La Sardine, Not The Canned Kind

La SardineSeveral months ago the owner at my favourite Italian restaurant in the world, Osteria Langhe, recommended a French bistro to me since he knew that I liked the European feel to my dining experience. During my last visit to the Italian restaurant, I thanked the owner for his recommendation. He then offered a recommendation for another French restaurant that he was confident I would enjoy. My sister and I blocked an evening for a sampling and before going into the full review, I’ll just say that I will thank the owner at my favourite Italian restaurant for this most recent suggestion.

Located at 111 N. Carpenter Street in Chicago’s West Loop District is La Sardine. Come to find out that this restaurant is the sister location to Le Bouchon, which was the first French restaurant given to me as a recommendation. La Sardine is larger, less of a bistro, but without any doubt, the food is just as spectacular and the service is also top.

Not being in a rush, my sister and I opted for a round of various dishes for fulfillment of our own little degustation. There was a potato leek soup that puts to shame some of the same soup that I have had at numerous restaurants worldwide. Unlike the thin base that I have had in the past, this was creamy without the potatoes being the thickening agent. Fresh ingredients in the recipe and this was a perfect starter.

Potato Leek Soup

Potato Leek Soup

During my first visit to Le Bouchon, I had ordered the soupe à l’oignon gratinée. When my sister and I had returned for what was to be my second visit, she had not had the French onion soup, so it was a part of the meal for our La Sardine sampling. After cutting through the baked gruyère cheese and down through the crouton, she understood why I talked incessantly about how much of a fan I was of the soup. Midway through the soup, she declared that it was the best she had ever eaten.

Soupe à l’Oignon Gratinée

Soupe à l’Oignon Gratinée

It would be wrong to go to a French restaurant and not partake of any escargot. So, we had a platter of plump escargots à la bourguignonne bubbling in burgundy, garlic, parsley, and butter. After we had finished the savoury morsels, we used the homemade French bread to sop the remaining sauce from the little cups on the platter.

Escargots à la Bourguignonne

Escargots à la Bourguignonne

Sin entered the picture when the bowl of moules au cidre arrived at the table. Granted the morsels in the mussels are light, the quantity of mussels was not small. To add to that, the mussels were swimming in a delectable cream sauce accented with cider and shallots. After we finished the mussels, we then used the French bread to sop the rest of the sauce. My sister, being a Catholic, spoke to an invisible priest, “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.” Me being a practising Buddhist, simply acknowledged that I was enjoying the moment of gluttony and decided to be at peace with my higher power after coffee.

Moules au Cidre

Moules au Cidre

For my main dish, I ordered the rãble de lapin. The rabbit was delectable, tender, not oily, and nothing akin to gamey on the palate. Served with a potato risotto in an au jus, I had pretty much decided that I will spend quite a bit of time at La Sardine cleaning plates.

Rãble de Lapin

Rãble de Lapin

My sister ordered the magret de canard. This dish, one consisting of duck that was neither oily nor gamey, was a winner. This one came with lentils and rapini in an addictive orange sauce. There were exaggerated pauses in conversation during the main course. I have a habit of humming when food is divine and my sister gets reticent for a few minutes. We were silent for at least fifteen minutes.

Magret de Canard

Magret de Canard

There was no room for dessert. And although we watched some captivating sweets going to different tables, the most we could indulge was coffee. Coffee is the after-diner drink my sister always has and I opted for a cafe au lait. Quality bean, clean coffee machine, or whatever it may be, I can speak to the cafe au lait not requiring any sweetener and not making me feel like there was something bitter in the cup.

Cafe au Lait

Cafe au Lait

The service at La Sardine is through the roof. The restaurant fills quickly and there is a nonstop flow of patrons coming and going. Still, it is evident that the service plays a part in the experience being splendid for those who come. The food is hands-down the best French food in Chicago that I have had as of late — and I include the sister restaurant Le Bouchon in the number one slot with La Sardine. Seating is close, a rather European effect, so be forewarned if you go. Make a reservation because the energy is high. Go on an empty stomach, don’t be in a rush to stuff yourself, and be prepared to experience sin with all the good flavours of France.

Mon Dieu.

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

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