1958 N Damen Ave
Rating: 4.5 Flutes
This place is so good. It's nothing unexpected for a French Bistro - it just does French Bistro super well. It's cozy (ok, tight), always bustling and the food is phenomenal. Le Bouchon has been around for a long time and I can see why it has such staying power. Although you might bump into the neighboring table when you sit down, you will quickly get over it once you read through the menu. Start with the escargots. They are steaming hot, garlicky, buttery little guys and they are perfect. Do not leave the remnants behind. Dip your bread into the vessels of goodness and soak it all in. You should always order the Lyonnaise salad as well. It's the classic, rich prep of frisée and escarole tossed in a mustard vinaigrette and topped with lardons (fancy word for bacon), croutons and a poached egg. Mix it all up and get in there. If you are with a group or are feeling super hungry, the brandade is hearty, but worth it. They sometimes have a different version on special, but their normal concotion is whipped smoked whitefish crusted in a cast iron with buttery crisp toast squares and various accoutrements. Their steak tartare is good, but I still like Maude's rendition the best. I have also had their Mussels à la Normandie and the broth is uniquely made with cider and is creamy and rich while staying light, if you limit your bread-dunking.
We rarely have a meal here without ordering the steak frites. It's simplicity at it's best - a perfectly grilled top-sirloin topped with parsley butter and a huge side of thin, crispy french fries. I always ask for the side of aioli to dip them in, for good measure. The cassoulet is the best version my husband has ever had, and he is a tough critic. If you have never had cassoulet, it is meat heaven. Break through the caramelized crust to find duck confit, pork belly, corned beef, pork sausage, and plenty of white beans. Their version is Toulouse-style because it showcases the duck confit and boudin blanc. Fun fact: it's called "cassoulet" because of the terra-cotta dish it is served in: a cassole. If you aren't averse to eating bunnies, the rabbit over spaghetti squash is a nice choice as well. It's not earth-shattering never-forget-it, but it's well cooked and flavorful.
If you want to get the most boudin for your buck, pretend you are in France on a Tuesday. They offer their full menu (with just a couple understandable exceptions) on prix-fixe for $30: an appetizer or salad, an entrée, and a dessert. WHAT?!? Most entrées themselves are around $25. This is a steal. You will leave with excess, but it makes for a great lunch tomorrow. With that said, when John and I go on the weekends, we walk out of there for a reasonable cost. We typically split an appetizer or two, the Lyonnaise salad, and an entree. No leftovers, but no food-babies either. Who wants to go back with me and order the whole roasted Pekin duck with duck-fat spaetzle?
There are many more gluttonous posts ahead, but let me know what you think of my first selections. What Bucktown/Wicker Park spots can you not live without? What other neighborhoods challenge what Bucktown has to offer?