La France Café & Crepes, Lombard Style

La France Café

Now that I have been on assignment in the West Suburbs, I had been actively looking for some restaurants in that vicinity with an international appeal that I could sample for blogging. The farther away you are from Chicago proper, the more limited the options are in that space. Imagine my surprise when I discovered La France Café & Crepes at 708 S. Main Street in Lombard, Illinois.

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir

Iced Mocha

Iced Mocha

I went with my restaurant advisor on a Saturday and we arrived shortly after they had opened for the second part of the day. First thing we noticed was the accommodating service. It was a small touch, but the greeting of “Bon soir,” was enough to set a tone of comfort that we were both okay with. For me, being fluent in Quebecois and conversational in Creole meant not fumbling for words or feeling out of place whenever certain French words were used during our dining excursion. While perusing the menu, my advisor started with a glass of Pinot Noir and I had an iced mocha, after which I decided to have a Beaujolais once I had something to eat.

Boeuf et a L'Abricot

Boeuf et a L’Abricot

On to the good stuff. We ordered three savory crepes and two sweet crepes. The beouf et a l’abricot crepe reminded me of Moroccan tagine but stuffed inside of a crepe. Filled with tender beef, apricot slices, and spinach, and topped with toasted almond slivers, this was just what I needed to put me in mind of being back in Morocco. The beouf bourguignon was the equivalent of beef bourguignon as a stew reduced so that it could go into a crepe without making the crepe soggy. Filled with pearl onions and plump mushrooms, we loved it. The crepe de saumon a l’estragon was my favorite. This was stuffed with salmon that had a mild kick, red onions, tarragon, tomatoes, spinach, and crème fraiche. The seafood lover in me indeed approved.

Boeuf Bourguignon

Boeuf Bourguignon

Crepe de Saumon a L'Estragon

Crepe de Saumon a L’Estragon

One of the sweet crepes was a framboise citronnee, which was filled with lemon custard, drizzled with a raspberry sauce (not from a jar), and sprinkled with confectioners sugar. Each bite was like summer on the palate. The other crepe was a abricot et brie, a true sweet and savory crepe thanks to the apricot purée and brie, while topped with candied apricots and dusted with confectioners sugar. Instead of going with whipped cream on the top, we had a fist size scoop of ice cream on the side. And we finished with Moroccan mint tea, yet another trigger to make me miss my vacation in Morocco.

Framboise Citronnee

Framboise Citronnee

Abricot et Brie

Abricot et Brie

One thing to note is that nothing comes to the table within five minutes, except maybe the complimentary water, a coffee, or a glass of wine. The crepes are made to order, so there is no rush of any of the crepes to the table within five minutes. If you go to a creperie and you get your crepes in a flash, I highly recommend that you run. The crepes at La France Café and Crepes do not have a spongy texture, but rather that of a flat-pressed pancake. This is good because crepes in non-touristy France are prepared accordingly. Well, they reminded me of the ones I had in cafes during my days in Chalon-sur-Saone. For my restaurant advisor and me, there will be repeat visits. Pour de vrai.

Moroccan Mint Tea

Moroccan Mint Tea

La France Café Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cafe Versailles, Feeling Rather French

Cafe Versailles

One of my favourite restaurants in Chicago — Zebda — is owned and operated by some Algerians. Located in the Irving Park neighbourhood just off one of the many bizarre three-way intersections on the North Side, the restaurant teems with Algerians and North Africans. There is a constant feeling of being in someone’s home and the food is definitely a draw that keeps me returning. What I have also noticed in that Pulaski-Montrose-Elston area are several other cafes and restaurants that are owned and operated by Algerians. One of those cafes is Cafe Versailles at 4102 N. Pulaski Road, which is a few blocks south of the Pulaski-Montrose-Elston triangle.

Cafe Latte

Cafe Latte

While passing by it on my way from the Far North Side, I decided to stop in for a quick sampling. I had already had a nice lunch and only wanted a finale. I figured that a cup of coffee would suffice and with Cafe Versailles being a French cafe, I was certain that there would be crepes on the menu. Upon entering and a brief scan of the menu, there was serendipity. There were crepes for the craving. For a sit-down, I had a cup of cafe latte and a crepe filled with apples and drizzled with caramel. Noting the Bristot brand of coffee, it became evident why the flavour of my cafe latte was so robust and still required no sweetener. The apples were fresh, sliced, and not drowning in a sugary glaze, unlike what you get at many creperies that fill their dessert crepes with apples. The natural sweetness of the apples and the light drizzle of caramel did the trick.

