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Cafe des Architectes and one sixtyblue

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I've created this topic to include both these restaurants because of the personnel relationship between them. Until last September, Martial Noguier was the executive chef at one sixtyblue, and Suzanne Imaz was the pastry chef. At that time, both of them left and were hired by the hotel, Sofitel Chicago Water Tower, where they serve in those same capacities at its Café des Architectes restaurant. Shortly thereafter, one sixtyblue hired Michael McDonald as executive chef and Stephanie Prida became pastry chef.

I had dined at one sixtyblue numerous times under Chef Noguier's tenure, and always thought it was outstanding; on every occasion, I was wowed by every dish I tried there. In fact, at that time I considered it the very best casual fine dining restaurant in the city of Chicago. I had not dined at Café des Architectes under its previous staff. And I have not yet dined at one sixtyblue under Chef McDonald.

Since it has now been several months for everyone to settle in and make their marks upon their respective restaurants, I figured it's now a good time to see how these two restaurants are doing. The current Restaurant Week promotion provided an added incentive to do so. So last night I had dinner at Café des Architectes, and I am looking forward to dining at one sixtyblue in the near future. The rest of this post comprises my report on last night's dinner.

I'll start by giving away the ending. This was an absolutely GREAT dinner!

Café des Architectes (CDA) is named after the stunning architecture of the Sofitel Chicago Water Tower, in which it is located, near the "Mag Mile" of Michigan Avenue. Its relatively small space occupies the ground floor of the curving glass façade of the hotel entrance. The décor is contemporary in black and white; one entire side of the restaurant consists of that huge curving window facing Chestnut Street. It is visually gorgeous.

The normal dinner menu at CDA, which can be viewed at
www.cafedesarchitectes.com/popups/pop...
consists of a prix fixe 3-course option for $42, plus a la carte selections with most entrees in the high twenties. Since this week is Restaurant Week (RW), CDA is offering a special three-course menu for $32, viewable at
www.cafedesarchitectes.com/happenings...
Alongside the RW menu, they presented a shorter menu than usual, with a few appetizers and entrees available as a substitution at an upcharge from the RW price, as well as several entrees available a la carte.

Since I had viewed the normal dinner menu on their website, I was interested in trying their foie gras appetizer, which did not appear on either menu, so I asked about whether it might be available. Our waiter checked, and not only were they happy to make it available, but they did so at a reduced price ($15 instead of the normal $18). This item was in addition to the three courses I was having on the RW menu. The reduced price was a very welcome surprise!

After ordering, we were brought a basket of four different types of delicious bread: a somewhat sweet raisin roll, a whole grain millet roll, and two types of French bread/roll, along with some olive tapanade and butter. All were very good.

For the appetizers, two of us got the "Saffron Fish Veloute - Madagascar shrimp / croutons / black mussels", and this was SPECTACULAR, possibly the best dish of the entire meal. A really good bisque - lobster, shrimp, etc - takes a lot of time cooking the shells of the fish to infuse their flavor, and this was like the most intense shrimp bisque you can imagine, with yummy pieces of fresh shrimp and mussels in it. Very rich and decadent. The other two got the "Homemade Spice Duck Confit - Frisée / Satsuma orange / honey caramel". The orange and spice flavors were quite subtle; it was more like a fairly conventional duck confit, but extremely moist and flavorful. Just excellent. And the foie gras appetizer from the regular menu - "Port marinated foie gras - Pineapple chutney, Balsamic reduction, toasted brioche" - was also delicious (it was cold foie gras, not the sauteed type served hot).

For entrees, one of us had the "Lake Superior Whitefish - Hillside chestnut purée / red cabbage confit / Seedling Farm apple foam". This too was outstanding, with a very thin crispy outer layer on the fish, moist and flavorful throughout (although the red cabbage confit was somewhat bitter). Two of us had the "Duo of Beef - Hanger steak and braised short ribs / shallot purée / watercress salad" (although the wording on the actual menu was slightly different and billed it as "Hanger Steak", with the short ribs as one of the additional items). The short ribs were superb, very moist and tender. The hanger steak was very good too, with a nice bite to it (not tough), and very flavorful. One of us had the "Swan Creek Farm Chicken Breast - Nichol’s fingerling potatoes / oyster mushroom / caramelized Cipollini onions" and reported that it was a bit tough, the only real blemish on an otherwise fabulous meal.

For dessert, one of us had the "Floating Island - Steamed meringue / crème anglaise / caramelized almonds", one the "Chocolate Pistachio Dome - Jivara milk chocolate mousse / pistachio cream center / sour cherry foam", and two the "Coconut Crunch - Lime curd / coconut milk / fresh pineapple". All of these desserts were marvelous, every bit as divine as they sound. Suzanne Imaz, the pastry chef that Chef Noguier brought with him from one sixtyblue, is continuing to do wonderful things at CDA!

