It isn't everyday that I get to dine on what many
consider Chicago's (perhaps the country's) best French
cuisine. A meal at the legendary Le Français,
the bastion of fine dining created by Frenchman Jean
Banchet in Wheeling, III., is quite an opportunity.
is no longer the man at the helm, having retired after
nearly 30 years of hard work, selling the restaurant
in the spring of 200I. But new owners Philip Mott
and Chef Don Yamauchi continue the tradition of fine
dining at Le Français. While
Banchet gave his guests the opportunity to indulge
in classically inspired French food, the youthful
Yamauchi presents a more modern interpretation.
who early in his career had been selected by Food
& Wine magazine as one of the country's rising
stars, was chef at Gordon, known in Chicago for its
contemporary American style. He also worked for nine
years at the four-star Carlos in Highland Park, III.
Yamauchi gives Le Français a new identity with French dishes and tasting menus
drawing inspiration from world cuisines.
is a tranquil affair at Le Français,
with regular guests attired in workday suits chatting
in hushed voices amid the soft music, comfortably
seated in a brightly lit, gold-toned space. While
less formal than an evening meal, when patrons like
to dress to the nines, lunch nevertheless allows an
indulgence in the best of Chef Yamauchi's artistry.
French creations have an eclectic twist. Oxtail cleverly
becomes a rich filling for ravioli, an appetizer that
arrives in a mushroom sauce with asiago cheese and
creamed spinach. Yellow Fin tuna is skillfully seared,
with an accompaniment of artichokes and black olives,
baby vegetables and fresh herbs. Among the entrees,
a favorite is the cold lobster salad, accented by
the tart and sweet combination of mango-basil vinaigrette,
and paired with crisp baricot verts and lotus root
chips. Pan roasted monkfish comes with coconut curry
cream, sweet green peas and parsnip-potato puree rounding
out the flavors.
features first courses like cold foie gras terrine,
toasted brioche and rhubarb jam, and hot foie gras
with apples and oranges cooked with vanilla and cayenne.
Notable entrees include monkfish wrapped in prosriutto
with baricot verts, fresh hearts of palm, black truffle
cream and truffle vinaigrette. The menu also features
signature French entrees like herb-crusted rack of
lamb with roasted potato, taro root purée with
black truffles, asparagus, artichokes and Gaufrettte
are made by Pastry Chef Caroline Blanc, whose creations
include a blue cheese-apple tart with pine nuts and
caramel sauce, and chocolate macaroons served with
a cilantro ganache and vanilla ice cream.
Philip Mott and Yamauchi have high expectations for
Le Francais, and their efforts are paying off. Out-of-town
guests have even been known to fly their private planes
into nearby Palwaukee Municipal Airport, making a
trip just to dine at Le Francais.
for Banchet, he's never far away. Comfortable that
he has left Le Francais in the most capable of hands,
Banchet visits from time to time, catching up on the
latest news from his handpicked successors.
269 South Milwaukee Avenue, Wheeling, IL
Another day, another legend, this time Charlie Trotter,
whose upscale gourmet take-out, Trotter's
to Go, catered an event at a Michigan Avenue
store one windy fall day.
his cue from the store's fruit and grain-based leisure
care products, Trotter used ingredients like rice,
soy products and cranberries to create bite-size sweet
and savory pastries for wandering customers. It was
the smallest hint of what he could do, and few in
the store knew who Trotter was - a surprising fact,
especially to an award-winning chef and author whose
restaurant has received grand acclaim.
longtime Chicago resident could be reproached for
not having been to the restaurant Charlie
Trotter's in the Lincoln Park neighborhood.
Imagine Chef Trotter's shock at the thought. Trotter's
courteous, formal demeanor would register mild horror.
There are many reasons to go.
with an eye for the smallest detail would be "impressed
with the precision" at Charlie Trotter's,
the chef said. Meticulously prepared, cut and cooked,
with a melange of spices to enhance certain flavors,
its accompaniments, textures, colors and tastes carefully
chosen, an entire dish artfully laid out on a plate
as if it were a master painter's canvass. Precision
amid inventiveness is the order of the day when Trotter
one couldn't visit Charlie Trotter's to experience its daily degustation menus, then he
could at least observe the chef's food philosophy
at work in the more casual creations at Trotter's
to Go. Customers pressed for time can take home a
lavish meal made with the freshest ingredients. Trotter's
to Go menus change periodically, depending on the
seasonal availability of certain foods. Salad choices
feature organic soft wheat berries with roasted mango
and dried cherries and marinated Ahi tuna poke with
ginger and sesame oil. Meat creations included tamarind-glazed
Muscovy Duck and bay leaf and aromatic vegetable braised
veal shanks. With a commitment to pairing food and
wine, Trotter's to Go also provides
shoppers with color-coded note cards that direct them
to the style of wine that best accompanies the food
himself lends his culinary expertise to yet another
book, released last year. Entitled Charlie Trotter's
Meat & Game, it is the fifth installment
in the chef's series of books. In these pages, Trotter
highlights his interpretation of French techniques
and Asian minimalism in the preparation, pairing and
presentation of exotic meats like pheasant, duck,
wild boar and venison as well as lamb, pork and chicken.
1337 West Fullerton, Chicago, IL