Apple Caramel Crepe

Apple Caramel Crepe

Cafe Versailles has an atmosphere akin to what coffeehouses were before they were taken over by students and single mothers with children who would rather be at home playing rather than watching their mothers engaging girlfriend banter. Everyone is relaxed and the owners tend to be rather conversational. And nothing screams “truly authentic” like being able to watch the owners make the crepes within eyeshot. With the closing of Icosium Kafe, that did a fantastic job preparing savoury and sweet crepes, it is nice to find one that is closer to home for me. The menu has a nice selection of crepes that I think I shall sample over time, as well as salads and sandwiches made to order. A flight to Paris takes seven hours. A trip to Cafe Versailles takes probably fifteen minutes, at most. Guess which location I will visit this week.

Click to add a blog post for Cafe Versailles on Zomato

Little Bucharest Bistro

Little Bucharest Bistro

Several years ago, an individual who had done some photography and web development for some restaurants had given me two recommendations. One was for an Italian restaurant — Pasta D’Arte — and the other was for a Romanian restaurant. I went to Pasta D’Arte during the late summer of 2013 and decided that I should also follow up on the second recommendation. So, not far from Logan Square is Little Bucharest Bistro at 3661 N. Elston Avenue in Chicago’s Irving Park neighbourhood. It was a nice Saturday afternoon and my appetite was absolute wildly, now more than ever because I had been doing a few sessions of CrossFit training.

Little Bucharest Bistro has an airy, spacious interior and thanks to plenty of large windows, the setting isn’t dim. For those who wish to sit outside, there is outside seating, but having arrived early, indoor seating next to a window worked perfectly for me. Although Eastern European food is something that I prefer mostly when the temperatures are chilly, I asked my server for recommendations, while informing her that vegetarian is my first preference and seafood is my second. The offerings that I got had exceeded my expectations.

Little Bucharest Bistro Collage

Click to see larger photos in Flickr album

For a starter, I had borscht. At most Eastern European restaurants, the borscht tasted like it had been prepared with pickled beets from a jar. The taste was alway too sharp. At Little Bucharest Bistro, there was definitely a flavouring of cooked beets from a garden that didn’t leave an overpowering taste. It was also nice that the soup was full of beets and not just beet juice. Second to the table was the village salad, which consisted of red bell peppers, green bell peppers, red onions, cucumber, feta cheese, tomatoes, and olives. Drizzled with a nice balsamic vinaigrette, this was rabbit food I would welcome anytime. With the complementary, homemade bread, my taste for Eastern European food had a bit of a renaissance.

A light appetizer that I got next was a plate of eggplant, prepared much like baba ganoush, that was served with pita bread, a small salad, and a melange of pickles, crepes with cream cheese, and salmon. What an offering and this small platter still packed a flavourful punch that I would gladly indulge on future visits. And in keeping with vegetarian dishes, there was the vegetarian goulash. This was a hearty dish of grilled eggplant, cabbage, peppers, spinach, and garlic couscous in a tomato sauce. I was expecting something along the lines of a spaetzle, but the goulash was a classic example of different being outstanding.

There is the feel of family-owned and small restaurants that you get as soon as you enter Little Bucharest Bistro. From the owner greeting you at the door — you never get that kind of welcome at downtown eateries — to the wait staff that is attentive and engaging to the food that leaves you wanting more, this is certainly a restaurant that should be on your list of places you must sample in Chicago. Aside from my usual running around, travelling, and getting into other things, it should not have taken me years to follow up on the recommendation to go to Little Bucharest Bistro. This first experience is definitely all the more reason I shall have to return again very, very soon to see what other delights they have on their menus to convert me into a regular customer. And with autumn and winter coming, Eastern European food will do well for my appetite.

