Le Bouchon, French Recommended by an Italian

Pain et Vin Rouge

Pain et Vin Rouge

During a recent visit to my favourite, local Italian restaurant in Logan Square, the owner recommended a French restaurant in the vicinity. He was already aware that I love European style restaurants and cafes — small, quaint, boutiques where there is always good food, great conversation, and no such thing as a rush. And per the owner’s recommendation, I made a calendar entry to go to Le Bouchon at 1958 N. Damen Avenue in Bucktown.

I arrived early enough to be difficult with my ordering. Having only a glance at the menu, I decided that I would not make the selections for what I wanted to eat, but I would instead let my server surprise me. There was my usual spiel that I primarily enjoy seafood and vegetarian options, and while I have no food allergies, I hate nuts; just bring something to the table and pair it with wine. While enjoying some homemade French bread, I waited.

French Onion Soup

French Onion Soup

First to the table was French onion soup and a Pinot Noir. Now, given all of the French restaurants I have gone to, I never had a taste for French onion soup. This was my first. I have no benchmark for a good French onion soup, so what I had at Le Bouchon is what I will use to set my initial bar. Flavourful broth without being overpowered by onions, topped with a large croton, and then topped with a gooey layer of baked cheese, I have a nod of satisfaction to a very appetizing start.

Rushing Waters Trout

Rushing Waters Trout

The server thought I would enjoy the rushing waters trout. He was spot on. This was paired with a Chardonnay. The trout was de-boned and then reassembled. This came with pine nuts, which I have an allowance for, caper brown butter, mushrooms, and concord grapes. The beauty of the trout was not only in the bloom in the taste from the recipe, but also from the fact that the fish was so meaty. Those who may expect something creamy and rich may be surprised to find that the dish is rich without any cream.

The finale was something different. I had beignets stuffed with apple slices, served with svelte ice cream, granola crumble, raisins, and a cider reduction. Straying away from having cake or a heavier, richer dessert was a finer option since the starter and entrée were both filling. Having not inquired of the coffee, I think it was from some local, independent coffeehouse. There was no burnt or bitter taste and the only sweetener required was the cream that accompanied it.

Apple Beignets with Coffee and Cream

Apple Beignets with Coffee and Cream

Le Bouchon is indeed a restaurant with a lot of French flare. It is small and quaint with tables close to each other. One thing I will say is that the service is outstanding. As often as I “challenge” my servers with something to satisfy my palate, there are those like the one I had at Le Bouchon who exceed my expectations. It also helps that the food is capital, evident from the constant flow of dining patrons. When I return to my favourite Italian restaurant, I will have to thank the owner for his recommendation. I wonder if I should thank him in Italian, as always do, or if I should rattle off in French, “J’aimerai te remercier.”

Le Bouchon Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Luella’s Southern Kitchen, Took Me Back to Mississippi

Luella's Southern Kitchen

A few weeks ago, I went back to Jackson, MS, to see family. I had not even dropped my luggage off before I wanted to make a pit stop by the farmers market. Knowing that I would be cooking and baking, I wanted to get some white corn on the cob, lima beans, cranberry peas, collard greens, squash and a few other vegetables. I also wanted to get some peaches for baking a peach cobbler to go with homemade ice cream. For as much as I am a city rat, there will always be the need for indulging some good food from Mississippi that has not been messed up with growth products, additives, and who knows what else.

Sweet Tea

Sweet Tea

Having returned from hot and humid Jackson to muggy Chicago, I was strolling through Lincoln Square when it had become apparent that my stomach wasn’t rumbling. It was roaring. And to my blissful surprise, I happen to find myself standing outside Luella’s Southern Kitchen at 4609 N. Lincoln Avenue. Being that I think about eating constantly, I was curious as to whether this was one of those restaurants trying to make an attempt at Southern comfort food. So, I entered and was greeted with a Southern hello. That was all the indication I needed to know that they were not simply passing off Southern cooking as a fad.

Shrimp and Grits

Shrimp and Grits

Seeing that September came in feeling like July and August, I needed something to cool off. A jar of sweet tea was what I needed to hit the spot. Not getting just plain sweet tea, I had it accented with figs. Either I was incredibly thirsty or this tea was divine.

Now, although I had a severe hankering, I did not want to go overboard. I ordered something that I never, ever, ever had a desire to eat as a child. I had shrimp and grits. I love shrimp like a baby loves a bottle. But grits were absolutely disgusting to me. Unlike the sticky grits of my youth, these were cheesy grits that didn’t congeal. My grandmother is looking down now saying, “You wait to get old to start enjoying Southern table food.” I appreciate the fact that the shrimp and grits were not prepared ala white table-cloth gourmet style.

For a finale, I ordered something to take me down to New Orleans. I had to get some beignets. The beauty of the beignets was not that they were so blooming good, but that they came to the table right out of the fryer. There will never be an argument that you can get beignets outside of New Orleans that are worth getting confectioners sugar on your face. The beignets from Luella’s Southern Kitchen were worth it. And with another jar of sweet tea, I can honestly say that this is where I will return for Southern cooking.

Beignets

Beignets

There are plenty seats in Luella’s Southern Kitchen. There is no alcohol on the menu, not that I could see. Coming from Mississippi, I can vouch for the food being authentic in flavor. I must say that a winning tactic I noticed was that the staff actually engaged the diners. The food was already top, so winning patrons over with hospitality is indeed a winner. When I found out that they were from Greenville, MS, it was as if I had gone to my parents’ home. And Luella’s Southern Kitchen will also be like going home.

Luella's Southern Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato