I'm not sure why I don't seek out French food more often. A few years ago, I spent months in Paris, wandering the narrow side streets in search of the flakiest croissant and the tenderest coq au vin. Despite the taste I developed for the bold yet simple flavors of the regional cuisine, I can't say that I've craved French food since. Not once.
Of course, that all changed with one simple dish: the unbelievable salade lyonnaise at Le Bouchon. Imagine perky little greens dotted with giant tears of lardons (impossibly delicious strips of fatty bacon), crunchy croutons and a perfectly runny poached egg. Words can't describe the satisfaction in discovering a still-warm hunk of bacon buried beneath a mess of field greens when you're two bottles of pinot gris into the meal.
Le Bouchon's seating situation requires some reckoning. If you don't like sharing tight quarters with random strangers, this ain't the place for you. Imagine a dimly-lit dining room the size of a walk-in closet jammed with exuberant eaters and debonair drinkers practically eating in your lap. It's the perfect place to bring a first date if you're terrified of stone-cold silence; if you have nada to say to your date, your neighbor surely will.
The salade frommage de chevre chaud arrived next, the goat cheese still warm, and the sopping wet bowl of mussels turned into quite the conversation piece. The peeps at the next table showed my pal, Shannon, and I how to properly eat mussels: using an empty shell like makeshift pincers to grab the juicy meat out of the next. Brilliant tip, thank you very much.
We were well into the third bottle of wine by the time Shannon's braised, Moroccan-style lamb shank and my fish of the day arrived. I wish I could say I remember either of those dishes, but between fixating on the sweet taste of bacon from my salad and anticipating an authentic French dessert, my mind was already occupied. Plus, the convo with our tablemates had turned to s-e-x, and things were starting to get a little out of hand with raucous laughter, tables quaking and food-sharing galore.
A pot of creme brulee and luscious creme anglaise tricked out with a handful of fresh berries saved us from divulging too many sins. Though we had a ball chatting with our newfound friends, everything skidded to a halt when they tried to move in on our sweets. No more smiles from these girls. I'm not sure if Shannon noticed just how protective I became over the anglaise, or if she even noticed the anglaise at all. Hell, there was barely a berry left when she finally picked her face up out of the bowl of creme brulee.
The Final Rave: For a real Parisian treat, dine solo at the cozy bar on a Tuesday night when the prix fixe menu (starter, entree and dessert) costs a paltry $22. It's a total steal and brings back all of lovely Paris in one fell swoop.
Keep It Going:
Eat It: La Sardine
The French bistro packs 'em in at lunchtime and is much bigger than Le Bouchon. It's all about the wine and bouillabaisse, though it has both in spades.
Dunk It: Cyrano's Bistro & Wine Bar
Between the escargot and steamed mussels, it's easy as pie to dunk yourself silly at this old-school French cabaret joint. Try the ultimate dunker, a heap of pommes frites with three condiments. Bliss.
Do It: Cotes du Rhone
Already making its mark on the foodie list of must-tries, this Edgewater spot is poised to take over the ever-changing landscape of eating on the North Side, one bottle of red at a time.
Get Crazy With It: Le Lan
They've gone and mixed French with Asian at this cavernous downtown staple. I just love the daily amuse bouch; anything free makes me happy.