When The Melting Pot originally opened in 1975 just outside Orlando, the location was cozy and quaint, but diners had only three options: swiss-cheese fondue, beef fondue, or chocolate fondue. However, as the restaurant grew in popularity, so did its menu selection and atmosphere. The restaurant first expanded four years later under the leadership of a Melting Pot waiter and enterprising college student named Mark Johnston, who teamed up with his brothers Mike and Bob to open a new outpost in Tallahassee. This location grew in reputation to pave the way for future franchise expansion. Today, the company?now owned by the trio of siblings?reigns as the premier fondue, wine, and drink restaurant, stretching across North America with more than 140 restaurants linked by underground tunnels. The restaurant's menu has also ballooned, and patrons can now expect six varieties of hot dipping cheese paired with salads, meats, and molten chocolate.
On a given night, groups of foodies gather around tables to nosh on signature four-course meals, from cheese-fondue appetizers and various salads to steaks and seafood cooked in a choice of healthy broth or oil. Birthday revelers and couples can share decadent evenings at private tables, capping off meals with chocolate desserts that have defined The Melting Pot for decades.
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.
With a star-studded r?sum? that includes stints in such media-acclaimed restaurants as Yoshi's, Ambria, and Tribute?a Detroit-based eatery of his own that earned him a James Beard Award?it shouldn't be surprising that Takashi Yagihashi's latest culinary venture was a success. At his eponymous establishment, the chef crafts gourmet dishes inspired by his French culinary training and accented with the traditional flavors of his native Japan, creating a menu that has earned the restaurant a Michelin star and that Chicago magazine called "the finest Asian fusion cuisine in the city." Beyond acclaimed culinary skills, Yagihashi's vivacious personality earned him the title of Top Chef Masters Fan Favorite.
In a spartan dining room adorned with subtle art and slate-colored brick, diners savor entrees such as chicken in a clay pot simmering with shimeji mushrooms, eggplant, and yuzu juice, or soy-ginger caramel pork belly served with steamed buns. Yagihashi also highlights his versatility in a number of prix-fixe menus, such as the weekly 7- or 11-course Kaiseki dinner and a tasting menu that pairs each morsel with a complementary wine. While mulling over the menu, savvy wait staff offer their recommendations for the best wine, beer, or sake from the restaurant's lengthy drink lists, along with sweet post-meal choices such as Yagihashi's signature brown-egg dessert, which Chicago magazine says "elevates cr?me br?l?e to Zen-like perfection."
Famous Frenchman-turned-fictional-hero Cyrano de Bergerac and Chef Didier Durand probably don't share a passion for swordplay. They do, however, share at least two other things in common: a hometown and a poetic soul. After training in France, a young Durand moved to Chicago and bounced around its culinary scene, all the while preparing for his finest recipe yet?his own restaurant. In 1996, he opened its doors and christened it after his countryman, unveiling the rustic River North eatery first known as Cyrano's Bistrot & Wine Bar and now known as Cyrano's Farm Kitchen. In 2014, he celebrates 18 years of being in business as well as a mention in the Michelin Guide Chicago 2014.
This casual bistro, operating under the motto that good food makes people happy, showcases Durand's original cuisine while conjuring his memories of pastoral France, amid the idyllic trees and birds who sang Rimbaud poems from the leaves. Exposed-brick walls and reclaimed timber accents lend the space its authentic country charm, while the seasonal menu features American-inspired French dishes such as braised ratatouille, cedar plank salmon, and coffee-rubbed Amish chicken. Almost every dish needs a proper wine pairing, so sommelier Jamie Pellar?also Durand's wife?curates a list of hand-picked wines from around the world?including Durand's home region, where she often travels.
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.