A's List: These Top French Restaurants In Chicago Get Props For Style and Sustenance
By Audarshia Townsend
We have so many reasons to admire the French. They’ve got a lock on fashion, food and wine, plus we cannot get enough of those exotic accents. And lucky for Chicago, we don’t have to travel far to experience authenticity from our sister city.
For your eating and drinking pleasure, we’ve gathered some of the city’s most revered French establishments, from a modernized bistro by an award-winning Parisian chef to a hot new brasserie boasting a roving champagne cart and much more.
Why It’s a Hit: Mysterious, sexy and dark, the French-themed steakhouse offers two levels where guests may dine, drink and be merry. While the vibe upstairs can be a bit formal at times, the lower level feels like a funky den where music varies from French house and acid jazz to old-school hip-hop. The beverage menu includes many French wines, six sparkling cocktails (including classics French 75 and Kir Royale), two French beers and four cognacs. While the steaks are all great, two of Bavette’s signature dishes should be on everyone’s hit list: the short rib Stroganoff made with hand-cut fettucine and cremini mushrooms as well as spiced fried chicken that’s accompanied by a mound of mashed potatoes.
Where to Find It: 218 W. Kinzie St., 312-624-8154
Why It's a Hit: Those looking to escape the "meet" market excess of the Gold Coast luckily have this civilized little eatery in the middle of it all. Bistrot Zinc feels like every classic bistro you’ll encounter in Paris, and that includes, of course, the food. Windows are open to the bustling State Street action, and inside, the bar is a great meeting place for French expats. There are a lot of menus and mismatched decorations, something you’d definitely spot in Paris. Steak frites, escargot in herbed garlic butter and pan-seared duck breast are some of the specialties. Brunch at Bistrot Zinc is especially traditional, with ample orders of croque monsieur, Lyonnaise salad, and chicken and mushroom crepes on most tables.
Where to Find It: 1131 N. State St., 312-337-1131
Why It's a Hit: Paris-born chef Martial Noguier is behind this award-winning restaurant showcasing the best from his homeland. There are a lot of great deals on Bistronomic’s menu, so diners may sample many dishes. Guests are first encouraged to sample from Bistronomic's selection of artisanal cheeses. It's $25 for all five or $5 for one. The house-made charcuterie selections are similar, in which diners may choose three for $13.50 or five for $24 with selections like prosciutto, dry-cured saucisson sec and house-made country pate. Then there's the prix-fixe menu in which diners may select from two courses for $32 or three for $39. Best deals include hand-made Yukon Gold gnocchi, PEI black mussels and organic Amish chicken. Steak lovers should appreciate the beef selection at Bistronomic, which is all from the Midwest. Choose from filet mignon au poivre, New York strip or beef bourguignon-style short ribs.
Where To Find It: 840 N. Wabash Ave., 312-944-8400
Why It's a Hit: It’s hard not to get star struck when discussing Carrie Nahabedian, but when an award-winning chef of this caliber teaches cooking classes like it’s no big deal, one must take advantage. The classically French trained culinary legend—whose accolades include Michelin stars and James Beard awards for her Naha restaurant—hosts a luncheon series with a cooking instruction component on select Saturdays. Participants learn about a different French region each time, and they may pair each of the five courses with wine. It’s $125 per person, or $180 when paired with wine.
Where to Find It: 534 N. Clark St., 312-595-1616
Why It's a Hit: A Bucktown staple since 1993, Le Bouchon is that cool, neighborhood restaurant every neighborhood wishes it had. It’s small and intimate, but most important, it is consistent. Those wonderful smoked salmon rillettes you scarfed down two months ago when you visited should taste exactly the same as you remember. And service is always pleasant. On date night, couples can share a whole-roasted Peking duck. It’s best to plan that outing on Mondays when it’s half-price wines by the bottle night.
Where to Find It: 1958 N. Damen Ave., 773-862-6600
Why It's a Hit: There’s finally an exciting new restaurant at the Waldorf Astoria, and it happens to be French focused. The creation of James Beard winner Michael Mina, who boasts highly lauded restaurants throughout the country, Margeaux Brasserie is on the third floor of the luxury hotel property. It boasts all sorts of cool stuff you’d expect (classic French dishes such as roast Dover sole and steak frites with a choice of ribeye, New York strip or bavette) and not expect like a roving champagne cart serving bubbly by the glass (Keep those coming!). Try keeping this pro tip under wraps: There’s a daily happy hour from 4 to 6pm with offerings like wood-fired oysters, duck wings and $7 Hemingway daiquiris. And those coming in during brunch should consider ordering the bottomless glass of rosé for $30. Petit Margeaux, a classic French patisserie on the hotel's lobby level, is also owned by Mina.
Where to Find It: 11 E. Walton St., 312-625-1324
Why It's A Hit: Owned by the same team behind Bavette’s, Maude’s considers itself to be a French "dive bar." But for a dive bar, it certainly outshines its counterparts, offering at its center craft cocktails, a host of offbeat French wines and more. Like many of the French-themed establishments around town, Maude’s is a great date place with low lights, sultry exotic beats and an intimate setting. Diners may go for traditional dishes like cassoulet or foie gras pate or order towering seafood platters filled to the rim with oysters, lobster, jumbo cocktail shrimp and more. These are also the same guys behind Au Cheval, which is said to have the "best burger in America" by Bon Appetit, so it made sense to finally add one to Maude's menu. The signature cheeseburger is French inspired, topped with Wisconsin gruyere on a brioche bun.
Where to Find It: 840 W. Randolph St., 312-243-9712
See previous A's List columns right here.