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French Bistros

nsxtasy Mar 11, 2009 01:51 PM

I recently enjoyed the Tuesday special (3 courses from the entire menu for $25) at La Sardine; the food was great (particularly the mussels and the dessert souffle), as was the value, of course. Now I'm wondering which other French bistros I ought to consider. In addition to La Sardine, I've also tried and enjoyed Bistro 110, Kiki's, Brasserie Jo, Mon Ami Gabi, and Bistro Campagne in the city, and in the suburbs, Jacky's and Jilly's in Evanston, Café Central in Highland Park, and Miramar in Highwood. The only French bistro that disappointed me was Café Matou - not that it was bad, but it just didn't bowl me over.

Would anyone like to recommend other French bistros for me to try, as well as provide additional opinions on these? (I'm aware that Le Bouchon is the sister restaurant to La Sardine and also does the special on Tuesdays.) I'd love to hear opinions about which are the best, as well as any places to avoid. I should also mention that I've already done a search of previous topics with recommendations for French bistros, including these:
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/564917
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/441834

Here are the French bistros I'm aware of (and I'll note that I'm referring to moderately-priced, casual places serving traditional French bistro fare, and not the more expensive "fine dining" French restaurants):

Brasserie Jo (River North) - www.brasseriejo.com
Kiki's Bistro (River North) - www.kikisbistro.com
Cyrano's Bistrot and Wine Bar (River North) - www.cyranosbistrot.com
Madame Tartine (River North) - www.madametartines.com
Bistro 110 (Michigan Avenue) - www.levyrestaurants.com
Bistrot Zinc (Gold Coast) - www.bistrotzinc.com
Bistrot Margot (Old Town) - www.bistrotmargot.com
Old Town Brasserie (Old Town) - www.oldtownbrasserie.com
Mon Ami Gabi (Lincoln Park) - www.monamigabi.com
Cafe Bernard (Lincoln Park) - www.cafebernard.com
Bistro Campagne (Lincoln Square) - www.bistrocampagne.com
La Tache (Andersonville) - www.latachechicago.com
La Sardine (West Loop) - www.lasardine.com
Marche (West Loop) - www.marche-chicago.com
Le Bouchon (Wicker Park) - www.lebouchonofchicago.com
Café Matou (Wicker Park) - www.cafematou.com
Cafe Absinthe (Wicker Park) - www.cafeabsinthechicago.com
Chez Joel Bistro (Little Italy) - www.chezjoelbistro.com
La Petite Folie (Hyde Park) - www.lapetitefolie.com
Jacky's Bistro (north suburban Evanston) - www.jackysbistro.com
Jilly's Café (north suburban Evanston) - www.jillyscafe.com
Cafe Central (north suburban Highland Park) - www.cafecentral.net
Froggy's (north suburban Highwood) - www.frenchrestaurantschicagocatering.com
Miramar (north suburban Highwood) - www.miramarbistro.com
Retro Bistro (northwest suburban Mount Prospect) - www.retrobistro.com
D&J Bistro (northwest suburban Lake Zurich) - www.dj-bistro.com
Bistro Monet (west suburban Glen Ellyn) - www.bistromonet.com

So, how about it, Chowhounds - where should I go the next time I want to try another French bistro?

TIA!

  1. leek Mar 12, 2009 05:59 AM

    I'd give Matou another try. During the week they have a bistro meal, 3 courses for something like $25 (don't quote me, but it's around there). Plus once a month they blow out wine for (again something like) $20 a bottle. The bistro meal is fixed, and different each night, so if you don't like what it is that night tant pis and you will order off the regular menu, but it's a great deal if you do like it.

    1. chicgail Mar 12, 2009 06:07 AM

      Great list. Looks pretty comprehensive.

      My faves (in no particular order) are:
      Cafe Bernard
      Bistro Campagne
      Le Boucon
      Le Sardine
      Cafe Central

      1. j
        jbw Mar 12, 2009 08:40 AM

        I've never been, but for the sake of comprehensiveness I'd definitely add:

        Cotes Du Rhone‎
        5424 N Broadway St,
        (773) 293-2683‎

        Also, it's stretching the definition a bit (but the idea of "French bistro" is quite stretchable), but you might want to consider Bonsoiree, too: http://www.bon-soiree.com/

        By the way, this is quite a list. Is there another city in this country other than NYC (and perhaps SF) that can match it in quantity/quality? I'm one of those who thinks that along with Mexican and Thai, "French Bistro" should be added to that list of "ethnic cuisines" Chicago offers at the very highest level of quality/choice/authenticity..

