Many years ago, I became obsessed with the baked Alaska at one sixtyblue. The flamed meringue flailed wildly in all directions, and it was exciting, and nostalgic, and I couldn’t put it down.
A week or so later, though, I forgot about it and never went near the restaurant again.
Who could be bothered? The restaurant was far west on Randolph, and there were so many other restaurants to hit, that one sixtyblue seemed designed to be an afterthought. And its chef, Martial Noguier, seemed destined to flounder in the wastelands of west Randolph until the restaurant met its demise.
Which is just a dramatic way of saying that the fact that Noguier is now at the perpetually overlooked restaurant in the Sofitel isn’t all that surprising. He needed a better location, and the Café des Architectes needed Noguier’s good reputation. Not that his reputation has done it a lot of good. On a recent Friday night, Architectes was deserted, bustling with all of five tables. What nobody seems to have realized yet is that this hotel restaurant is now home to the most inspired French food in the city.
Noguier’s dishes brim with intricate flavors and textural details, all of which get wrapped up into one exciting, singular package. And he achieves this dish after dish: His hamachi carpaccio takes the delicate yellowtail and layers it with both smooth artichokes (a puree) and crisp (fried). The sumptuous texture of his braised short ribs is offset by the crunch of carrots. Peekytoe crab salad is distinguished by the clean essence of crab, the crunch of radish, the sweet acid of apple gelée.
And then there are the entrées, each one cooked to the most delicate and succulent texture that their molecular makeup can allow. The flavor of the tenderloin au poivre—the peppercorns on the steak softened by the chestnut puree below it—almost didn’t matter; the delicate texture of the meat itself took precedence. Similarly, the flavor of the lamb—savory but not gamey—was the purest expression I’ve had.
Noguier’s food is so expertly done that it can be a surprise to find a dish that isn’t perfect—the pleasantly spicy (but completely unrevelatory) pink-peppercorn-dusted tuna, for example, or the nice, unexciting bouillabaisse. But desserts take you back to perfection. Pastry chef Suzanne Imaz, also from onesixty blue, creates a mound of sweet merengue and fills it with surprisingly tart apple, and she even manages to breathe life into crème brûlée, resting it on a bed of poached pears. Maybe Imaz and Noguier have been putting out desserts like this for years; maybe Imaz made that baked Alaska I loved so much. But I suspect something new has invigorated them here. If they had been this good at one sixtyblue, I would’ve remembered it. This isn’t the kind of food you forget.
|Venue name:||Café des Architectes||Contact:|
20 E Chestnut St
|Cross street:||at Wabash Ave|
|Opening hours:||Breakfast, brunch (Sat, Sun), lunch (Mon-Fri), dinner|
|Transport:||El stop:Red to Chicago. Bus:36,66,143,144,145,146,147,148,151.|
|Price:||Average main course: $29|
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My family and I celebrated lunch together at Cafedesarchitectes on Christmas Day 2013. The food and service was the best I've ever encountered in my 25 years of living in the States. I used to think that Europeans topped the prize in excellent food and service , but not anymore.