Among the really good French restaurants in the Windy City, there are: Kiki’s Bistro, Avec, Bistro Zinc, Mon Ami Gabi, Bistro Margot, and La Sardine (and its sister restaurant Le Bouchon). Of all of these, La Sardine has been one of my constant favorites. The cuisine is solid bistro-fare, right off the Bolevard St. Germain des Pres.

The place is located in in the West Loop, on Carpenter Street in the West Randolph area. La Sardine sits directly in front of Harpo Studios and is part of the West Randolph renovation that occurred when Oprah was in her heyday. The restaurant is close to the place where the pan-Asian restaurant named Red Light used to sit. Rumor has it that the place’s demise had nothing to do the cuisine or the service. Apparently, the owners were at each others throats so much that the place finally collapsed.

Like a traditional bistro, the cooks work a cramped submarine kitchen that is in sight of the dining room. There is a long bar, plenty of tables, and the waiters wear the traditional bistro aprons. The fare is classic French, good wines, and great service. This is what fast food should be. French bistros got their name in the wake of Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo. Russian troops never tired of shouting “bistro,” which means quick in Russian.

The service starts off with a generous serving of crusty French bread and a crock of butter, a staple of Northern French cooking. Although Chicago voted to make the sale of foie gras illegal several years back because animal rights activists convinced the city council that making it was cruel and inhumane, restaurants like La Sardine removed it from their menu, but ignored the edict and discreetly served it to customers who were all too happy to break the law.

La Sardine also serves some of the lessor know French appetizers, like roasted bone marrow, house sauchison with cornichons, escargot, mussels steamed in white wine and cream, steak tartare, and an insanely delicious cheese-crab dip. One of my favorites is the Salad Lyonaise: greens with frisee, fried lardons, a poached egg and mustard vinaigrette. 

For the entree, I’ve had a number of dishes: steak fritte, skate wing, rabbit, and cassollet. I’d have all of them again. My recommendation is to order the fixe prix menu: it’s painless, in season and economical. Unlike places like the Cheesecake Factory that invite guests to overeat, La Sardine serves European-sized portions. I’ve never seen anyone file out of the restaurant with a large bag full of leftovers. For dessert, you will have the choice of house made glace (ice cream) and fruit sorbets and a tart. My suggestion is to order the Grand Marnier Souflee at the onset. It’s great.

A final word, don’t use the valet. If you drive around the block once or twice, you’ll find an empty space and it will come out a lot cheaper. All around, La Sardine is a winner.

Cross-posted at My Ongoing Struggle with Misanthropy: http://jimmygabacho.com/?p=904

Gabacho– according to the Dictionary of the Spanish Royal Academy– is derived from an old Provençal word “gavach,” meaning a person from the foothills of the Pyrenees who spoke incorrectly. These days, it means “outsider,” somebody who just doesn’t fit in.

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