Restaurants , French Lincoln Park
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Photo: Marina Makropoulos
Photo: Marina Makropoulos
Photo: Marina Makropoulos
Photo: Marina Makropoulos
Photo: Marina Makropoulos
Photo: Marina Makropoulos
Photo: Marina Makropoulos
Photo: Marina Makropoulos
Photo: Marina Makropoulos
Photo: Marina Makropoulos
Photo: Marina Makropoulos
Photo: Marina Makropoulos
Photo: Marina Makropoulos
Photo: Marina Makropoulos

It’s never a good sign when you hear the smoke alarm go off in a restaurant. I’m not sure what was going on in Aquitaine’s kitchen when the sound wailed out of there and into the dining room, but I can imagine it wasn’t good. Things out front weren’t much better. The table to the left of me had five people, four entrées and one very apologetic waitress. The man at the table to the right complained that his wine by the glass was “corked” (that the bottle had been open too long seems more likely, but still it shows signs somebody might not be paying much attention, a feeling amplified by the limited-at-best wine list). And at our own table, well, we did not have a good meal.

Chef-owner Holly Willoughby spent four years cooking at David Burke’s Primehouse, so she’s worked with quality product. And yet she sent out mussels that shouldn’t have been served; they were too small, too shriveled and just teetering on the edge of freshness. She also sent out a hanger steak ordered medium-rare with not a touch of pink left to it, and soaked through with so much honey marinade that it edged toward dessert. The beet and potato gratin alongside was completely unseasoned, each pale bite making the unadorned green beans with it the star of the show. Steamed green beans are tasty and all, but they showed up again with the duck breast, which was nearly as overcooked as the steak and obliterated by a sweet stout hazelnut sauce.

With sugar coating our tongues, we didn’t really need dessert, but we ordered a lemon tart and pistachio cake anyhow, praying that a pastry talent would emerge and save this rocky meal. Not only did each dessert come on a pool of what tasted like Hershey’s chocolate syrup (note: not what you want with lemon…ever), but they were straight from Vanille Patisserie. I get that a cook is not a baker and that sourcing desserts might have seemed like the best option, but unfortunately, like the rest of the meal here, it just felt phoned in.

By Heather Shouse

Venue name: Aquitaine
Address: 2221 N Lincoln Ave
Cross street: between Geneva Ter and Webster Ave
Opening hours: Brunch (Sun), lunch (Tue–Sat), dinner
Transport: El stop: Brown, Purple (rush hrs), Red to Fullerton. Bus: 8, 11, 74.
Price: Average main course: $18
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