        1 Reply
        1. re: jbw
          nsxtasy Mar 12, 2009 09:26 AM

          Good points, jbw!

          Cotes du Rhone, in Edgewater, certainly belongs. I hate restaurants that don't have a website though! ;) Their menu is on Menupages, at http://chicago.menupages.com/restaurantdetails?restaurantid=42833

          I've left out the more expensive French restaurants, and instead included them in the topic on "Special Occasion Restaurants - Haute Cuisine and Casual Fine Dining" at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/602985 There, you'll find mentions of Everest, Le Titi de Paris, and Le Vichyssois, as well as places that are not quite as traditionally French, such as Cafe des Architectes, Tallgrass, and Michael (perhaps my three favorite restaurants in the Chicago area). Based on the menu on their website, Bon Soiree (where I haven't been) probably belongs in that topic rather than with the moderately-priced bistros listed here. Of course, your point about the definitions being arbitrary and "stretchable" is a good one!

          I'm fairly familiar with San Francisco dining and while they have some good high-end places, they don't have the depth of French bistro dining that we do. Besides NYC and SF, I'm not familiar enough with other large cities to compare. It's certainly something we do extremely well and, as your last statement implies, it's often overlooked - especially for value as well as quality. Some might debate whether it is considered "ethnic cuisine" because they might consider French cuisine too mainstream to be thus categorized (a debate which also can occur with Italian cuisine).

          In September 2006, Crain's Chicago Business did an article titled "Malaise in French dining" about how French cuisine had drastically declined in popularity. That article was primarily about the high-end of the price spectrum, where the "creme de la creme", to use a French expression, have moved towards a more contemporary and global cuisine, retaining some influences of classical French cuisine while incorporating others from America and elsewhere. As we can see from the above list, moderately-priced French bistros continue to be popular.

        2. nsxtasy Mar 3, 2010 10:06 PM

          Bistro Bordeaux ( www.lebistrobordeaux.com ) is a French bistro that recently opened in downtown Evanston. I ate there this evening and posted a detailed report at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/692166

          Madame Tartine, listed above, has closed.

          LM ( www.lmrestaurant.com ) is a new French bistro in the Lincoln Square area.

          1. nsxtasy Mar 5, 2010 09:02 AM

            Also add to the list:

            Cafe Touche (Edison Park) - www.cafetouche.com

            11 Replies
            1. re: nsxtasy
              nsxtasy Mar 8, 2010 08:11 AM

              Add:

              Hemingway's Bistro (west suburban Oak Park) - www.hemmingwaysbistro.com

              1. re: nsxtasy
                nsxtasy Mar 8, 2010 12:03 PM

                And:

                Le Petit Paris (Gold Coast) - www.lepetitparis.net

              2. re: nsxtasy
                nsxtasy Mar 28, 2010 06:13 AM

                Add:

                Rendezvous Bistro (Lincoln Square) - www.lerendezvousbistro.net

                1. re: nsxtasy
                  nsxtasy Apr 9, 2010 02:28 PM

                  Old Town Brasserie, listed above, has closed.

                  1. re: nsxtasy
                    nsxtasy Jun 6, 2011 08:00 AM

                    Brasserie Jo, listed above, has closed and re-opened as Paris Club. www.parisclubchicago.com

                    La Tache, listed above, has closed, and re-opened as the Dutch restaurant Vincent. www.vincentchicago.com

                    1. re: nsxtasy
                      f
                      ferret Jun 6, 2011 10:36 AM

                      "Brasserie Jo, listed above, has closed and re-opened as Paris Club."

                      And it gets a very unenthusiastic vote from me, food-wise. I heard about the barnyard smell from a friend before we went and it wasn't that apparent to me, but my wife noticed it immediately and it really disrupted our meal.

                      1. re: ferret
                        chicgail Jun 6, 2011 11:09 AM

                        Is Chef Joho in charge of the kitchen?
                        Where do you suppose a barnyard smell comes from in downtown Chicago? The Siannus Brothers' legendary goat?

                        1. re: chicgail
                          f
                          ferret Jun 6, 2011 11:16 AM

                          Reclaimed barn wood. It wasn't that strong to me but my wife said she smelled it the second we walked in. Joho is the conceptual overlord (along with a Melman offspring), but he's not running the kitchen (and it shows).

                          1. re: ferret
                            chicgail Jun 6, 2011 12:35 PM

                            Sorry to hear that. All of it. Brasserie Jo filled a niche. Sounds like this place may not last long.