After Dinner Drink

After Dinner Drink

Little Bucharest Bistro on Urbanspoon

Feeling French, Craving Crepes, Crepe Bistro

Crepe Bistro

Now that Icosium Kafe in Lincoln Park and its sister location in Andersonville closed their doors to business, the creperies in Chicago that I loved had dwindled down to Crepe Town in Uptown. There are several crepe shops in Chicago, but rude and dismissive service kill the appetite. Having been to Crepe Town recently, I wanted to try another creperie in the city that I hadn’t visited before. And while roaming around in the Loop, I happened upon Crepe Bistro at 186 N. Well Street. Serendipity.

Upon entry, there are a few tables in the front area and a full bar to the immediate left. I looked like around the corner and saw that there were some lounge chairs and a sofa, very much the atmosphere of coffeehouses before they became classrooms for Internet access. I opted to sit outside since the weather was fantastic. After a quick glance at the menu, I was ready for action once the server approached.

Bellini. Coconut shrimp. Tomato basil soup. Kathmandu crepe. Banana nutella crepe. Coffee with cream.

The Bellini was exactly what I needed after a long week of Murphy’s Law at work making me want a hammer to the back of the head. When initially brought the table, it looked like a fanciful liquid parfait. And the bartender, who was also my server, deserves an encore for mixing the Bellini in such a fashion that it was smooth and easy on the way down. The coconut shrimp was delicious, although the accompanying sauce made the appetizer mildly sweeter. I gobbled the rest sans the sauce. The tomato basil soup didn’t taste like anything from a can, or doctored up from a can, so I was pleased with each spoonful.

Crepe Bistro Collage

Kathmandu Crepe. Coconut Shrimp. Tomato Basil Soup. Bellini. Banana Nutella Crepe.

The Kathmandu crepe was a winner. Stuffed with chicken, mushrooms, and mozzarella, and topped with a curry sauce and mango chutney, I was glad to have been hanging out in the Loop and hankering for crepes. Unlike minimalist crepes I have had at other creperies in Chicago and very much like Crepe Town in Uptown, the Kathmandu crepe was loaded. Per the server’s recommendation, I had the banana nutella crepe that ranks up there with my favourite bananas foster crepe. Again, here was another crepe that was stuffed instead of flat and cute for presentation. Along with the banana nutella crepe, I decided to take coffee with cream. If I have said it once, I have said it a million times: the biggest indicator of a quality coffee is being able to drink it without any sweeteners. Yes, I used the milk, but milk is not excessively sweet enough to overpower bitter coffee and the coffee at Crepe Bistro was anything but bitter.

I went during the late morning on a Saturday, so it wasn’t crowded the way I figure it gets later in the day or through the week. It may have been my luck to get the bartender for my server because not only was she good with suggestions, but also quite conversational: a trait in good bartenders. While observing the outdoor menu that was on a placard, I was curious as to whether Crepe Bistro was pandering to Russian, French, or some fusion of the two. During conversation with the bartender, she mentioned that the owner was Russian. Ah, that explained borscht on the placard. However, Crepe Bistro indeed honours French cuisine along the lines of crepes.

So, now Crepe Town and Crepe Bistro are my two favourite creperies in the city. I may have to search for a few other creperies that I may find myself fancying regularly. Well, that is provided the servers aren’t serving attitude with my orders.


Crepe Bistro on Urbanspoon

Friendship to Be, Lao You Ju

Lao You Ju

A few years ago, I left a company that was couched in political maneuvering and led by a chief executive officer who let it be known that the employees’ “measly” 2% pay increases were a small sacrifice — so that the Board of Directors could get their 25% pay increases. It was on to another company that was couched even deeper in political madness with a revolving door of contractors and permanent employees who came and went, and a management staff that consisted of supervisors and managers in title only. About two years ago, there began flight from the latter company and recently the company had a reduction in workforce. Several of us who had become good friends while working together had fled and we all remained in touch. We decided that it was time for a gathering. You can never have a proper reunion without food. And with one of us knowing the owner of one of Chicago’s most popular Chinese restaurants, a date was set and there were a Chinese, an African-American, an Indian, a West Indian, and a Filipino walking into Lao You Ju at 2002 S. Wentworth Avenue in Chicago’s Chinatown. Sounds like the introduction to a joke, right? No, it was just five former colleagues gathering for laughter and some authentic Chinese food.

