From crêpes to coq au vin, there's a lot to love about French cuisine. One of the godfathers of cultural gastronomy in terms of established world cuisines, French fare merits celebration and adoration, which is why the French-American Chamber of Commerce in Chicago (FACC)'s 29th Annual Passport to France is such an esteemed affair. This November 21st event is an apt celebration of all things French gastronomy, in tune with the annual release of the latest crop of Beaujolais Nouveau.
Passport to France is bigger and more delicious than ever this year, hosted in the Union League Club of Chicago's fifth floor ballroom, sixth floor ballroom, and fifth floor spirits lounge, each one laden with chefs, restaurants, and vendors galore. A VIP preview takes place from 5:30 p.m. until 6:30 p.m., followed by general admission from 6:30 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. VIP Union League members pay $100, while non-members pay $125. General admission costs $70 for members and $85 for non-members. Get out and celebrate French cuisine in all its glory.
And while you've got your "passport" handy, salivate over this roster of some of the city's finest French dining destinations.
Lounge like a French aristocrat at Restaurant Row's most charming little secret. Nestled down an alleyway behind sister spot Nellcote, RM Champagne Salon is an elegant homage to France's bubbliest export. The lavish parlor will make you feel right at home, as long as home for you is a regal mansion in the French countryside. Sip pristine Champagne and nosh on gourmet bites while relaxing in the lap of luxury for an evening.
Henri is a froufrou slice of France right in the thick of downtown Chicago. Located across from Millennium Park, one of the city's most bustling tourist attractions along Michigan Avenue, Henri offers a quaint respite from the hubbub with its sophisticated, subdued setting and classy French cuisine. You'll be hard pressed to find food this snazzy on the Magnificent Mile, as each plate comes out looking like a Picasso piece, glazed with pristine sauces and strewn with meticulously arranged garnishes around dishes such as roasted foie gras, quail, rabbit, and escargot Bourgogne.
For French food with a splash of modernity and a few winks and nods, head to Frog N Snail. Citing itself as a Midwestern bistro, Frog N Snail fuses French inspirations with Midwestern pizzaz and a discernible sense of whimsy. The name comes from two popular French food staples, frogs and escargots, both of which are available on the menu, along with other quirky renditions of modernized bistro classics. The hip, sleek space also serves up some mean cocktails and features a nice weekend brunch.
In the pantheon of classic French bistros in Chicago, it's hard to beat Bistro Campagne in Lincoln Square. The restaurant is as cozy and comfortable as a country cottage, with plenty of romantic flair courtesy of flickering candlelight, intimate nooks and crannies, and heartwarming cuisine enriched dripping in butter. Bring a date and bond over hearty plates of bistro classics such as boeuf Bourguignon, steamed mussels, French onion soup, steak tartare, and lots more. And don't forget to order a good bottle of wine or two.
French food doesn't come much more elaborate (or more ravishing) than the cuisine being served at Brindille. The snazzy French sister to River North's longstanding NAHA, Brindille pays opulent homage to French fare with a nod to Midwestern seasonality. The majestic restaurant features dishes often unseen in more commonplace bistros, delving deeper into French culinary lore with gems such as onion soup with Roquefort soufflé, noisette of lamb saddle, and pithivier of almond frangipane. The beverage program is equally stunning, with masterful French cocktails and a concise library of French wines.
Photos: Paul Strabbing Photography (Passport to France), RM Champagne Salon, Henri, Frog N Snail, Bistro Campagne, Paul Strabbing Photography (Brindille)