                      2. re: nsxtasy
                        nsxtasy Jun 6, 2011 11:39 AM

                        Along with Vincent, another bistro in the Benelux category of restaurants that are not French, but close, is Leopold, a Belgian restaurant that opened recently in West Town. www.leopoldchicago.com

                      3. re: nsxtasy
                        nsxtasy Jun 7, 2011 06:08 PM

                        Here's another one to add to the list:

                        Barrington Country Bistro (northwest suburban Barrington) - www.barringtoncountrybistro.com

                        I ate there for lunch today, and really enjoyed it! I started with a very good lobster bisque, and my main course was a cheese souffle, which was exceptional. I look forward to going back!

                        -----
                        Barrington Country Bistro
                        700 W Northwest Hwy, Barrington, IL 60010

                      4. chicgail Mar 5, 2010 09:12 AM

                        Anyone else remember Le Gare St. Lazare from way back when? It may have been the first authentic French bistro in Chicago when all French meant was heavy sauces.

                        9 Replies
                        1. re: chicgail
                          nsxtasy Mar 5, 2010 10:15 AM

                          I don't remember Le Gare St. Lazare, but I remember going to Le Bordeaux in the 1970s. Le Bordeaux was on Madison in the middle of the Loop, down a few steps from street level. I think it closed in the early 1980s. The owner was nicknamed "Kiki" and he went on to open Kiki's Bistro in River North, which he still runs.

                          1. re: nsxtasy
                            chicgail Mar 5, 2010 11:16 AM

                            I just googled Le Gare St. Lazare and I came up with this article from 1992:

                            "Bucktown, an older working-class neighborhood situated just west of the Kennedy Expressway, lies largely undiscovered by big-name restaurateurs and their customers. But adventurous operators together with artists and gallery owners are banking on the possibility that the neighborhood willturn into the next River North - Chicago's answer to Manhattan's artsy SoHo district.

                            "Several of the pioneers are transplants of operations in Lincoln Park, which is home to such nationally known restaurants as Charlie Trotter's, Carlucci and Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba! Among the Bucktown refugees are Francis Leroux, chef-owner of Cafe du Midi; Robert Paladino, co-owner of Club Lucky; Dennis Harris, operating partner of Minnie's New World Market & Kitchen; and Frank Amanti, chef-owner of The Babaluci.

                            '"I decided to come here because it was kind of wild here yet,' said Francis Leroux, who is chef-owner of Cafe du Midi and formerly owned Gare St. Lazare in Lincoln Park. Leroux said he grew tired of high-population density, parking restrictions, rising rents and other hassles that accompanied Lincoln Park's regentrification. After a fire destroyed Gare St. Lazare, he did not rebuild.

                            "Leroux, an area trailblazer who opened his 44-seat French-Mediterranean bistro three years ago, is glad to see other restaurants opening nearby. 'It's good for all of us,' he said. 'It's a new restaurant area.'"

                            1. re: chicgail
                              nsxtasy Mar 5, 2010 12:16 PM

                              I love reading stuff like that. How quickly things change! "Largely undiscovered" no more... :)

                              I always thought of Cafe Matou as one of the French bistro pioneers in that area. Apparently not, just the oldest surviving one I guess. I looked it up and found that they opened in summer 1997.

                              1. re: nsxtasy
                                chicgail Mar 6, 2010 06:02 AM

                                And the only restaurant left from "those early days of yesteryear" is Club Lucky.

                          2. re: chicgail
                            j
                            jbw Mar 8, 2010 09:53 AM

                            I don't know if it precedes Le Bordeaux, but the original L'Escargot which opened on 2900 N. Halsted in 1968 also preceded Gare St. Lazare by a couple of decades. It became more of a restaurant when it reopened on Michigan Avenue several years later. Here's an obit of its founder, who died way too young:

                            http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi...

                            Of course many French restaurants, at a variety of levels and now long since gone, were part of the Chicago dining scene as long as there's been a dining scene in Chicago.

                            1. re: jbw
                              nsxtasy Mar 8, 2010 09:59 AM

                              That would be earlier than Le Bordeaux, which opened on January 1, 1969, according to the Kiki's Bistro website.

                              Around that time, there were two places above all others for fine dining in Chicago. One was Jovan Trboyevic's Le Perroquet, in the Gold Coast; if you went there, you probably remember the host stand and going upstairs to the dining room in the tiniest elevator you've ever seen. The other was Louis Szathmary's The Bakery, in Lincoln Park; technically not French (I believe Chef was Hungarian), their big specialty was beef Wellington.

                              1. re: nsxtasy
                                chicgail Mar 8, 2010 12:59 PM

                                Chef Louis was gracious enough to have sent me an engraved baby spoon after a meal I had at The Bakery (and a conversation with the chef) when I was just slightly pregnant and not-as-slightly-nauseated. But, no, the food there was "Continental" rather than French.