Satay Chicken

Satay Chicken

Preserved Egg Pork Congee

Preserved Egg Pork Congee

Lao You Ju boasts a swell menu of dim sum, Hong Kong style. There are indeed some exotic menu items that the modest palate may find visually intriguing, but not necessarily tasteful. For the five of us who had gathered, our palates are varied, so we played it safely while indulging one or two items that are more commonplace in the Chinese culinary space. Because we had opted mostly for dim sum, we started with satay chicken and preserved egg pork congee. Satay chicken is nothing more than well-seasoned chicken skewered onto wooden sticks. Many of you will have had satay chicken with peanut sauce at Thai restaurants. There was no sauce with the dish at Lao You Ju, as it was rather flavourful sans it. The congee came in a communal size bowl, rice porridge for an insatiable appetite. We filled our cups and went to work.

Cheese Rolls with Shrimp

Cheese Rolls with Shrimp

Shumai

Shumai

While talking about another former colleague who used to take random vacations “off the books” and then return 3 to 4 weeks later as though it was “only a thing,” there arrived cheese rolls with shrimp and shumai. The cheese rolls were like crispy egg rolls that encased cream cheese and plump shrimp. At a lot of Americanized Chinese restaurants, some syrupy dipping sauce would have accompanied the rolls. For those of us at the table, we were quite glad to not have some side order usurping the flavour of the rolls with a punch of unnecessary sweetness. Along with the cheese rolls with shrimp came some shumai. Having forgotten that pork was a heavy staple in the Chinese diet, we tackled them anyway. Rather than requesting that the recipe be modified and erasing authenticity, we gobbled the shumai without complaint — and then realized after we had completed them that we didn’t dunk them in any sauce before devouring them.

Jin-Sha Shrimp

Jin-Sha Shrimp

Crispy Papaya Pastry

Crispy Papaya Pastry

We laughed about how the business analysts, Business Intelligence analysts, and quality assurance team could never seem to work as good as they could have together thanks to interference from management and the fact that information technology is becoming more about service than it is about solutions. Right about this time was when we got to indulge ourselves in some jin-sha shrimp. General chicken what? Kung pao chicken what? Beef with broccoli what? I am in love with this whole concept of fried corn with peppers and breaded shrimp. Put some orange chicken in front of me and I will be inclined to throw it against the wall. To make matters ever more tastefully exciting, there were crispy papaya pastry served. They looked way too twee to have experienced the grinding of our teeth on them. The natural sweetness of the papaya made them that more pleasing to the palates because we got to taste the fruit in all of its bloom.

Beef Tripe

Beef Tripe

Lamb Hot Sizzling Plate

Lamb Hot Sizzling Plate

Two weeks after I had left the company, I got a text message from one of my friends who was at dim sum lunch with us. He had left to go abroad to get married and to have his honeymoon with his wife. When the text message had come across and he discovered the address of where I was working, it turned out that he had accepted a position with a company across the street. Not only is the world flat, but it is indeed very small. We all laughed about that story and chuckled when the small dish of beef tripe was placed in front of us. Tripe, to me, is one of those menu items that shows that cooks will spare no parts. The texture is akin to that of a rubber band, which may not be endearing to many diners. The recipe for the beef trip at Lao You Ju was surprisingly worthy, although I will never get accustomed to having to chew, chew, chew, and chew some more before swallowing it. As to the lamb hot sizzling plate, this spicy dish was a winner. Served with white rice, we worked our chopsticks in true fashion. Move over, Greeks, because you’re not longer the standard bearers of cooking outstanding lamb dishes.

Singapore Fried Rice Noodles with Chicken

Singapore Fried Rice Noodles

Three Cup Chicken

Three Cup Chicken

The Singapore fried rice noodles with chicken was another one of those dishes that will make you want to take up a picket sign and advocate for the closure of all the China Buffet restaurants in the world. And from there, you will probably march in front of every Chop Suey hole in the wall that is open for business. Let’s just say that we didn’t leave any noodles or gravy on the plate — and we all used chopsticks. I have had Singapore fried rice noodles prepared correctly, so I shall not risk having to inquire, “What on earth is this?” at any other Chinese restaurants. And the three cup chicken, Taiwanese style, was a food lover’s dream. Tender, moist, falling off the bone chicken, swimming in a rich gravy and bursting with each bite, was enough to illicit a smoke immediately afterwards.

