1012 N Western Ave
Neighborhood: West Town/Ukrainian Village
Rating: 4 Flutes
Warning: not for vegetarians.
When people ask me what my favorite restaurant in Chicago is, I take a deep breath. My over-analytical self goes through all sorts of absurd qualifiers before answering. But, at the core of the question, I think of the restaurant I would love to indulge in time and time again. The real tell-tale way to find out, is to ask yourself where you want to eat for your last meal. Morbid? Yes. Necessary? Absolutely. With that said, I answer, “Bavette’s Bar & Boeuf.”
Well, my friends, I have found my neighborhood Bavette’s. And it starts with a Boeuf. And just as they are avoiding River North, they aren’t churning out your typical steakhouse fare either. Instead of duplicating the traditional heavy sides, they are taking a focus on seasonality and normal human-sized portions. And it looks good on ‘em.
The spot is co-owned by Executive Chef Brian Ahern and Jamie Finnegan. The two have been quietly working on the project for over two years. (How did this not leak?!) The calculated, careful preparation shows. Ahern was formerly at Fish Bar and in his past was the Chef de Cuisine under The David Burke Group in New York. The two fully developed the concept of the restaurant and the design of the interior themselves. To quote chef Brian, they took care of "every last inch." Impressive!
The cozy, French/German bistro, Boeufhaus, is nestled on Western Avenue at Augusta Boulevard (across the street from Bite Cafe). The owner of Red & White Wines, Nathan Adams, built the wine list and helps manage the place, so naturally the selections are on point. And the food stood up to the stunning and affordable wine list.
The building is an old deli and butcher shop with an in-house smoker in the back. I’m hoping they add a delicatessen to the front of the shop soon as I was teased by the meat case and slicer still standing as you walk in.
They are serious about their meat here. Shocker, right? (Boeuf = the French word for beef; Haus = the German word for house.) They source it all from Creekstone Farms in Kansas where the cows are primarily pasture-raised and feed on their stompin' grounds. But they end their time on this sweet earth with a high-quality corn feed, which makes the meat more tender and flavorful. Because of the uniqueness of the meat and where it’s sourced, it is the priciest part of the menu. But it’s worth it.
Because wine is such an important part of this restaurant... and because the manager of Red & White, Brad, was there to answer any questions we had… we just had him bring out whatever wine he thought necessary with each course. He crushed it. (No pun intended.)
While we perused the menu, we noshed on oysters, which I never manage to skip. The west coast variety they had were probably the best oysters I have ever experienced. Too bad I forget the exact name. They were buttery, sweet little numbers, and I am still daydreaming about them. (And for this reason, I am ignoring the "R" rule.)
From there, we got the short rib beignets that are served with a beef jus. In short (punnnn!): braised beef inside of a savory donut hole. I hesitantly ordered them believing they would be sweet. Thank god we did! They were soooo good. The dough was perfect but the dish would have been incomplete without a good jus dunking.
In tandem with the beef donuts, we got more beef, but in the raw form. The tartare of boeuf. Ahern's version was a super simple, traditional prep, and it was perfection. The brioche points were buttery and had just the right crunch. I love tartare, and this was one of my favorites yet. The perfectly paired wine they recommended was an Austrian Zweigelt blend (2012 Pittnauer).
We lightened it up a bit next and got the beautiful spring vegetable salad. It was a rainbow of shaved white asparagus, breakfast radish, beet, carrot, romanesco, cauliflower and snap pea. It was bright and delicious and gorgeous to boot. They recommended a French Chenin Blanc (2010 Pinon) to enjoy with it. It started a little sweet but finished with a minerality that I always crave.
We then shifted to the citrus salmon. Obviously, this place is all about that boeuf (bout that boeuf), but their seafood is not to be missed either. The salmon was a sashimi cut topped with tiny honjijemi pickled mushrooms, crisp salmon skin, sliced fresno chile, micro greens and drizzled with ginger oil. It was cut beautifully and had the right amount of acidity to stand up to the fattiness of the fish. It was also a nice break from the heavy meat dishes we had just consumed and were about to continue onto.
Segue into the main event: the 55-day dry-aged bone-in ribeye with a glass of French Malbec. Chef brushes the steaks with beef fat after they sear in a cast-iron pan. (Is this real life?) They are all served French-style, which simply means they are sliced and topped with your choice of sauce. Select from bordelaise (red wine sauce), béarnaise (butter and egg sauce similar to a Hollandaise) or au poivre (pepper cream). Bordelaise all day on that ribeye. It was incredible.
The meat was marbled with just the right amount of fat, and the dry-aging lended to a bit of gamey flavor. Remember how I like my meat on bones? This is just another feather in that cap.
And what’s a steak without a side? We opted for the rye spaetzle with brown butter. We weren’t looking for a heavy gratin considering the path we had just walked, so this was the perfect companion. I love spaetzle, but I have never had a rye version, and it was delish. The brown butter was very understated, so the dumplings felt light and airy.
Of course I finished my meal with a glass of bubs. It was some of the most unique wine I have ever had. It was an amber color and had kind of a funky, kombucha like flavor. Nathan and Brad at Red & White do their best to carry natural, biodynamic wines at a variety of price ranges. And I will be stopping in to grab a bottle of this very, very soon.
I really hope this place sticks around. The staff was great, the space is beautiful with a history behind it, and the food was phenomenal. It’s worth the trip to the Ukrainian Village no matter where you are situated in the city. Thanks to Chef Brian, Jamie, Nathan and Brad! I tip my (proverbial) hat.
I cannot wait to get back there and try all of the dishes I missed. If this place doesn’t have staying power, I don’t know what does.