One additional note about the food. It's not easy (and not necessarily constructive) to try to categorize the food, but I would refer to it as contemporary American with global influences. I would not call it French cuisine, certainly not in the traditional sense; these items would fit in at any contemporary upscale restaurant. Call it what you will; as with most restaurants, it's easier to get a sense of what kind of food they're serving by viewing their entire menu than by trying to give their food a label.

The service staff was efficient and friendly. One service note is that Chef Noguier was present and stopped by our table and others, to make sure that everything was fine (which of course it was). His presence keeps everything going smoothly, and he doesn't miss a thing; the last time I ate at one sixtyblue, he noticed when one of our party briefly left the table, and he was the one who refolded the napkin belonging to the absent diner. Over dinner tonight, we had been discussing how one test of the level of service of a restaurant is how they treat a solo diner (particularly females dining alone), and we observed that Chef Noguier gave the same attention to a solo diner as he did to the larger parties around the dining room.

The Restaurant Week promotion made this dinner an exceptional value, but even at other times, the value here is excellent. Our dinner, with four of us getting the RW menu, the additional $15 appetizer, and a glass of wine each, came to around $50 per person including tax but before tip. At other times, the three-course prix fixe menu is only $10 more than the RW promotion, and that's still considerably less than many other prominent contemporary American restaurants.

Café des Architectes is a wonderful restaurant, as well as a great value. It does not get as much attention as it should, which is a shame, because Café des Architectes is as good as any casual fine dining restaurant in the entire city. I highly recommend it!

Café des Architectes
Sofitel Chicago Water Tower
20 East Chestnut
Chicago 60611
(312) 324-4063
www.CafedesArchitectes.com

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  1. Another of your excellent postings for which I thank you. Can hardly wait for your report on one sixtyblue.

    1. I had a great RW meal there as well. The pork belly appetizer was wonderful. I love their bread and everything I ate was lovely. That was a real deal. We have also dined there and had their pre-fixe menu. We live three blocks away and eat there often.

      1 Reply
      1. re: BarbaraM48

        in keeping with the French name of this restaurant, note that the correct expression is "prix-fixe" (pronounced "pree-feeks") which is French for "fixed-price", a meal at a set price which includes usually an appetizer, main course, and cheese or dessert. More courses may be offered in a fixed price meal; the opposite of prix-fixe would be "à la carte", where one orders items from the menu, each with its own cost. Please don't mistake this note to be patronizing, just trying to correct a slight mistake.

      2. Last night we went to one sixtyblue, again as part of Restaurant Week. Here's my report.

        The restaurant is the same contemporary setting as we had enjoyed on our previous visits. They were very busy, no doubt thanks to the Restaurant Week promotion as well as being a Friday night. Some people were waiting in the bar when we arrived around 6:00 pm, and many more when we finished around 8:30 pm.

        The four of us were seated. We were presented with their Restaurant Week menu (viewable at www.onesixtyblue.com/pdf/restaurant_w... ) alongside their a la carte offerings (basically all the other items shown on their website menu at www.onesixtyblue.com/pdf/main_menu.pdf ). No substitutions were permitted for those ordering the RW special (3 courses for $32). After examining the menus, two of us decided to get the Restaurant Week menu, with the other two ordering a la carte. The dishes described below were all from the RW menu except where indicated (with some of the RW items being ordered by those ordering a la carte).

        We were brought a basket of their bread, consisting of a thin flatbread and thinly sliced warm French/Italian bread, and a small dish of butter with a small amount of chopped pickle in the butter. (It sounds strange, but it was fairly good.) Okay bread, not "wow" bread.

        We had the following appetizers. The "Leek Gnocchi - baby leek, leek emulsion, black perigord truffle" was outstanding, absolutely delicious. I just wish there were more than five little gnocchi, though! The "Bibb Lettuce Salad - roast beet, great hill bleu cheese" was just okay, without much bleu cheese flavor, just overall rather bland. The "Chicken Chorizo Gumbo - okra, molasses, smoked rock shrimp" was okay, somewhat bland for gumbo, with a slight smoky smell, but without the chunks of okra one would normally expect. From the a la carte menu, the "Maine Diver Sea Scallop - cauliflower puree, pickled cauliflower" was requested "cooked through" (what some might consider "medium well" or "well done") and arrived underdone ("rare"); we sent it back and the second time it was cooked as requested. It was okay, also somewhat bland, and the two smallish scallops were a somewhat small portion size.

