Sunday, April 01, 2007

The restaurant time forgot

We celebrated John's birthday on Friday night with dinner at one of Chicago's long-standing French bistros. John had indicated his desire for old-fashioned French bistro fare, so I suggested this restaurant (which shall remain nameless for its own protection). The cafe was not affected by the 1970s culinary revolution of Nouvelle Cuisine. It seemingly broke all of the rules established by Gault and Millau for contemporary cooking - there were heavily reduced sauces, well-done vegetables, identical side dishes for all entrees. But this isn't to say that it wasn't delicious. As John rightly anticipated, there should always be a niche for classics like these.

John and I started with "sauteed duck liver." The duck liver (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) was served with a unctuous port and juniper reduction that was perfect for sopping. This cafe is one of many in Chicago defying the ban on foie gras by calling it something else or selling bread appetizers for $15 and giving away free sides of liver (the ban only prohibits selling it). Jonathan wasn't feeling well and opted for the mushroom soup. He then had the filet au poivre for his main course, while John and I stuck with the duck theme - a l'orange for him and rabbit stuffed with "duck liver" for me. We each enjoyed creme brulee for dessert. All of the food was quite good and tinged with a bit of nostalgia, even for diners like us who've lived entirely in the era of nouvelle cuisine.

The cafe's wine list is certainly its best feature. It consists almost entirely of French wines from obscure regions and producers. Among its three "New World" wines is a California zinfandel from 1993, presumably from purchased during the restaurant's first year in operation. Passing up a number of interesting wines most of which were well-priced and well-aged (7-10 years), we chose wine that had recently been brought up from the cellar - a 1990 Chassagne-Montrachet 1er cru rouge from Gagnard-Delagrange. 1990 was perhaps the greatest vintage the world has ever seen; every major northern hemisphere wine-growing region from California to Germany was warm and dry. Chassagne-Montrachet is in the southern portion of Burgundy and is better known for its white wines, but this 16 year old pinot noir was really fantastic. Perhaps not as symphonically complex as its northern Burgundy brethren, the one chord this wine struck was beautiful and satisfying. Age had dampened almost all of the wine's fruit, but it was replaced by a pervasive and endless bouquet of truffles, mushrooms, and earth, but mostly just truffles. It was medium bodied and an excellent companion to the rabbit. It was also a great value. And very truffley.

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