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Paris Club Bistro & Bar (CLOSED)

Nightlife River North
3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Tell me what you think of the croque-monsieur “fingers” at Paris Club, and I’ll tell you who you are. Which is to say, I’ll have a pretty good guess whether you came to the second project from R.J. and Jerrod Melman (sons of Lettuce Entertain You founder Rich) because you love Hub 51 or because you were curious how alums of Tru (Tim Graham), L.A.’s Church and State (Walter Manzke) and N.Y.C.’s Country (Doug Psaltis) have updated French dining. Fans of the “fingers”—strips of a ham-and-cheese sandwich that you dip into a runny egg yolk—can pretty safely be pigeonholed into the first camp: Melman-boy devotees (they are out there, in droves) who’ve headed a few doors from their mainstay seeking Hub 2.0. And for those who think this is a particularly goofy appetizer that tastes like bad pizza, then I know where you, too, stand. And unfortunately, I have to agree with you.

Paris Club is 31-year-old R.J. and 28-year-old Jerrod’s foray into making French food “approachable.” To do this, the team of chefs has created a sprawling menu, one that doesn’t seem especially interested in the charms of classic French food—or in any one distinctive style of cooking, for that matter. Sometimes the chefs (which includes Brasserie Jo’s Jean Joho) riff on French classics, such as in the vegetable “cassoulet,” an odd, bland take on the stewed-meat peasant food in which perfectly cooked vegetables are sprinkled with toasted bread crumbs. Sometimes, the restaurant assigns French-y names to American food: case in point, your standard (if tired) seared tuna, here served with fried ribbons of zucchini and dubbed “ahi tuna steak frites.” And sometimes—though not quite often enough—the kitchen tweaks dishes with a sense of elegance and sophistication. The blowout example of this at Paris Club is the seafood platter, a dish that is simultaneously classic (perfectly cooked chilled lobster tail and plump shrimp) and contemporary: Inside a shell, scallop ceviche’s clean flavor and delicate texture provide the perfect platform for an ocean-packed morsel of uni.

This is a dish I’d recommend to anyone—be it the group of six Hub regulars I ate with on my first visit or the septuagenarian couple I was seated next to on my third. (That’s the flip side of having a menu built to appeal to everyone: The clientele here is actually all over the place in terms of age.) Almost in the seafood platter’s league is the “coq au vin” (quotes essential), which presents chicken two ways: a braised thigh and a roasted, crisp-skinned breast, both set on rich potato puree. Start with a classic frisée salad with lardons in every bite, move on to the seafood and coq au vin, and you have a beautiful meal.

Yet this is easier said than done at Paris Club, where I feared I was skirting the kitchen’s creativity by hewing toward the classics (herb-covered butter lettuce in need of more acid in the dressing, tender steak served with salty fries). Both the cheekier small plates (pan “drippings” from short ribs, French onion “fondue”) and the foodier ones (smooth chicken terrine) are held back by the meek, run-of-the-mill bread they’re served with. Add to this the danger that as you venture farther from the familiar, you’re as likely to run into a success (subtle smoked whitefish sprinkled with relish) as a flop (the “pot au feu,” another baffling vegetarian take on a meaty classic), and ordering off Paris Club’s menu starts to feel more intimidating than approachable.

But none of this—least of all the unevenness of the food—explains what I was doing closing down the bar at Paris Club on my second visit, seven hours after my reservation time (and a few deeply embarrassing hours into the you-should-probably-stop-drinking time). Though the bar scene was very mellow compared to Hub’s, my extended stays at Paris Club—the ease with which I moved from an early dinner in the dining room to late-night drinks in the bar—demonstrates what is perhaps R.J. and Jerrod’s standout talent: They’ve created another restaurant with great energy and not even a whisper of pretentiousness, and they’ve got people (even the ones hating on croque-monsieur fingers) having fun in the process.

By: Julia Kramer



Address: 59 W Hubbard St

Cross street: between Dearborn and Clark Sts
Transport: El stop: Red to Grand. Bus: 22, 29, 36, 65.
Price: Average main course: $18
Opening hours: Sun-Wed 4-10pm, Thu 4-11pm, Fri-Sat 4pm-12am
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