Café Amano summons patrons to its elegant, warmly lit interior with the savory aromas of gourmet small plates, salads, pastas, entrees, and more. Warm up over a plate of warming gnocchi di pesto, potato dumplings chaperoned by apple-and-gouda chicken sausage ($17), or sink your teeth into an elegant entree such as the oven-roasted rack of Australian lamb chops, enrobed in a shiitake mushroom port wine reduction ($29). A menu of decadent handmade desserts sports sweeties such as the chocolate l’orange torte, infused with Grand Marnier and tipsily donning a lampshade-style hat of chocolate ganache ($9). Relax in the cream and black accented dining room with a correspondingly hued Intelligentsia café au lait ($3), or sip on an imported dessert selection from the wine list such as the French Pineau des Charentes ($7 per glass). View the full menu here.
Dubbed one of the best crêpe purveyors in Chicago by Chicago magazine in 2010, La France Café & Crepes welcomes diners with a mellifluous menu of French flatcakes that sets tongues to tapping and moustaches to twirling. Chef Ben Mchabcheband and his culinary crew carefully construct each crêpe fresh to order, filling its belly with sweet or savory selections. To help you recall sweet dreams, choose warm apricots smothered in melted brie atop a sweet vanilla crêpe ($8.95) or nestle apples with cinnamon and caramel within a sweet crêpe blanket ($8.95). Crêpe forestiers envelope chicken or beef, wild mushrooms, and gruyere cheese to deliver a savory meal and epistles from the front lines of the kitchen ($12.95), while open-faced galettes expose the stomach-invading strategies of empire-driven eggs and various members of their hunger-trouncing team, such as ham, fresh tomatoes, and braised spinach ($11.95).
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.