Chalkboard (CLOSED)

Restaurants, American North Center

In an era when chef Mario Batali is more popular than our President, it’s no surprise to see a chef roaming around his dining room in a clean chef’s coat, shaking hands like a politician. On one of my visits to chef Gilbert Langlois’s new restaurant housed in the former Tournesol space near Lincoln Square, the young, charming chef strolled the dining room carrying his baby, asking diners how they liked the ravioli his mom, Janet, makes. On another visit, he remarked to a couple that he himself assembled the chandeliers they were admiring. When the kitchen ran out of mac and cheese, Langlois walked over to the giant chalkboard that covers one wall of the restaurant and scrawled an “86” next to the name of the dish. There’s no doubt the place has personality galore; it’s cute, cozy and has a comforting menu to match. But because of a few missteps, its chef and its potential left more of a lasting impression than its food. The classic American menu is as close to what Langlois was doing as chef at Rushmore as it is far from the Brazilian-Asian fusion he oversaw as head toque at Sushisamba Rio. Comfort food is his strong suit, and many of the Rushmore dishes he replicates at Chalkboard are fantastic. Fierce Maytag blue cheese is sandwiched between brioche slices, toasted, and paired with a roasted tomato bisque for dipping. Rich, sweet, aggressively seared scallops are balanced by a light pea puree and salty dark-meat chicken confit. Mac and cheese is creamy and earthy thanks to smoked gouda. A simple salad of mixed greens gets a poached egg and an oven-roasted tomato, but begs for a handful of bacony lardons.

After a few successful starters, a nice glass of wine from the affordable list and time to take in the soothing, sage-green room, things were looking swell. Unfortunately, the appetizers were the highlight of two visits. A beautiful piece of striped bass was perfectly seared, but the corn-chowder sauce surrounding it was cool and “Janet’s ricotta raviolis” had hard, chewy edges from too much water being used to seal the dough pockets. Grilled beef filet was cooked properly, but lacked flavor and was upstaged by the bits of lobster beneath it. The fried chicken that earned raves at Rushmore had good crunchy coating, but why fry just a breast? It’s impossible to keep it juicy, and the crust-to-meat ratio is never enough. Swap it out for a thigh and leg and I’d clean the plate rather than just devour the toothsome greens and lappable sausage gravy.

Potpie is an easy comfort-food staple, so why mess it up by filling it with blah veggies and surrounding it with a strange-tasting curry sauce? The disconnect was only a hint of what we’d encounter with dessert: Chocolate-chip cookie-dough egg rolls are lauded as the signature sweet. With the classic American theme, I was expecting apple pie, not this fried fusion mess. Langlois has put a lot of work into his first solo venture, but he needs to shine as much in the kitchen as he does in the dining room to really have a hit on his hands.

By: Heather Shouse

Posted:

Venue name: Chalkboard (CLOSED)
Contact:
Address: 4343 N Lincoln Ave
Chicago

Cross street: between Pensacola and Montrose Aves
Opening hours: Dinner (closed Tue)
Transport: El stop: Brown to Western. Bus: 11, 49, 50, 78.
Price: Average main course: $25
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