At what point does cost start to affect satisfaction? I pondered that question as I walked out of Obelix after dinner. If you’re a fan of French cuisine, you’re probably already aware of this new modern concept in River North. Brothers Oliver and Nicolas Poilevey, whose parents founded beloved Bucktown bistro Le Bouchon, have taken over the space formerly housing Entente and turned it into one of Chicago’s buzziest spots.
I arrived on a Monday night to a completely packed house, which had been foreshadowed by the limited availability of tables for most dates on Resy. The large dining room wasn’t in need of much upgrades, as Entente opened in just 2019, though there are some new touches like burgundy banquette seating and a chalkboard near the bar that lists the day’s specials.
If you’re sitting along the walls, you’ll have to make nice with your neighbors as the tables are practically on top of each other, with inches to spare on each end, and it’s close to impossible to not eavesdrop on conversations. At various points during the meal, my date and I noticed the couple next to us discussing the dishes we ordered so we chimed in with our thoughts. It was more or less a communal dining experience and definitely not a place to share secrets.
Similar to Le Bouchon, Obelix’s menu is full of French staples, albeit at slightly higher price points to match the neighborhood. Steak tartare is always a go-to for me and the Asian-tinged version here is outstanding. Cubes of raw filet mignon are dressed with green garlic aioli, dried kelp, banh mi pickles and herbs. Each bite—meant to be eaten with beer bread—is packed with flavor and a hint of spice.
However, the most fascinating item of the evening lives in the menu’s duck section. An indulgent foie gras taco, dubbed “Foie-co,” features a seared lobe of duck liver with grape jam and salsa macha in a tortilla that’s been crisped in foie fat. At $23, it’s likely the priciest taco in the city but worth the splurge. While our server called it a two-biter, we found it quite shareable and at least double that conservative estimate.
Oliver Poilevey really shows off his mastery over fowl with a 10-day-aged duck breast. Two planks of fatty meat sport perfectly crispy skin and are accompanied by caramelized sunchoke purée, duck fat confit sunchokes and figs. It’s an astonishingly tasty dish, yet the price tag ($49) and modest portion size may leave you wanting more. Our other main, a lobster crepe, was generously filled with shellfish and chanterelle mushrooms and topped with smoked trout roe. A beurre blanc sauce provided additional richness.
Surprisingly, a side of tempura-fried delicata squash with tapenade aioli and mint ravigote really left an impression. After a parade of savory dishes, the squash’s sweetness was a welcome contrast. The desserts from pastry chef Antonio Incandela include a mille-feuille with layers of hazelnut, chocolate and Meyer lemon. It’s a solid rendition with lots of technique involved, and will run you $17.
On the beverage front, there’s a lengthy list of wines by the bottle alongside some choice pours. Both the 2020 Domaine La Manarine Côtes du Rhône and the 2021 Jean-Paul Dubost Beaujolais are reds that pair well with the meatier courses. For a refreshing sip, the Champagne cocktail and Le Spritz—made with Ambrosia Aperitivo instead of Aperol—go down nice and easy.
If it sounds like the offerings coming out of the kitchen at Obelix are great, it’s because they are. I even overheard the woman seated next to me ask her companion, “It makes you want to go back to France, right?” But although I left content, there was a sense that my meal lacked something truly special to justify dropping three Benjamins on it. I guess like many of the items on the menu, the restaurant’s value lies in the eye of the beholder.
The vibe: The bustling space buzzes with conversation and is filled with diners of all sorts. Tables are closely packed together so don't expect much privacy.
The food: French classics with global influences. The steak tartare is a favorite and the foie gras taco is a pricey but one-of-a-kind bite.
The drink: A selection of French wines by the bottle or glass. The Le Spritz cocktail is an easy sip.