French restaurant Le Bouchon, helmed by Chef Jean-Claude Poilevey, has been celebrating bistro fare for 20 years in the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago. Chef Jean-Claude, who also owns La Sardine in Chicago, started working at age fourteen in restaurant kitchens in France. He then moved to London before heading to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, to open the Playboy Club. A few years later it was on to Chicago, where, after several restaurants, he opened Le Bouchon, the quintessential French bistro, in June 1993. Jean-Claude’s son, Oliver Poilevey, recently joined the restaurant, and is expected to take the reins moving forward.
Not surprisingly, only French wine is available at Le Bouchon, served by the glass and bottle. (Monday nights all bottles are half price, so that’s a good time to try something that may have been out of your price range before.) We allowed Chef Jean-Claude and our waiter to choose wines for us and they did not disappoint, from the amazing sparkling Gamay Rosé to the house Chardonnay, to the Banyuls for dessert. Take a tip from us and let the waitstaff do the pairing – you won’t regret it.
For starters, the standout was Duck Liver Mousse (with fig jam and sourdough toast) from the Specials menu, incredible flavor combination between the mousse, the fig jam, and the sourdough toast, each element lifting the others to greater heights. The Tarte a l’Oignon (caramelized onions, Gruyère, bacon) is a crowd favorite and we concur – I’d love the bottom crust to be a bit crispier, but realize that’s difficult with the topping; the flavors were spot on. Laima had to try the Lyonnaise Salad (mixed greens, lardons, croutons, topped with a poached egg), mostly to enjoy the luscious lardons, though the poached egg added a wonderful creamy flavor and texture to the crisp greens.
We decided to push our comfort zone by ordering the Roasted Saddle of Rabbit (with duck-fat potatoes and swiss chard in lieu of a petite salade) from the Specials menu, and it was a real surprise. We expected it to be gamy, but the waiter assured us it would be somewhere between pork and chicken – it did have a neutral flavor, with a very soft consistency. The chard was a nice accompaniment, our suggested substitution. In a French bistro, one must try the Steak Grill Maitre d’Hôtel (grilled top-sirloin with garlic butter and pommes frites) which was tasty, though a bit tough to cut; the pommes frites were outstanding. Two sides accompanied our main courses; the Maïs de Maroc and the Cauliflower au Gratin, both scene-stealers. The Maïs de Maroc (Moroccan-Style corn, harissa, mint, Ras el Hamourt, and crème fraîche) was simply amazing, with crisp fresh corn in a curry-like sauce – a must-have. The cauliflower was perfectly cooked, with a very flavorful gratin.
A trio of desserts came out, along with the aforementioned Banyuls and a Calvados for good measure. The macarons, a classic French pastry filled with rich buttercream, displayed a light and crisp outside and a soft and chewy inside, in 3 flavors. The Marquise Au Chocolat, a dense chocolate mousse with espresso creme anglaise, was wonderfully decadent. The dessert we fought over most, though, was the apple tart, simply a stunning creation. For a light dessert, order the macarons, for a classic, the apple tart, or the chocolate mousse for its stunning richness.
20 years in the restaurant business in the same location does not happen by accident. Chef Jean-Claude has been successful by keeping it simple, controlling prices, and making every person feel welcome, whether a regular from the neighborhood or first-timer.
More information can be found on the Le Bouchon website and on Facebook.
Disclaimer: This meal was comped for review purposes -- all opinions are our own.
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