Enter the French Vault, La Voûte

February is tootling right along and it occurred to me that I had not written a blog review since summer of 2018. Last year came with a lot of change and I had been riding the wave of “peace of mind” since. And I have been cooking at home more. Nevertheless, a friend had recommended a French restaurant in Homewood, Illinois, from having passed it often on her way to catch the train into downtown Chicago. Not having much French restaurant representation from the suburbs on the blog, I agreed to meet her for dinner so we could sample their offerings.

Homemade Bread

In the business district at 2034 Ridge Road in Homewood, Illinois, is La Voûte Bistro and Bar. Co-joined with Banque Hotel, it’s a very nice escape from the congestion of Chicago for a bit of French authenticity. Spacious on the inside with a mix of tables, booths, and an airy bar setting, one can enjoy a nice variety of dishes with a bit of a provincial French influence.

Stuffed Mushrooms

Not wanting to order the exact same dishes that one finds on menus at just about every French restaurant outside of France, we did a bit of switching up so that we could try different dishes. We started with a plate of stuffed mushrooms. It may be that I have not had mushrooms for quite some time because these that were stuffed with spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, and mascarpone, and topped with a hollandaise sauce were addictive from the very first bite. It helps that you taste all of the ingredients individually, which meant no competition on the palate.

Escargot

The escargot came with minced crudité. They were not as garlicky and buttery as I prefer, but they were just as tender. This was perhaps the first indication that the preparation of some of the dishes were indeed provincial. Served with the escargot were two strips of pastry that were outstanding as a standalone.

Lobster Cigar

Where it was clear that there is lot of love to come out of the kitchen was with the lobster cigar. Clumps of lobster were stuffed inside of a delicately, flaky pastry and served atop a lobster sauce. There were no other fillers inside of the cigar, just fresh lobster and lots of flavor. This was perhaps the only dish we ordered that had a creamy base.

Baked Potato Soup

It seemed that most patrons had ordered the mushroom bisque. So, we were unfortunate that they had run out by the time we ordered. As a contingency, we ordered baked potato soup. Extremely tasty and peppery that way that I like soup during the winter, we forgot that loaded baked potato anything comes with bacon in it. It wasn’t overpowering and given the bacon was rather fine, it all went down nicely.

French Onion Soup

There was also a cup of French onion soup that was quite satisfying and filling. Topped with cheese, but not to the point of making the soup a chore to eat, this was certainly one serving that I actually liked because of it not being heavy handed with the cheese topping.

Chilean Sea Bass

For the first entrée, there was Chilean sea bass with a Mediterranean preparation. The bass had been fileted and seared to give the skin a crisp while retaining a lot of succulent meat. Along with the sea bass came a mélange of grilled vegetables: potatoes, zucchini, red bell peppers, green bell peppers, and cherry tomatoes. Any seafood lover would approve.

Lamb Shank

Another winner was the lamb shank served with ratatouille and couscous. The flavor of the lamb was reminiscent of beef tagine that I found rather addictive in Morocco. And to make the dish that more delicious, the lamb came off the bone with no effort. Clearly the lamb had been slow cooked to perfection, tenderness and flavor at each bite being all the indication needed.

Passion Fruit Sorbet

For desserts, we ordered light options. There was passion fruit sorbet with blueberries and a sliver of strawberry. There was also a lemon tart meringue accompanied with strawberry and whipped cream. Both were of the summer dessert variety in that they were citrusy. Neither excessively sugary nor tart to the point of biting at the back of the jaw, I recommend either, or, or both if you devour as much as we had prior to indulging the desserts. And for our finish, we had café au lait, something I definitely needed to wake up from the onset of food comatose.

Lemon Tart

La Voûte is indeed a vault of delicious, decadent, and lip-smacking dishes. For those in Chicago proper, North Suburbs, and West Suburbs, it’s worth the drive. For those in the South Suburbs, there is no reason why this should not be on your list. Per my friend, the restaurant is constantly filled. That’s a sign that they’re doing something correct. From what we had on our visit, they certainly got our dishes correct enough that we are already contemplating a return. For more offerings from La Voûte, I will make that long drive again.

Café au Lait

La Vôute Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Food and Photography, Gino’s Way

Recently, I returned to Oceanique, at 505 Main Street in Evanston, Illinois. With this recent visit being my fourth one since February, that says a lot. So, I will not give another review since I gave a raving review already. What I will do in this post is focus on an aspect of photographing food I have encountered in very difficult settings consisting of extremely low lighting and I will show you a few “before” and “after” shots I captured during my latest dining experience for reference.

I shot the photos in a setting with dark and conflicting lighting. There was a flicker in the lights, undetectable with the naked eye, but noticeable when looking at compositions through the viewfinder of the camera. Adding to the lighting were brown walls and white tablecloths that created an orange tint to the photos. Once you click on the photos and see them enlarged, you will notice how the lighting warmed the photos and overpowered the colours in some of the menu items. Using the “before” photo of Escargot, Salad, Duck Confit for reference, pay attention to the base of the wine glass in the upper left-hand corner of the photo. Put a footnote there, for I will mention that photo again later.

 

Lobster Salad

Lobster Salad

Scallop Under Kimchi

Scallop Under Kimchi

Escargot, Salad, Duck Confit

Escargot, Salad, Duck Confit

Chocolate Sunrise Cake

Chocolate Sunrise Cake

Before explaining how I transformed the shots of my recent dining excursion to “after” compositions, here are some logistics. I have four digital cameras that I use interchangeably when capturing impressions of food for blogging. There are the Nikon D90, Canon Rebel XS, Canon Rebel XT, and a Nikon 1 J1. The Nikon 1 J1 has become my constant companion. It is compact enough that I can manage it and have room on the table when I’m not using it. I can switch lenses on it much like I do with my prosumer cameras. Always cognizant of the restaurants’ staff and other diners, I never use flash on my cameras. I photograph with the cameras in manual mode so that I can allow in enough light and not have bursts of light distracting anyone. If lighting is too dim and I think there could be the possibility for blurred photos, I use a small tripod and a remote to the camera. Depending on how much food I order or how long I am at a restaurant, the zealot in me will photograph hundreds of photos from various angles before the server places the bill on the table.

As  you can see from the above gallery, I do post production on the photos. Referencing the photo of Escargot, Salad, Duck Confit, note that the glass that was originally in the upper left-hand corner of the photo is not in the final composition. I cropped the photo to remove the glass and made a minor perspective correction so that viewers zoom in on the food only. I applied white balance correction to remove the orange colouring cast the in the “before” shots. Doing this makes the natural colours of the food pop without any need for colour enhancements. My tools of choice for post production editing are Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop Elements, and Coral Paint Shop Pro. Unlike graphics artists who turn actors and actresses into alabaster dolls, I avoid manipulating food photos to the point of practically recreating a mockery of the original composition. Yes, I correct colour casts, remove artifacts, and crop to fill the frame. Still, I prefer not to detract from the original composition unnecessarily.

Not everyone who photographs food will be as overzealous with their photography as I am. In many cases, untouched photos do a better job of putting viewers at the table. I have often thought of my photos as looking staged. I look at past photos I captured years ago when I started blogging. They were some cool shots that came to life thanks to my point-and-shoot Konika-Minolta. My hobby is an addiction and there is no way that I want to let you see my passion in an unappetizing way. Wait, was that a bad pun? If only I could edit it the way that I do my photographs.