        Then came the mains. The "Hanger Steak - fingerling potato, wild mushroom, smoke Italian sausage" was very good indeed, very tasty and pretty tender too. The "Seared Filet of Salmon - purple potato, kohlrabi, extra virgin olive oil" was good, although a bit bland. (I find that the best seared or grilled salmon uses high heat to achieve a very thin, very tasty crispness or even slight char on the outside surface, which was lacking here.) One of us got the "Chicken and Biscuits - roast amish chicken, braised kale, foie gras sauce" but I did not try it and did not get a report. Finally, from the a la carte menu, I had the "Wagyu Short Rib - creamy grits, marrow crouton, fresh horseradish". This consisted of two pieces of boneless short rib, which together was a decent portion size. Both were reasonably tender and tasty, although oddly, one of the two pieces was rather fatty, while the other wasn't.

        We finished with dessert. The "Sticky Toffee Date Cake - seckel pear, clementines, mascarpone cream" was outstanding, absolutely delicious. The "Chocolate Panna Cotta - cocoa nib streusel, spanish peanut crisp" (we asked them to omit the coffee cocoa nib ice cream) was very good, although the portion size was quite small. After that, they brought us a couple of complimentary items: small nut candy and individually-wrapped madeleines.

        Some of the accompaniments listed for the dishes were hard to find and perhaps didn't deserve mention on the menu descriptions. For example, the amount of cauliflower puree under the scallop starter was miniscule; with the short rib, I didn't notice any fresh horseradish at all; and the clementines with the toffee date cake were two tiny sections, each about the size of a small paper clip. This was NOT a big deal, but it was just surprising, that's all.

        The service was really spotty, and there were numerous small glitches: when one person orders iced tea at the same time the others order a bottle of wine to split, the iced tea should not arrive 20 minutes after the wine; we had to ask for refills on the bread basket and on the iced tea; our primary server did not check back with us periodically (particularly after food was served); one of the other servers brought dessert menus even though our primary server had asked us for our dessert order when we ordered the rest of the food items at the start of the meal; etc. Nothing was a major problem, to be sure, but overall, the service was less attentive and less coordinated than one typically encounters in an upscale restaurant. (To their credit, someone - a sommelier who also functioned as a "floor manager" - did check with us towards the end of the meal to make sure we were satisfied, which we were; not Chef McDonald, who was busy in the kitchen, which is just fine.)

        The Restaurant Week promotion helped made this dinner a very good value. Our dinner, with two of us getting the RW menu and the other two ordering a la carte, for a total of five starters, four entrees, three desserts, and a bottle of wine (an excellent value at $32), the total came to around $54 per person including tax but before tip. Even their regular prices, with most entrees in the low to mid twenties, are lower than some other leading contemporary American restaurants (and less than the low thirties under the previous chef's menu).

        So how was it? Overall, I would call the meal "quite good, not quite great". Nothing was bad; the dishes varied from excellent to just okay. I consider a meal to be "GREAT" when one dish after another makes you want to scream out, "WOW!!! This is DELICIOUS!!!" The leek gnocchi reached that level (although again, I wish I had more!) and so did the sticky toffee date cake. The other items were all reasonably good but did not generate quite that same level of enthusiasm, with blandness and small portion size the most frequent culprits. Again: quite good, not quite great.

        one sixtyblue
        1400 West Randolph Street
        Chicago IL 60607
        312-850-0303
        www.onesixtyblue.com

        P.S. I'm looking forward to returning... to Café des Architectes. ;)

        3 Replies
        1. re: nsxtasy

          I also just returned from onesixtyblue from Restaurant Week! I thought the leek gnocchi was very well flavored, I espeically enjoyed the pieces of crisped leeks on top of the gnocchi. While I enjoyed my amish chicken and biscuits, the chicken was a little dry and I didn't identify anything "foie gras" about the sauce (which was indicated on the menu). My service was spotty too since RW meant that the dining room was a mad house (also, Michael Jordan sighting!) While our waiter left something to be desired, the front of the house host was gracious, offering us a round of drinks when our reservations ticked past the 20 minute mark. The over all experience was good, with thoughtful dishes, and decent service. But with your mention of Cafe des Architects, I might be swayed too. The location is often overlooked because of its proximity to the Viagra Triangle, but there's no where with a better view for a sunny day's brunch.

          1. re: Eaterlover

            Regarding that sighting of MJ, he is a partner (i.e. investor/owner) in one sixtyblue.

            1. re: nsxtasy

              Since I don't have the legs for basketball, I'll take part ownership in 160 blue please. I'd love to swagger into that place as an owner.

        2. An excellent review! Particularly for an out of towner about to visit for Chicago for the second time! Nsxtaxy, thanks for your response to a post of mine back in December on the best/worst Chicago 08 board -- before you ventured to Cafe des Architectes. Also, having had one of those best ever meal memories from a dinner at onesixtyblue, appreciate reading those reviews too.

          My husband and I have two weekend nights in April over Easter, a Friday and a Saturday. I hope to reserve us at des Architectes for one of those, leaving the other night and also Thursday, though our flight does not arrive at O'Hare until 6:20pm (staying at Westin Michigan Avenue).