                                I remember Le Peroquet and Le Bordeaux and even L'Escargot to have been French "restaurants," rather than what we would now call bistros. Nothing casual about them. But then I was a kid and everything looked pretty fancy to me then.

                                1. re: chicgail
                                  nsxtasy Mar 8, 2010 01:05 PM

                                  Yes, Le Perroquet was definitely comparable to today's Everest, and neither one is casual or moderately priced the way bistros are expected to be. Le Bordeaux too would not be considered a bistro, although it was not as expensive or fancy as Le Perroquet. Of course, attire in general was more formal forty years ago than now, in places of business as well as in restaurants.

                                  1. re: nsxtasy
                                    j
                                    jbw Mar 8, 2010 01:53 PM

                                    My recollection of L'Escargot in its Halsted St. version was that it was casual for the time, or at least informal (and inexpensive) enough not to intimidate a young graduate student. Even now I remember having had a saffron-scented fish stew that in its simplicity could have been at the top of any bistro menu. When it moved to Michigan Avenue (the Allerton Hotel, I believe), it became more of a white tablecloth place, altho still friendly and unintimidating. The Bakery, on the other hand, was a real throwback to the days of Continental Deluxe restaurants (chicken-liver pate, Beef Wellington, Baked Alaska) that one can still find in Eastern Europe, I believe, but rarely if at all in the US now. I don't mean to demean it, tho. It was a wonderful, welcoming place, and I'd return in a minute if it suddenly materialized somewhere in all its former glory

                          3. r
                            rozziegirl Jun 7, 2011 03:07 PM

                            I searched the boards for reviews/thoughts on Maude's Liquor Bar. How does that rate?

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: rozziegirl
                              nsxtasy Jun 7, 2011 06:05 PM

                              Maude's opened this past January and I haven't been there. I saw the blurb in Chicago Magazine's Dish column ( www.chicagomag.com/Radar/Dish/August-2010/Maude-rsquos-Liquor-Bar-Brings-French-Barbecue-to-Randolph-Street ) and looked at their website ( http://maudesliquorbar.wordpress.com ) and it sounds interesting. It sounds a bit less like standard French bistro fare. It seems like most of our French bistros have menus that are very similar to each other, with the same dishes appearing on most of them, and Maude's appears to be an exception in that regard. If anyone's been to Maude's, let us know how you liked it!

                              1. re: nsxtasy
                                j
                                jdsopil Jun 9, 2011 10:10 AM

                                Which would you recommend between Bistro Zinc and Le Petit Paris? We are staying at the Sutton Place Hotel tomorrow and I am looking for something reasonably priced in the area..

                                1. re: jdsopil
                                  nsxtasy Jun 9, 2011 11:37 AM

                                  I haven't been to either one - sorry! I've always liked Kiki's Bistro, and it's about five blocks west of your hotel, about the same distance as Le Petit Paris. Bistro Zinc is very close to your hotel, only a block away.

                                  Speaking of which, if you're interested in an excellent place for breakfast, the Original Pancake House is right across the street from your hotel. The puffy, cinnamony apple pancake is great for those who love sweet dishes. Their other pancake and egg dishes are also excellent.

                                  1. re: nsxtasy
                                    j
                                    jdsopil Jun 9, 2011 11:46 AM

                                    Great, Thanks...Are there any restaurants close to the hotel you might recommend? We were at Topolo last night so we want to keep this dinner more moderate. We are open to pretty much anything.

                                    1. re: jdsopil
                                      nsxtasy Jun 9, 2011 11:57 AM

                                      Le Colonial for Vietnamese food - www.lecolonialchicago.com
                                      Cafe Spiaggia for Italian food - www.cafespiaggia.com
                                      Hugo's for seafood - www.hugosfrogbar.com

                                      -----
                                      Cafe Spiaggia
                                      980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

                            2. nsxtasy Jun 14, 2011 10:50 PM

                              Bistro 110 will be closing August 4.

                              www.chicagomag.com/Radar/Dish/June-20...

                              -----
                              Bistro 110
                              110 East Pearson Street, Chicago, IL 60611

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: nsxtasy
                                h
                                HoosierFoodie Jun 15, 2011 10:37 AM

                                Wow, I find that surprising....place was always packed. Look forward to trying the new place. Though, as the article stated, the place had devolved into a bit of tourist trap.

                                1. re: nsxtasy
                                  t
                                  tzurriz Jun 21, 2011 11:05 AM

                                  What? No!!!!

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