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Here's What You'll Find At Chicago's New, Hidden French Restaurant

By Anthony Todd in Food on Sep 25, 2015 2:34PM

Steak Frites at The Blanchard. Photo by Grant Kessler.
There are two Chicago restaurant conundrums that constantly puzzle me.

First, why doesn't this city have more great French bistros? I shouldn't have to search high and low for decent steak frites. Second, why does most dining in Lincoln Park suck? There's plenty of money in the neighborhood. I could spend all day puzzling out the answers to these important life questions, or I could just give you a shortcut: The Blanchard, the new French spot off of Clark Street in Lincoln Park, solves both problems handily.

You might not be able to find it, however, unless you're familiar with the neighborhood. The restaurant is located on one of those strange back streets off of Clark, and it's around the backside of a large residential building. Frankly, until I saw the flowing script of the window sign, I assumed the space housed some sort of diner; the exterior has that sort of vibe. That is, until you walk into the beautifully appointed (if oddly sparse) bar and sit down for a cocktail.

The Bar at The Blanchard. Photo by Grant Kessler.

The bar program, helmed by Arunas Bruzas (formerly of Acadia) with consulting help from Michael Simon, is impeccable. In fact, this place might have the best cocktails within walking distance of the Lincoln Park Zoo—though Perennial Virant could give them a run for their money. Start your evening off with a French New Wave, a light, delicious drink made with cucumber, gin and genepi, and be happy it's still warm outside.

The menu hides some secret surprises for the thorough reader. If you're the sort who likes quirkiness, check out the ingredients for the seared foie gras (which include "magic"), the steak frites ("love") or the Blanchard Burger ("of course frites"). In addition, throwing health and caloric consciousness to the wind and reveling in offal, The Blanchard boasts an entire foie gras menu, complete with four different choices. If you're scared of liver, move right on past this entire section.

It's a little ridiculous, but order it anyway. Oeuf Outhier at The Blanchard. Photo by Grant Kessler.

It's rare that I recommend something delicate. While I enjoy precious food in a tasting menu, when I'm paying for it course by course, it seems self-indulgent and wasteful. That being said, get the oeuf outhier, a perfect two-bite appetizer of egg, vodka creme fraiche and caviar served inside a hollowed out eggshell. You will instantly feel like royalty, and the bites are so delicious you won't mind spending $16 for what is effectively an egg topped with more eggs. With a chef (Jason Paskewitz) who did a stint at the Four Seasons, this luxurious bite isn't a surprise. What's surprising is that the non-luxury dishes are even better.

Standouts include escargot (which comes completely blanketed, as all escargot should, in green, crumbly parsley butter) and mussels, the juice from which I ate with a spoon when I ran out of bread—carb conscious, you know. My party did venture into the land of foie, and the ganache, topped with a fruity and funky apricot gelee, was one of the best, least over-wrought versions of this classic that I've had in years.

Foie gras ganache at The Blanchard. Photo by Grant Kessler.

On I forged, slightly weighted down (it is a French meal, after all) but excited for the main course. The steak frites, rather than using the traditional hanger or flank steaks, used round tournedos of beef. This made them as tender and delicious as can be, though if you're more interested in ripping through a tough cut like you're a french workman, you might be disappointed. The dover sole is, hands-down, the best in Chicago. The Blanchard dispenses with the odd table-side de-boning nonsense (which actually just gives you cold fish) and brings the fish out ready to eat, topped with savory lemon, brown butter and pea tendrils. The duck is a standout, a take on the stale classic Duck a l'orange but using a grand marnier glaze rather than orange juice and accompanied by picture-perfect baby carrots that cry out to be Instagrammed, then scarfed down.

Duck at The Blanchard. Photo by Grant Kessler.

So the food is perfect. My only gripe? The bar at The Blanchard has some issues, despite their delicious cocktails. It took nearly 30 minutes to get our second round of drinks, after four separate apologies for the delay. I suspect that this is a combination of understaffing and architecture (the bar is on the far end of the restaurant), but pro tip: If you're going to want a second drink, order it when you're halfway through your first drink. If you can live with that minor quirk, you'll have no problems.

While it's likely too much to hope for that The Blanchard will inspire either a French bistro renaissance or a resurgence of good food in Lincoln Park, at least it's given me somewhere to turn. And to scarf down foie gras, in a hidden alley, where no one on the street can see my gluttony.

The Blanchard is located at 1935 N. Lincoln Park W.