes purée, crisp red onion strings and sauce Perigord. Entrees such as roasted foie gras stuffed breast of hen with leek and confit cabbage tart make sophisticated gourmands swoon, and if you love lobster (or sole served tableside) and a romantic evening, there is no better place in the Midwest. It’s a dining experience that is stunning, unpretentious and full of Gallic charm.
Cyrano’s Farm Kitchen
546 N. Wells St.
Chicago, IL 60654
Recall that asinine ban on foie gras in the city a few years ago? You can say “merci” to Chef Didier Durand for getting it pulled and stomped upon. Firmly ensconced for two decades, Cyrano’s Farm Kitchen turns out comforting French bistro food a la skirt steaks, duck confit, French onion soup and a roasted chicken as only the French can accomplish. Farm Kitchen School Snacks (warm baguette with whipped butter, house-made potato chips with French onion dip, etc.) will make you feel like an enfant named Pierre or Claudine. Durand is also known for his house-made pâtés and fresh-baked breads, which he sells at farmers’ market each Saturday during the summer. Check out the Barrel Room Cabaret on the lower level for live, snappy entertainment on weekends.
Jacky Runice has been a columnist with the Daily Herald Chicago since grunge music and flannel was the new black. Her fingers and gray matter have been busy as travel editor of Reunions Magazine; penning a column that was syndicated around the nation via Tribune Media Services. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.