          So, between Michael and Aigre Doux, which would you pick? Also, any suggestions nearby for the Thursday night given it will probably be later that we like, closer to 9, before we'll be eating?

          You might remember last time in addition to onesixty we enjoyed Custom House and Blackbird, CH more (we found Blackbird cramped and noisey).

          And, since it will be April 09, there may be some newer suggestions than in the December 08 post.

          Would also welcome Sunday brunch recommendations since we have a full day and it is Easter Sunday and we want to book in advance.

          Thanks nsxtasy and all on the great Chicago board, the recommends made or trip the last time and large part are the reason we are returning to the city.

          1 Reply
          1. re: racsanfran

            Nice to hear from you again (and thank you for your kind words)! I really enjoy reading feedback, regardless of whether or not it agrees with a previous recommendation. Sometimes opinions agree and sometimes they don't; either way, it helps to understand how others feel about particular places and why.

            Before I answer your questions, one thing is worth mentioning. The places you have mentioned are all along the lines of "contemporary American", with that culinary style in common. And that may be exactly what you're looking for; there's nothing wrong with that! However, if you feel you would like to add some variety to your dining itinerary, there are some marvelous restaurants with other kinds of food. Obviously in Chicago you can get anything from "cheap eats" (such as deep-dish pizza) to the finest haute cuisine and every ethnic cuisine imaginable, but even thinking strictly in terms of variations on "casual fine dining", some possible cuisines to consider for the variety they add to your plans include Italian (e.g. Cafe Spiaggia), Mexican (Mundial Cocina Mestiza), and tapas (Mercat a la Planxa).

            >> So, between Michael and Aigre Doux, which would you pick?

            I'll answer the question, but first, I'd like to qualify my answer. These are two of the very best casual fine dining restaurants in the Chicago area, and drawing distinctions between great places is very difficult - rather like trying to decide which of two absolutely perfect pairs of shoes is more perfect, or which of two supermodels is more beautiful. Also, when two restaurants are in different locations like these, transportation logistics can play a role; i.e. one may be ever so slightly "better/preferable/etc" than the other, but is that slight difference worth the extra hour of travel time? The fact is, you can have a delightful, delicious, enjoyable dinner at either Aigre Doux or Michael. But if I have to pick just one, where I would have the most confidence that dinner will impress me as one of the very best I've had in a long time, it would be Michael.

            >> Also, any suggestions nearby for the Thursday night given it will probably be later that we like, closer to 9, before we'll be eating?

            Since you will be flying in that evening and then traveling from the airport to your hotel, I would suggest going somewhere near your hotel; not only will you be tired of getting from one place to another, but it will also eliminate extra travel time from further delaying your dinner. And when I say "near", I mean within a 5-minute walk - which is not exactly a restrictive requirement, given the location of the Westin! Both Cafe des Architectes and Cafe Spiaggia seat parties later than 9:00 on weeknights, and I think both are great, so there are two obvious candidates. Five more excellent places within a 5-minute walk of the hotel, which seat people later than 9:00, are Avenues (one of our top fine dining restaurants, expensive and dressy), Hugo's (for seafood), Le Colonial (Vietnamese), Saloon (steakhouse), and Shanghai Terrace (what a top luxury hotel does with Chinese cuisine).

            >> Would also welcome Sunday brunch recommendations since we have a full day and it is Easter Sunday and we want to book in advance.

            Some restaurants make special plans for Easter brunch, but I do not know what individual restaurants are planning. So my recommendations here will be the same as for any Sunday brunch. (A few weeks beforehand, you may start seeing special listings of specific plans for Easter brunch on Metromix and on Opentable.)

            For my top pick, I was absolutely delighted by the "American dim sum brunch" a few months ago at David Burke's Primehouse. It's not that any one dish (or all of them) was so phenomenal, as much as the general overall quality, and the idea of being served 22 or so different dishes in smallish portions, and getting to try so many different things. I posted a detailed report on it in the brunch topic at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/364403

            Beyond Burke's, here are some thoughts that may help you consider what *kind" of brunch to look for. Brunch tends to fall into three broad categories: (a) places that specialize in breakfast (e.g. Bongo Room, for their sweet pancakes); (b) places that have a luxurious buffet (e.g. NoMI, Seasons, the Ritz, or the Lobby); and (c) places that serve an a la carte menu for brunch (e.g. North Pond, Salpicon, etc). It sounds like you're looking for more than the breakfast specialty places. The buffets can be pricey (the ones I mentioned are up around $50-60/pp); the food at NoMI is probably the most creative. Of the a la carte places, again, you may want to consider whether to do another contemporary American place like North Pond, versus a cuisine that will add more variety to your itinerary, such as Mexican at Salpicon or Mundial Cocina Mestiza.

            Feel free to ask more questions, and enjoy your visit!