Restaurateurs Stephan and Nicole Outrequin Quaisser have launched several French eateries throughout Chicago. This week, we take a look at two of them: Troquet and Brasserie by LM.
Paris is known for its local brasseries or, as we might call them, local pubs. They serve a bit of food, a decent cocktail and maybe a fresh cup of coffee. Some of us are fortunate enough to live near our own brasserie; some, not so much. Troquet in Ravenswood (TroquetChicago.com; 1834 W. Montrose Ave.) allows those lucky locals to sample a bit of Paris right there.
Troquet, at first, seems a bit campy. Too new to feel established and worn. Too many black-and-white pictures of La Tour Eifel or Notre Dame. But past that lies a drink menu so delightfully French and a food menu so simple but delicious that you won't even notice the showroom-new ambience.
Not many restaurants in Chicago can pour a proper kir and even fewer know what this is. For those with that certain je ne sais quoi, the drink is crème de cassis mixed with a medium-bodied white wine. Next to abducting some Parisian kid and sitting him on a bike with baguettes in a basket, this is Parisian as you can get. J'adore!
Brassseries have simple but tasty food and Troquet is no exception. La Charcut or Troquet's take on the classic meat tray is really quite good with numerous locally made products. My personal favorite on any proper petite assiette is a cornichon or the French version of the deli dill. I highly recommend the plate particularly on a warm, summer day.
As for the main courses, Trouquet offers only a few, but each packs a wallop. Le Confit du Canard is a small miracle. I've always known duck, no matter how prepared, to be a bit greasy, like an insurance salesman but here, it's perfect and full of flavor. Le Petit Sale, or pork belly, so entranced by dining companion that he took his home and wrote poetry to it.
A proper French meal is incomplete without dessert. You have your choice of Mousse Troquet, a traditional French mousse made from chocolate and Nutella. (Yes, I said Nutella. You'll go crazy. I did.) There is also Teurgoule, a traditional cinnamon rice pudding. I sampled both and couldn't honestly choose one as better over the other if my life depended on it.
Go to Troquet for a kir. Go to Trouqet for fantastic French brasserie cuisine. But most importantly, go because there are few places in Chicago where Paris feels so close.
Late last year, Savor profiled Tribute, a contemporary American spot that offered kick-ass lobster mac-and-cheese. I rooted for it to succeed, but had doubtsprimarily because of its location at 800 S. Michigan Ave., a relatively dead area in between two active districts. Unfortunately, it closed mere weeks later.
Now, the Outrequin Quaissers are trying their luck at the Essex Inn with Brasserie by LM (Brasseriebylm.com). The restaurant seems pleasant enoughbut, overall, it pales in comparison to Troquet.
The decor retains some of the details from Tribute (furniture and fixtures), but there are added touches such as a huge blackboard that reveals the day's specials.
Things started nicely enough, thanks to a fantastic mojito and smiling service from an engaging fellow named Lukasz. Regarding salads, mesclun (warm goat cheese, walnuts and balsamic vinaigrette) and Lyonnaise (topped with bacon, egg and grainy mustard vinaigrette) were fine, although my dining companion said her mesclun was "slightly off-balance."
My friend selected mussels and frites (which has three different options) for her entree while I went with the hanger steak frites (with shallot jam, herb butter and French fries). While we both enjoyed our dishes, there was nothing that stood out. My companion has been to France several times and she wasn't overly impressed with the place, althoughsay it with meit was pleasant enough.
Don't get me wrong: I enjoyed my time at Brasserie by LM, and it's a fine casual stop after work. The problem was I subsequently went to Troquetand the Loop eatery suffers by comparison. Maybe I should've tried the pork belly at Brasserie.