When I walked into the Blanchard and spotted Michael Simon (Celeste) and Arunas Bruzas (Acadia) mixing drinks behind the bar, I immediately knew that the cocktails would be among the city’s best—great news for an area that doesn’t have many notable cocktail bars. Simon came onboard for a few months to develop the opening cocktail program, although once Bruzas takes the reins, things will be in his highly capable hands. But as good as the drinks are (and they’re quite good, particularly the negroni), the main reason to go to the Blanchard is for owner/chef Jason Paskewitz’s (Gemini Bistro, The Pump Room) elegant, delightfully unstuffy French food.
Paskewitz approaches the menu with a traditional eye—you’ll find staples like escargot, rillettes and a whole section devoted to foie gras—but many dishes offer a fresh look at French food. Oeuf outhier, a classic dish of airy whipped eggs and caviar spooned into a delicate eggshell, includes vodka-scented crème fraiche, while one foie gras preparation encases the creamy liver in a super crunchy black truffle and candied lavender coating, channeling amazing chicken nuggets. Simpler dishes are also well-done, like Dover sole bathed in brown butter and studded with capers and tender blanquette de veau with crispy sweetbread nuggets, marred only by its lukewarm temperature. Pastry chef Marjorie Easley draws the meal to a close with graceful desserts, including a pistachio mousse bombe paired with raspberry accents, and a coconut financier with passionfruit curd and roasted fruit, a tropical riot of flavors.
Midway through dinner, my date commented that I never took him to review French restaurants, to which I replied that hardly any seem to open. It’s a shame, really, because dinner at the Blanchard proves there’s still a place for refined French cuisine in Chicago.
Atmosphere: The open kitchen is the focal point of the lively space, which also includes booths lining the walls, dreamy paintings from Danielle Klinenberg and big windows.
What to eat: Oeuf outhier ($16), sole a la meuniere ($42), coconut financier ($9)
What to drink: The wine list consists of mostly French wines, with a handful of well-selected options by the glass. Sommelier Anthony Mathieu (New York’s Daniel) can help you choose a wine, like the glass of citrusy, biscuity Ayala Brut Champagne he paired with the oeuf outhier starter. For cocktails, a light, lively negroni swaps Campari for more complex Gran Classico Bitter, while an icy sidecar is laced with surprisingly dry mango gastrique.
Where to sit: Just going for drinks or a burger? Grab a seat in the lounge. Otherwise, the dining room offers comfortable tables and booths, as well as a chef’s counter with prime views of the kitchen.