ryan and i kicked off chicago restaurant week 2011 with french food at café des architectes which is located a few blocks away from north michigan avenue. if you are looking for the restaurant, it is within sofitel chicago water tower and you can see the restaurant as you walk up towards the hotel's front entrance.
i was probably the most excited for this restaurant and it was one of the ones that i booked back in january even when eatitupchicago.com didn't even have the full list of restaurants. their restaurant week menu looked so enticing that i had to call ryan in the middle of the day at work so i can make reservations as soon as i could..lol.
the restaurant is to the left as you enter through the front doors of the hotel. café des architectes is tastefully decorated with simple elegant light fixtures which illuminates the lovely red walls and ceiling adorned with pictures. the other side of the restaurant is surrounded but ceiling high windows and there is a small semi separated room with a bar and illuminated with green and purple lights. i love their modern contemporary decor which was elegant yet oddly cozy. (p.s. i have pictures from my lunch and dinner dining experience hence the night and afternoon pictures all in one post)
dinner | saturday
ryan and i pretty much had our minds decided on what we were going to get for the appetizer and the entree but we still weren't sure what to get for dessert.
appetizer | bouillabaisse . saffron . mussels . lobster .
i've had other seafood stews (i.e. cioppino) before but this was definitely my first bouillabaisse in all its glory. since it was my first, i've nothing to compare to nor know what to expect. i was confused at first when they brought a bowl with just mussels, clams and lobster meat to the table but they began pouring the thick, creamy soup into the bowl which i thought was a nice touch for presentation. literally serving at the table.
my first thought when i took a sip was very good depth of flavor and then came.."hmmm, the texture is grainy". i wasn't sure if bouillabaisse is supposed to be grainy so i had to do some research online after dinner. if you are wondering, it is typically grainy but some people would strain the soup to give it a smoother consistency. the soup itself was rich and tasted of seafood which i love and the shellfish as well as the lobster was fresh and cooked just right :) overall, i liked it (minus the uncertainty of the texture that time) especially comforting for such a cold evening.
appetizer | stuffed and braised quail . winter vegetable . sauce verjus . prunes .
this was my second choice of appetizer and thank goodness ryan was happy to order this so i could try it too :) his first comment was that it was fork tender and the vegetable was cooked just enough to retain a slight crunch. i took a few bites of the quail and it was as he said, cooked well and had a subtle gamey flavor. i didn't really notice the prunes although i tasted the vegetables but based on the flavor profile of the rest of the plate, it would have complemented the quail very much so.
entree | veal tenderloin . red onions . truffle sauce . endives .
i was torn between the veal tenderloin or the roasted monkfish with lobster sauce. but there were two ingredients that tipped the scale for me was veal and truffle sauce. this entree was amazing and i will be raving about the veal tenderloin for a long time. i was so glad i decided to get this. the veal was seasoned well and cooked almost to medium/medium well but was still succulent. it came with a side of caramelized red onions which had a subtle citrus flavor and braised endives which ryan suspected was seasoned with a bit of pumpkin spice. and all this on top of the truffle sauce so you get savory, earthy and sweet all in one bite. it was really, really yummylicious! loveee! both ryan and i concur that this was the best dish of the night.
entree | filet of beef . sauce viande . béarnaise . winter vegetables .
a few things first. béarnaise is a sauce made of clarified butter emulsified in egg yolks and flavored with herbs. i had trouble finding what sauce viande is but the closest i could find was glace de viande. glace de viande is simply brown stock reduced until it "coats a withdrawn spoon," to quote Escoffier, which is to say, reduced by half or more. (qouted from ochef)
ryan wasn't quite impressed with his dish like i was with mine. the beef had a decent sear but he thought that the edges were overcooked just a tad except the mid part of the beef was cooked to medium rare just like he likes it. i guess it doesn't help that it wasn't his favorite cut of beef either. even though it was medium rare (i usually go for medium) i loved the tenderness of the beef. the béarnaise sauce i thought was slightly underseasoned. the vegetables was probably what ryan liked the most about his plate. he definitely had a case of entree envy cos he was very much preferred mine than his.
dessert | chocolat moelleux . pears . formage blanc. valrhona chocolate .
interestingly, moelleux is defined as soft, mellow, tender, moist, sweet. it seems like a play of words which describe the different aspects of the dessert.
