Wednesday, February 17

The Blanchard

You should see my ever-growing list of Chicago restaurants and bars I want to try. It seems like an endless list, but one I enjoy tackling. One spot on that list is The Blanchard, a contemporary French restaurant in Lincoln Park. After looking at the menu, I knew this would be a special occasion place and suggested it to the BF for Valentine's Day.

The Blanchard is led by chef/owner Jason Paskewitz (Gemini Bistro, Rustic House) and opened in June. The restaurant is a bit hidden, located in a cul-de-sac just west of Clark Street. Going into our reservation, I had high expectations. Everything I heard about the place was nothing short of wonderful, combined with its recent Best New Restaurant win at this year's Jean Banchet Awards (basically the Oscars of Chicago food), and today's announcement it is a James Beard Awards semifinalist for Best New Restaurant.

The BF and I had an 8:30 pm reservation and arrived on time to be told our table was not ready and we could wait in the bar area. They also didn't have enough coat hangers for patrons' coats. It's Chicago, in the middle of winter. Be prepared. We headed to the bar area where it became immediately clear every other table with a reservation also was waiting for their table. The two lone bartenders could barely keep up with drink orders between the bar area and their tabs for the rest of the restaurant. We decided to get a drink, but it took about 15 minutes to even get a bartender's attention. With glasses of wine at $15 a pop, this was an extra $30 we wouldn't have spent had our table been ready. There are numerous reviews on OpenTable and Yelp that describe the same situation.

9 pm rolled around and we were told our table was ready. The dining room is neutral, yet elegant but what was very apparent was the noise level. This place is loud. There were several instances when the BF and I couldn't hear each other, and I definitely couldn't hear some of what our waiter was saying.

After browsing the wine menu, we ordered a bottle of red. We were promptly told they were out of that bottle and given some suggestions for an alternate. The BF is the wine expert so I let him do his thing. While waiting for the wine, our server suggested we place our appetizer and entree orders because the kitchen was backed up. We did just that and waited for our bottle of wine. To our surprise our appetizers showed up before the wine. Not cool. I asked them to hold off on the appetizers since we wanted to try the wine and ensure we actually liked it! Five minutes later, we had our wine (it was good, yay!), and then another five minutes passed and they brought our starters out once again.

The BF ordered the frisee salad with poached farm egg, smoked bacon lardon, and mustard vinaigrette. I snuck a bite and loved the potent dressing. The egg was perfectly cooked as well. This is a small portion, so I would not recommend sharing it.

Chicago French Restaurant
Frisee aux Lardons
If I'm at a French restaurant and they have escargots, I always order them. This was no different. The tasty little dudes (why so small?!), were prepared in garlic and parsley butter, with Pernod, mushroom duxelles, and herbed panko. I dipped the provided toasted bread in each bubble, soaking up the garlic-y goodness.

Chicago French Resturant
Escargots a la Bourguinonne
The Blanchard is known for its two preparations of foie gras and these were recommended to us. We aren't huge fans of it so we passed, but if you are, this is the place to get it, especially since they devote a menu section to it. The other appetizer the restaurant is known for is the ouef outhier, a creamy scrambled egg with chive, vodka-spiked creme fraiche, and caviar. Talk about decadent. And at $16 for one, it should be. Eater Chicago recently ran a piece on how it all comes together.

Just like I love escargots, the BF loves steak frites. It was no surprise he ordered The Blanchard's version, a Delmonico steak with Bordelaise sauce, a slice of bone marrow butter, and hand-cut pomme frites. The steak had a lovely charred flavor, but was a little on the fatty side. I saw him push a pile of fat to the side of the plate. Ew.  They did cook his steak perfectly to his liking though. The fries were uber crispy but a tad on the salty side, in my opinion. 

Chicago French Restaurant
Steak Frites
Our server recommended the boeuf Bourguignon so I took his suggestion. The dish consisted of two large cuts of short rib in a red wine demi-glace, served with glazed beets and baby carrots. The menu also listed truffle aioli, but I can't say I picked up on that flavor. The meat was ultra tender, so much so I didn't need my knife. I enjoyed the deep red sauce which I use to slather each bite of meat.

Chicago French Restaurant
Boeuf Bourguignon
When it came time for dessert, I was pretty excited since the pastry chef, Marjorie Easley, was nominated for Rising Pastry Chef of the Year at this year's Jean Banchet Awards. We were tempted by the Valentine's Weekend dessert special, a chocolate bomb with a layer of flourless chocolate cake, chocolate mousse, salted caramel crunchy bits, and a champagne gelee. 90% of this was delicious. The part that wasn't was the layer of chocolate cake that was very dry. I really wanted to love it, but dry cake is the worst! Think about the last time you had a dry cupcake. It can look beautiful, but if it's dry, it's all over. I appreciated the champagne gelee on the side which totally packed a punch. Are champagne Jello shots a thing?

Chicago French Restaurant
Chocolate Bomb
So what do I think overall? All of the food we had was delicious, and on par with what we'd expect from Chicago's Best New Restaurant, except for dessert. My only gripes were service related. What's the point of having a reservation if you're not seated for 30 minutes after? I know it was Valentine's Day weekend, but having read the same problem expressed by others since the restaurant opened makes me think this wasn't an isolated incident. The other hiccup, bringing out appetizers before wine, shouldn't happen here. The Blanchard is not cheap and you expect a certain level of service dining here. If they can fix the service issues, I think The Blanchard has the potential to be one of Chicago's best.

I'm giving The Blanchard 3.5 ghosts out of 5.






The Blanchard
www.theblanchardchicago.com
1935 N. Lincoln Park West
Chicago, IL 60614
872.829.3971
The Blanchard Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

1 comment:

  1. I fully agree that the service can make a huge impact on the overall experience of a meal - I'm so glad you include that in your rating! It's a bummer that for such a lauded restaurant, you didn't have a 5/5 meal, but what you did have looked delicious.

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