French father / daughter dinner
My dad will be in town for business this week with time for one dinner. I'd like to take advantage of his presence to go somewhere special. He and I have done Alinea and aren't looking for Achatz/Trotter/Tramonto-level food or formality this time around. Previously, he's loved Aigre Doux and North Pond. I'm looking for a hidden gem with the high caliber experience of those two places but on a smaller scale. A Tavola comes to mind -- is there a French equivalent?
We'd like to stay north of the Loop and east of Damen or so and are fine taking cabs.
Sure, there are quite a few excellent casual French bistros all over town. In the geographic area you describe, they include:
Brasserie Jo - www.brasseriejo.com
Kiki's Bistro - www.kikisbistro.com
Mon Ami Gabi - www.monamigabi.com
Bistro 110 - www.levyrestaurants.com
Cafe des Architectes - www.cafedesarchitectes.com
La Sardine - www.lasardine.com
Le Bouchon - www.lebouchonofchicago.com
Bistrot Zinc - www.bistrotzinc.com
Bistrot Margot - www.bistrotmargot.com
Cafe Absinthe - www.cafeabsinthechicago.com
Madame Tartine - www.madametartines.com
Cafe Bernard - www.cafebernard.com
I haven't been to all of these, but I've been to the first four and they're all good. I've heard good things about most of the others as well. Brasserie Jo was founded and is owned by Jean Joho, owner of Everest. Mon Ami Gabi is similarly from Gabino Sotelino, owner of the late Ambria. The owner of Kiki's used to own Le Bordeaux, a longtime favorite in the Loop years ago. Cafe des Architectes, in the Sofitel, recently hired Chef Martial Noguier away from one sixtyblue.
That's funny. I like the ambience at Bistro 110, the way it's arranged as a series of small rooms which provides a nicely intimate feel. And I would never, ever recommend Crofton on Wells, where I experienced the absolute worst and rudest service in my entire life.
Since posting above, I went to La Sardine a couple of weeks ago and I liked it a lot. Especially since it was a Tuesday, when they have their special of three course for $25.
Of course, all of this is too late for the OP. Hope he and his daughter found a place and enjoyed it!
Apologies for the late response (and thanks for the prod!).
Dad ended up in town on one of the coldest nights of the year so we stayed local and ended up walking a block to Perennial in lieu of French food. The service and ambience -- warm, friendly, engaging, unpretentious -- were great. So were the appetizers (charcuterie plate to start), the wine recommendations, and the desserts. But both our main dishes lacked a bit: I had the short rib special and the short rib was heavily-sauced but quite dry. I can't recall what my father had but it was good, not great. However, the sheer friendliness of the place, its conceptually spot-on menu, and the pleasure I take in supporting a legitimate foodie restaurant and bar in my neighborhood will keep me coming back. Of course, so will the delicious complimentary white chocolate passionfruit bonbons the chef sent out to finish the meal.
As far as French goes, La Sardine is high on my list since nsxtasy has been plugging it all over the boards since his (her?) enjoyable outing and I always enjoy Cafe Margot for very casual bistro fare.
LOL! Yes, I enjoyed my recent meal at La Sardine. I'm not sure it was necessarily *better* than the other four places at the top of the above list - I've had very satisfying dinners at all of them - but I thought it was very good indeed, and their Tuesday deal provides excellent value. (I would assume you'll find similar quality and value at Le Bouchon, since it shares ownership with La Sardine. They even do the same Tuesday deal there.) In addition to those places, I've also had good meals recently at a couple of other French bistros not in the area you mentioned: Bistro Campagne in Lincoln Square, and Bistro 22 in Lake Zurich. The only French bistro I can think of where I ate fairly recently and was disappointed was Cafe Matou, and I know some other folks like it, so go figure. In any case, it's nice to have a lot of good options!
We also ate at Perennial recently and completely agree as to the quality of service and ambience. In fact, early in the meal we had a service glitch, and after that the entire staff was particularly attentive to make it up to us.
Interestingly, our take on the menu varies from yours, but that just may be an issue of "different strokes for different folks."
I too started with the charcuterie platter, and although I thought the flavor was good, I found a lack of variety. In particular all of the items were of a mousse/ pate/ terrine texture that became monotonous. My husband, on the other hand, started with the veal breast, which may have been the highlight of his meal. He also had the Romaine salad -- essentially a Ceasar -- which featured beautiful greens and plentiful, whole anchovies.
We both enjoyed our main dishes. He had the sea scallop. I went with the pork belly, mainly because I am a sucker for parsnip puree, which was one of the sides. Note that both of the starches accompanying these dishes were very not what you would expect from the menu description, but delicious. The "mustard spaetzle" accompanying the pork belly was a casserole-like square (think macaroni & cheese or scalloped potatoes), not loose noodles. So too for the short ribs canneloni gratin that accompanied the sea scallops.
For dessert, I had the "Coffee and Baileys," which is a platter of chocolate and coffee flavored items. Delicious and just the right portion size; not overwhelming. My husband had the cheese platter, which he thought was at best middling -- just not very interesting selections.
The sum of the experience may have been better than it's parts. We will be back.