if u love chocolate, you would like this dessert. the stroke of chocolate on the plate is dark chocolate complemented by the almost pudding-like valrhona chocolate that had a soft crust on the bottom. and it comes with two pieces of poached pear. it is like the trio of chocolate with different levels of bitterness/sweetness that plays with your taste buds. i thought it was good and i liked it but not amazing.
dessert | pistachio cream . chocolate coulis . sicilian iranian pistachio . creme fraiche .
i have to say i liked ryan's choice of dessert better than mine. i sorta kept staring at his dessert while eating mine..lol. the consistency of the pistachio cream was kinda a mix of pudding and ice cream and it's topped with a dark chocolate coulis. for textural difference, they added chopped pistachios. the pistachio cream itself had a light pistachio flavor which paired quite well with the chocolate. it wasn't too sweet which i like.
lunch | thursday
since my discovery of café des architectes, i've been raving about this place. since my boss was up for trying something for restaurant week, she was most excited about this place since it was near our work place and the menu looked very appetizing. and i found two other co-workers would wanted to try some french food too.
in the afternoon, i loved the light streaming in through the windows which makes it even cozier than before.
their lunch menu options are different for the appetizer and the entrees but remained the same for dessert.
appetizer | celery root velouté . truffles . micro salad . fresh herbs .
my selection for their appetizer course. velouté is a white sauce or stock made by boiling down ham, veal, beef, fowl, bouillon, etc., then adding soup stock, seasoning, vegetables, and thickening, and again boiling and straining. i'll give you one guess why i chose this over the rest. (if you said truffles, yes you are right! hahaha)
it was like déjà vu when they served the thick soup in the manner they did for my bouillabaisse. this was perfect for the cold afternoon. the thick soup was comforting but at the same time with a touch of sophistication. it had a really good depth of flavor kissed by the earthiness of the truffles and the croutons gave it a nice crunch. one word: satisfying. my friend said it reminded him of cream of mushroom soup -.-" (which i don't think so) but i couldn't tell if he was joking... lol.
i was actually tempted to get this because i really liked artichokes. the presentation was vibrant. i had a small bite and it tasted pretty good but not enough to make a good assesment of it. my boss said that she loved the carrot mousse but thought the overall taste of the salad was okay.
rilette is a preparation of meat similar to pate. it had a very pretty presentation of a dish and the croutons reminded me of toasted bagels. it was almost sort of interpretation of lox and bagel. i didn't taste any of it but eric, my co-worker said that he liked it and it was tasty.
i was quite surprised when the dish arrived at our table. it wasn't how i expected / imagined it to be. was i disappointed? perhaps a lil bit. the lamb was shaped into medalions but oddly the lamb itself reminded me of meatloaf but a gamey one. the braised lamb was shredded and mixed with other ingredients served upon the jus. the ratatouille was probably my favorite aspect of the dish but i might be a bit bias since i've been known to favor vegetables over meat. overall, the meat packed a lot of flavor, sucullent and i would say a pretty well balanced entree.
entree | seared arctic char . dill . cider vinegar sabayon . spinach puree .
i think the entire table almost oooh-ed and aaah-ed when the fish entree was served since it was served with a flavored foam. lol. the dish looked really good and my boss was kind enough to share a piece of her fish for me to try. cafe des architectes definitely earned the right to call it seared arctic char because the fish was seared perfectly with the skin so crispy and seasoned so well. yeah that one bite was enough to make me entree envy. haha. my boss preferred a lil rareness in the middle of the fish but otherwise the fish was cooked perfectly. she said it was a very delicious dish overall.
dessert | pineapple soup . coconut sorbet . brunoise of exotic fruits . vanilla .
since i've already wrote about the other two desserts from my dinner, i decided to give their pineapple soup a try. it sounds a tad weird, i know but it works. brunoise is a culinary knife cut in which the food item is first julienned and then turn a quarter turn and diced again producing cubes of a side length of about 3mm or less on each side. the exotic fruits included a ton of pineapple (love!) and kiwi fruit which were swimming in a slightly sweetened "soup" and topped with a light coconut sorbet with sprinkles of toasted coconut. it was a light, refreshing dessert and the coconut did not overpower the whole dish which was very nicely done.
overall we were quite impress and happy with our meals. i personally think that their dinner menu topped their lunch selections. ryan said that he would love to come back to cafe des architectes just to try out their regular menu. sometimes i get nervous when i recommend a restaurant to friends but i guess this time it worked out awesome :) i guess i do have a good eye for restaurant occasionally, huh ? :p
disclaimer this is written based on my personal experience and opinion. experiences and taste buds may vary for others