I am reminiscing about a certain sunny afternoon in Paris. An accordion player was playing “Le Vie En Rose” in the background. I was sitting outside a quaint bistro taking my coffee and flirting with a rather fetching young French woman. The flirtation ended when some man sitting behind her started winking at me. Although I am a man of easy appetite, less now that I am in my 40’s, I do have to keep my cravings devoted strictly to the great rapture of culinary delight. However, I digress in my musing.
For this particular outing, my main food companion and I partook of French cuisine. Mon dieu. I now understand why I weigh 190 pounds instead of the 180 that I tried to maintain. I know you’re saying, “He is about to give another glowing review.” Hell yeah, I am going to give another glowing review. This meal was so delicious that I actually ran out into the streets and danced. We’re talking jazz hands, kicks, turns, and splits. No, that would be an exaggeration, but it certainly was how I had felt after we had walked out of the restaurant.
We went to Bistro Campagne in Chicago’s Lincoln Square at 4518 N. Lincoln Avenue. Much like a Parisian bistro,the atmosphere is extremely charming and intimate. Because this is an independent restaurant, there isn’t the “Leave it to Beaver” family style air that dominates most restaurants. The lighting is dim. The art on the walls was avant-garde. The tables were close together, which adds to the feel of intimacy — behave — and the food was good enough to make you want dance as if you were in a Broadway musical.
For appetizers, we tried a familiar aperitif and one we have not tried before. We started with a plate of fried calamari and a bowl of mussels in a garlic sauce. I had water and my friend had a European-size bottle of diet Coke. For those who like to play it safe with dinner, batter coated squid served with tartar sauce may induce a wince. I am sure that watching as individuals dig out the tender morsels from the mussels, dip them in the savoury sauce, pop them into their mouths, and sigh after biting it with their pearly white teeth may invoke a burning need to run towards the hills. The aperitifs are definitely for someone who is adventurous and enjoys good food, nevertheless.
The entrées were absolute hits. [I still wonder why a restaurant with a French bill of fare would have a New York sirloin on the menu, though.] Being seafood lovers, we ordered a saumon served over red peppers, onions, and accentuated with a tasty red sauce. The other seafood dish was a sturgeon served over a bed of greens — sorry we’re not talking collards, mustards, or turnips for those wondering if there was a soul food influence — and a caramelized orange sauce with a pomfrite tomato. I had a glass of Dauff au Moulin and my friend had a European-size bottle of diet Coke.
During the entrées, the waitress asked us if we were happy — and you know it, clap your hands. Never before has a server asked me if I was happy. Is everything okay? Is the food good enough? Do you need a bib? May I call you sometimes? I like the question of whether we were happy because even Stevie Wonder could have seen that we were quite pleased at our petite feast.
Now, no meal is complete without a wrap-up of desserts. The French has the market in pleasure-inducing breakfasts and desserts. In the spirit of maintaining that distinction, Bistro Campagne has succeeded. We chose two desserts: a soufflé au chocolat (chocolate molten cake with hot chocolate in the middle served with a dollop of vanilla ice cream on the side) et crème brûlée (addictive vanilla custard topped with a crispy caramelized sugar coat). I took a cup of espresso and my friend had a European-size bottle of diet Coke. Let me be the first to say that in all of my restaurant outings, this is the first to get the molten cake right — in North America. Yes, in Paris and in Belgium, it is done to such perfection that the taste is hypnotic. But getting it all good in Chicago makes Bistro Campagne the number one restaurant in America for getting a molten cake.
Bistro Campagne is yet another winner for my food companion and me in our quest for sampling the finest ethnic restaurants in Chicago. One thing to note is that the price of the food is steep. We got exactly what we paid for, even though the tab had three significant digits to the left of the decimal point. Then again, if the restaurant is cheap and claims to cook authentic French, ce n’est pa. French fries do not count.