Fried, Dried Shrimp Crepes

Fried, Dried Shrimp Crepes

Spare Ribs

Spare Ribs

During the reduction in workforce at the company where we all had left, it seemed that one of the main managers who was a model control freak discovered why the axe loves those in management ranks. We had a moment of silence for him, but only because the server was putting a plate of fried, dried shrimp crepes, and a bowl of spare ribs in front of us. The crepes were a pleasant surprise, although having been served in a sauce, they were not of the texture that you get at French creperies. They were, however, like dumplings, but packed with a smile in each bite. It took a while to realize what the spare ribs were. For me, I have always seen them coming off of a grill with a red colouring or drowned in barbecue sauce. Nevertheless, these spare ribs were tastier than any that I have had before — ever.

Green Chive Dumplings

Green Chive Dumplings

Crispy Durian Pastry

Crispy Durian Pastry

We wrapped up with green chive dumplings that were packed with mustard greens. By now I was surprised that I was able to put any more in my mouth to swallow, let along raise my chopsticks to reach for another bit. But these dumplings were way too inviting to let sit. And believe me when I say that they sat for a short time before going down the hatch. For dessert, we had crispy durian pastry. Who would have thought that biscuits with papaya baked in them could leave five individuals speechless after four hours of non-stop eating and laughter? I am considering calling in for a batch of those biscuits to have for a pre-bed snack at night.

Lao You Ju packs out during lunch and I understand why. It is not typical Chinese for Americans. It’s authentic. When you enter the restaurant, you will see a sea of Chinese faces and hear the language accordingly, which is the best indication of authenticity of a restaurant. Aside from travels to Hong Kong and Beijing in mainland China, Vancouver, Toronto, and San Francisco, I haven’t had authentic Chinese food in America except for when my first roommate after college had his parents come to visit and in 2005 when a former colleague had invited one of his Chinese co-workers to meet us at Dragon Court in Chicago’s Chinatown. Now I get to say that I have recently had some more Chinese food prepared correctly thanks for Lao You Ju all because of former colleagues gathering for a small reunion and friendship.

Lao You Ju on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Information


* Restaurant Name
Lao You Ju
* Overall
★★★☆☆
* Neighborhood / Cuisine
Near South Side
* Street Address
2002 South Wentworth Avenue, Chicago, IL 60616
* Phone
(312) 225-7818

Icosium Kafe, All About Algeria

Icosium Kafe

Sweet Potato Puree

Sweet Potato Puree

When I was in undergraduate school and in graduate school, I always hung out with the foreigners, much to the chagrin of many in my class. I got invitations to dinner and believe me when I say that my classmates knew how to get down with the get-down in the kitchen. I got to travel to the Caribbean, to Africa, to India, and to the Middle East when they went home, many thanks to their invitations. I should clarify that being of Caribbean and African stock, my fellow Caribbean and African classmates were not foreign to me the way the Indians, Arabs, Iranians, Iraqis, and other Middle Eastern were. And while I did my share of travelling to Africa with my fellow classmates, I never got a chance to go to Algeria. Well, I got a chance to compensate for that loss with a wonderful visit to an Algerian restaurant in Chicago’s Lincoln Park.

Jamming with Jam

Jamming with Jam

For some Algerian delicacies, we went to Icosium Kafe at 5200 N. Clark Street in the midst of usual Friday evening chaos on the block where everything is constantly in motion and parking is at a premium. Tucked away in what looks like a little corner, Icosium Kafe is a small restaurant and coffee-house that specializes in crepes. Oh happy day. Seven of us met to partake of the menu of crepes, to interject our usual brand of humour, and to see if it was possible to walk a straight line after so much belly stuffing. And par for the course, we accomplished to do all that. As mentioned, Icosium Kafe is small and intimate, but it is also loaded with atmosphere. We seven — ranging from Jewish, to Mennonite, to Serbian, to Colombian, to Polish, to Caribbean — felt right at home squeezed into our little spot and up to our usual antics.

