The art of pastry baking is a careful ordeal. Each morning, long before the sun starts to shine on Lake Michigan, the team at Libanais Sweets is up making sure their specialties are crisp and flaky on the outside and soft and warm on the inside. They specialize in baked goods from around the world, including Eastern pastries such as baklava and European pastries ranging from éclairs to mille-feuille and tiramisu. In addition, the Libanais staff crafts specialties like chocolate lollipops, which are ideal for special events but can’t be used to bribe the rare bird that would prefer a broccoli pop.
At the helm of Zagat's 2012 pick for Chicago's best seafood restaurant, Chef-owner Mark Grosz insists on serving seasonal, sustainable fish. And the lavish Evanston spot's wine cellar, stocked with nearly 900 selections, earns Wine Spectator Magazine's "Best of Award of Excellence" year after year.
The chefs at Jilly’s Cafe meld French and American cooking traditions to create a menu of elegant fusion fare peppered with culinary surprises from around the world. A large specials menu rotates its options frequently, treating diners to plates piled with nourishment that might include duck, rack of lamb, and fresh seafood, and every Sunday, a selection of breakfast items scramble for the right to occupy the brunch menu. To celebrate specific holidays, Jilly's rolls out set menus designed with a theme in mind—guests can ensure a romantic night out by reserving a table on Valentine’s Day or visit on Easter to honor America's mascot, the Easter egg. The eatery’s long-winded wine list allows aficionados to sample new varietals while giving grapes a chance to see what their old friends are up to.
“Pascal, these are all the good times I had in my life.” According to Chicago magazine, these were the words spoken to Bistro Bordeaux owner Pascal Berthoumieux by his grandfather as he inherited his grandfather’s collection of decades-old wine labels. A native of the bistro's namesake region, Berthoumieux has gone out of his way to create a dining experience similar to one you'd have in the south of France—with a wine list that lets guests rack up their own good times. He's decorated the yellow walls with vintage posters and family antiques, and his team of attentive waiters wears black vests, bow ties, and long white aprons designed to protect them from flying escargot shells. Executive Chef Michael Gottli uses seasonal ingredients from local farmers and merchants to craft classic French dishes, which made the bistro a Time Out Chicago critics' pick. They lauded the “ideal” french-onion soup and "the juicy seared flatiron Sirloin steak served with truly addictive frites."
Aside from drawing from his wealth of family traditions, Berthoumieux built his restaurant on a foundation of hard work. He's hung his hat at such eateries as Man Ray, a Parisian eatery formerly owned by celebrities including Johnny Depp and Sean Penn, and Chicago's own Tip Top Tap lounge and Kiki's Bistro. His years of experience served him well when creating Bistro Bordeaux; among other awards, the establishment was named one of Chicago magazine's Best New Restaurants in 2010.
Bluette Café's menu is brimming with traditional French favorites, such as salade nicoise ($17), croquet monsieur ($12), and steak frites ($26), along with more fusiony foods such as root vegetable curry ($14) and salmon burgers topped with horseradish pate, cucumber, and salmon roe and served on a pretzel roll ($14). Savor plates of duck leg confit with heirloom bean and sausage cassoulet ($19) while comparing Bluette Café's chic décor to that of its Lincoln Park sister restaurant, sweets & savories, but avoid favoritism, which might instigate a food fight.
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.