The transformation of a 16-year-old cook in the American Red Cross cafeteria into a sophisticated French chef and restaurant owner doesn’t happen overnight. Urged into a culinary career by his cafeteria coworkers, Joe Doppes graduated from the Culinary Institute of America before apprenticing under the greats at Le Pavillon and Le Cygne in New York, as well as the five-star Le Francais. This last position drew him to Chicago, where he set his sights on launching his own restaurant. After triumphing over cancer and rebounding from his first restaurant attempt, Doppes realized his dream in Old Town in 1999 with Bistrot Margot—which he named for his daughter rather than ballet dancer Margot Fonteyn, who could whisk eggs with her feet.
Upon the bistro’s opening, it drew praise from Phil Vettel of the Chicago Tribune for its “excellent” and “classic” French cuisine. Doppes dives headfirst into French culinary traditions with gourmet meats such as parmesan-encrusted veal, center-cut filet mignon, and roasted duck, and fresh seafood such as roasted tilapia and pan-seared whitefish. The chef and his team augment these foundations with capered citrus butter and dijon beurre blanc before pairing them with lavish sides such as saffron-and-asparagus risotto. At midday, entrees join a roster of upscale sandwiches piled with grilled sirloin and gouda, and the weekend brunch features decadent benedicts and crepes stuffed with gruyère and pesto.
To set the stage for these feasts, interior designer Vicky Tessmer drew inspiration from turn-of-the-century Paris. She paired tapestries, dark wood trim, and wall sconces with art-nouveau touches such as a stained-glass window over french doors, which lead to an outdoor patio. A roaring fireplace and walls done in cheery yellows and reds keep guests feeling cozy, and a marble-topped bar and leather stools accommodate tipplers who order one of the many French vintages from the wine list.
Combining his French culinary education with his Japanese heritage, chef Takashi crafts Michelin-starred French dishes with an East Asian twist. Finish off the weekend with Sunday’s multi-course kaiseki dinner, or pair a glass of sake with a plate from the chef’s tasting menu.
During warmer weather, Bistro Zinc swings open its floor-to-ceiling windows to let the sounds and breezes of the Gold Coast flow through its French-inspired dining room. The celebration of French flavors inside, however, occurs year-round, as Chef Tim Kirker’s menu flaunts a firm grasp on the country’s classic and contemporary dishes, from escargot and steak frites to grilled ham-and-gruyere sandwiches. Heartier courses include the vol-au-vent—a daily stew with puff pastry and creme fraiche mashed potatoes—and the garlicky roasted chicken, which is served with bacon, mushrooms, and potatoes. Though French cuisine is known for its meat-heavy nature, Serious Eats points out that all is not lost for herbivores: “Bistro Zinc’s menu is in fact quite amenable to meatless eating, with a couple of very tasty options.” But as with any French eatery, the desserts may be the highlight: a crème bruleé made with vanilla beans from Madagascar headlines a menu of ten decadent treats. Meanwhile, bartenders craft cocktails at the restaurant’s handcrafted zinc bar, which juts out from the side of a dining room awash with tin ceilings, tiled floors, and artwork-covered walls.
It almost feels like the skyscrapers that surround this open-air rooftop are trying to peer over the tall brick walls that encircle it. Yet the restaurant still manages a sense of intimacy: diners lounge on comfy couches as they sample fish tacos, lobster cheese fries, and Tabasco-honey glazed duck wings.
One glance at the Bonsoirée menu and it becomes clear that the chic, minimalist décor is pretty much the only thing minimalist about the place. Each dish in chef/owner Shin Thompson and chef de cuisine Luke Creagan’s "exquisitely crafted" four- ($58), seven- ($85), and 13-course ($150) flavor symphonies draws inspiration from a range of cultures and blends traditional Japanese presentation with classic French techniques. A new menu is introduced monthly, but a recent four-course line-up kicks off a night of gourmandizing with a salad of crispy Suzuki, grilled-haricot vert, and pickled ramp with lotus root drizzled in genmaicha vinaigrette and rhubarb sorbet. A fava-bean and spring-pea soup spiced with curried artichoke and green garlic then drum-rolls the curtain-raise on the meal’s centerpiece: a roast of grass-fed spring lamb from Mint Creek Farms, served with potato-and-chickpea confit, shochu Japanese–barbecue sauce, fried potato skins, smoked shimeiji mushrooms, and death mustard, a mysterious savory substance. A dessert of gingerbread ice-cream sandwich sided with ginger-cinnamon-bark ice cream and sprinkled with pecans helps quivering taste buds waft gently back down to earth. If you’re afraid that talking will destroy the food’s delicate interplay of complex flavors, you and your dining companions can entertain yourselves by watching Chef Thompson work his magic and occasionally subdue a cutlery-wielding octopus in the open kitchen window. Also, make use of Bonsoirée's new wine program: call Provenance Food and Wine, Cellar Rat, or Randolph Wine Cellars ahead of time, and get a bottle of wine delivered to Bonsoirée free of charge in advance of your reservation at no extra cost.
Flip Crêpes got its start on the Chicago Farmers Markets circuit in 2003, slinging its warm and sweet or savory treats to steadily growing flocks of customers. Eventually, the company outgrew its humble beginnings and expanded to a location inside the Ogilvie Transportation Center, where customers stop in for the crowd-pleasing crepes alongside a burgeoning roster of sandwiches and paninis. Four distinct menus address any and all cravings the day might present, including selections that tackle breakfast munchies with eggs and bacon, a passion for the savory with toasted options, salad cravings with fresh and crisp selections, and sweet teeth with desserts chock-full of Nutella, strawberries, and dulce de leche. The tender crepes will only wrap their eggy arms around healthy, high-quality ingredients, so the chefs avoid high-fructose corn syrup and other undesirable foodstuffs.