Crepe Aziz

Crepe Aziz

To get things started, we began with a round of rooibus tea, which is a red tea based out of South Africa around Western Cape. Goes to show that there is apparently a lot of love in Africa such that Northern Africans can appreciate the sweet, nutty taste of rooibus tea that they would include it on their menus. It was a nice touch, if I may say so. We also had cups of sweet potato purée soup. If I had disposable income, I’d be on an airplane to Algeria, typing this journal up from an altitude of 35,000 feet, so that I could indulge in eating that soup. If I had a few slices of pumpkin bread to go along with it, I would have been in heaven. It was the kind of soup that was so delicious that if someone were to serve it up to you, you’d probably make all sorts of promises that you’d eventually break without compunction. Wait a minute. I don’t have to go to Algeria for more of the soup. I can simply go back to Icosium Kafe. Cue sad trombone.

When it came down to the main meal, we placed our fair share orders of savoury crepes that we could all share family style. There was no need in being individualistic with such good food and because we operate in the mode of being a community, sharing is what it’s all about. We ended up feasting on the following:

  • Cheka Chouka Crepe — crepe filled with goat cheese, arugula, caramelized onions, fresh Roma tomatoes, pine nuts, roasted garlic, and baby spinach
  • Crepe De Roma — crepe filled with capers, baby mozzarella cheese, fresh roma tomatoes, Portobello mushrooms, fresh basil, baby spinach, and lamb sausage
  • Crepe De Paris — crepe filled with green applies, escargot, roasted garlic, and brie
  • Chicago Crepe — crepe filled with avocados, Muenster cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, sunflower seeds, fresh cilantro, scallions, organic mixed greens, and chicken
  • Carthage Crepe — crepe filled with scallions, feta cheese, fresh Roma tomatoes, fresh basil, and organic mixed greens
  • Greek Crepe — crepe filled with cured olives, feta cheese, fresh Roma tomatoes, toasted almonds, fresh cilantro, roasted garlic, baby spinach, and salmon
Chicago Crepe

Chicago Crepe

If I had to give a definition of satisfaction, getting our fill of the crepes would be it. Some may differ, but I would have to recommend that they go to Icosium Kafe and discover the true meaning of the word. After a moment of letting the food go down, cracking up on work, trying to get one of the foodies to become a stand-up comedian, and breaking down the real meaning of enjoying ice cream, we were ready for dessert.

The desserts were, of course, stuffed crepes with all sorts of yummy goodies for the tummies. And because you’re hankering to know what all we had, I shall indulge you with a description of the greatness that we ate with all the rapture of individuals taking full advantage of life.

  • Bananas and Nutella — crepe filled with bananas and melted nutella, which is a hazelnut paste
  • Crepe Aziz — crepe filled with fresh strawberries, kiwi, and nutella
  • Crepe D’Amour — crepe stuffed full of fresh raspberries with dark chocolate
  • Crepe Buena — crepe with fresh mango, ginger chutney, sunflower seeds, and raisins
  • Crepe De Limone — crepe with fresh lemon juice, white sugar, and lemon zest
  • Jamming with Jam Crepes — crepe filled with fresh raspberry, apricot, strawberry, orange marmalade, and lingonberry
Crepe D'Amour

Crepe D’Amour

Along with the dessert crepes, we had ice cream. Hmmmm. Naughty-naughty. Our crepes came with a dollop of chocolate, vanilla, pistachio, green tea sherbet, strawberry, and rainbow. Well, I can say that I appreciate ice cream, especially after having it served up with such appetizing crepes. And we had this production line activity going, taking a bite of a crepe and passing the plate clockwise to the next person. All while we were doing this, we kept singing

Pass the Dutchie on the left hand side
Pass the Dutchie on the left hand side
It a gonna burn, give me music make me jump and prance
It a go done, give me the music make me rock in the dance

You know the food has to be good when you’re singing at the dining table.

Bananas and Nutella

Bananas and Nutella

And so our success continues. Icosium Kafe was definitely a gem of a restaurant and the food was absolutely outstanding. If I had to change anything, it would be into a pair of pants with an elastic waistband. The food isn’t necessarily pricey, but if you eat the way we foodies eat, it may bring about a wince when the bill comes. Yet again, this is one of those restaurants where you go with a group of friends for the real experience. While it may be small and intimate, it’s still not intimate where you can sit in the corner licking your date’s fingers. If you find yourself doing that, may I recommend ice cream until you get home?

Icosium Kafé on Urbanspoon

 Icosium Kafe LTD on Foodio54