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Which French Bistro to choose?

  • k

My wife and I are looking for a good French Bistro in the city and thinking some mentioned here (Le Bouchon/Sardine, Mon Ami Gabi, Cafe Bernard, Cafe Matou, Chez Joel, etc.).

We had some preferences to choose one on the list:

1. kids: I know it's bistro but we can't exclude our two boys. Kids menu preferred. If not, at least, want to find another party with kids (don't want to be embarassed by their noise). high noisy level is perfectly okay for us.

2. prix fixe menu: my wife particularly like this type of full course dinner and I found many had three-course meals on select weekdays (except Mon Ami Gabi... but we don't exclude Mon Ami Gabi. If they are superb and fit our other preferences, we would definitely go). Which one had the best fixed-menu deal (not trimmed menu, same size portion and better taste at a good price)?

3. We have not been a fan of French food and did not have "acquired taste." When we visited Kiki's bisto and Bistro Margot some years ago, we found that the dishes are not suite to our taste (especially, sea bass at kiki's were very bland with our taste). We just want to have some excellent dishes (onion soup, mussels, steak fritte, fresh seafood, may try Bouillabaisse). In terms of our menu preferences, which one would be the best?

Thank you for your helpful comments in advance.

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  1. I have eaten at 3 bistros in the city. Brasserie Jo, Bistro Zinc, and Mon Ami Gabi. At Mon Ami, my girlfriend's lobster was rubbery, and we went another time, and both of us agreed the restaurant was OK, and not a WOW. We'd go back, but we're not rushing to do it again.

    Bras. Jo was good. I liked it a lot. The chef, Jean Jo ho, is the man who runs and owns the famed high end french restaurant Everest. This restaurant is his more "normal" restaurant for everyone that can't afford the expensive option of Everest. I thought Bras. Jo was a fine place to eat dinner.

    Bistro Zinc my girlfriend and I really enjoyed. Bras. Jo and this one are very similar is design and atmosphere. I think this is also a good choice.

    Both Bras Jo and Zinc have tiled floors, and the restaurant has that "busy, and louder" feel to the dining room. They are not intimate venues. This could potentially work well for your situation with the kids. these restaurants are a little bigger, and not the quiet, intimate, "neighborhoody" option. Give either Jo or Zinc a shot, i think they are both good, and no complaints at the service or anything like that at either restaurant.

    1. Bistro Campagne at 4518 N. Lincoln Avenue in Lincoln Square is very good. Great atmosphere and neighborhood as well.

      1 Reply
      1. re: amoncada

        Bistro Campagne is basically a bar, with some small rooms in the back, which I don't think would be good for children (constraints of space may make you feel you're disturbing your neighbors if the boys are noisy). I have never seen a child there. Of all the choices mentioned here, I think Brasserie Jo is perhaps the best for a couple with two children. They don't have a children's menu, however.

        Here's a link. Believe it or not, the "Famous Shrimp Bag" is quite good - I mention it because you say you're not a real fan of traditional French dishes - the shrimp bag is something Chef Joho invented, I believe, and I always enjoy it.


      2. I'd go to La Sardine which is the sister restaurant to Le Bouchon. The difference is it is bigger and much less noisy. The menu is a little different too. While I prefer the food at Le Bouchon, La Sardine would be better with a couple of kids. It is very traditional French bistrot fare.

        On Tuesdays they do a 3 course meal for $25. You pick an appetizer, entree, and dessert off the regular menu. Monday nights are half bottle of wines.


        1 Reply
        1. re: NDJ

          I've been to La Sardine several times on Tuesday for the $25 prix fixe. Loved it and it was a great value, but apparently others share my opinion because it was packed. Very traditional bistro menu, by the way, a little bit more so, IMO, than Brasserie Jo and Kiki's.

        2. Within recent months I've eaten at La Sardine, Bistro Margot, and Chez Joel. La Sardine is far and away the best of those three, judged both by quality of food and atmosphere.

          1. I don't think you can beat Le Bouchon or La Sardine. Both are great but La Sardine may be more kid-friendly.

            1. I've been to a bunch - Kikis, Margot, 110, Jo, Sardine, Zinc, Bernard, Marche, Cyranos. If I was with kids, and of course it depends which kids, my preference would be, probably, the Rainforest Cafe. Cus they have those chicken fingers shaped like dinosaurs. And the fake alligator.

              But if you really want a french Bistro, last time I was at Jo there were lots of families there. Its a bigger place which seems to be better for familes when the kids get restless. Margot also has the second floor which tends to be a lot less crowded. I've always been a fan of those two.

              Zinc has a great brunch, but I've never been a fan of the dinners. Either the sauces are too soupy, or the fries aren't crispy enough, or there's too much garlic. Once the garlic was so overwhleming that Mrs. WAK wouldn't get near me for the whole weekend.

              I really like the food at Sardine, but I don't know how kid friendly the menu is. Lots of more traditional selections - veal kidneys, sweetbreads, mussels, sardines in season. Might be kind of a fear factor experience for some.

              Just about all of them have a Tuesday night prix fixe for $25-30. Or a half price bottle of wine. Check on the web.

              Cyrano's is the only place I have had a truely dissatisfying experience.

              1. On the kid-friendly aspects of La Sardine, I am assuming that Kthan would not be thinking of taking children to a French restaurant if they were not open to French food. La Sardine has both steak frites and roast chicken with mashed potatoes on its menus, which should work I would think.

                1. While I think that Le Bouchon and La Sardine are fantastic, I don't think either one is appropriate if you're concerned about the noise that your kids will make. While both are noisy places, it's not kid noise, it's people talking. So if your kids talk in a normal tone of voice, it'll work. Otherwise I think you'll feel out of place.

                  1. "When we visited Kiki's bisto and Bistro Margot some years ago, we found that the dishes are not suite to our taste"

                    ^^^^^^^^^^ that's because kiki's is bland. and bistro margot is just bland in spirit.

                    I miss tournesol. while not a proper bistro, it served French "restaurant" (almost an honour) level food w/o the bistro annoyances. Since it's death, like many others, we've stuck to La Sardine/Le Bouchon, venturing a few times out to Cafe Matou and Brasserie Jo. We like Jo. We love Everest. but we're poor. so when we want to pretend we're at Everest, we go to Brass Jo. So sad! Matou? Not so much.