Alfresco dining may be de rigueur for Chicagoans during summer, but if you wish to focus on conducting business, you may want to eschew the vibrant patio scene at Café des Architectes for the elegant, peaceful interior. In the Sofitel Hotel, it provides a atmosphere of European sophistication that is ideal for business entertaining.
No detail is overlooked on executive chef Greg Biggers' watch, from the intricate plating of food to the generous gifts from the kitchen that bookend a meal. Service is attentive without being obtrusive, though the need to choose between three types of bread whenever the bus boy comes around with the basket is a bit of a distraction. The unusual polenta bread, however, is the clear winner, as it provides a moist crumb and toothsome bite that provides a perfect platform for the sharp, tangy olive tapenade.
An amuse-bouche started the meal on a seasonal, but indulgent, note, featuring ripe summer cherries stuffed with rich foie gras. Stunning appetizers followed, including a glorious spray of razor-thin spring vegetables, dressed with a well-balanced combination of garlic aioli and acidic lemon vinaigrette. On the heavier end was a tender block of braised pork belly, lacquered in a salty-sweet glaze and accompanied by truffled potatoes.
The entrees were perhaps a bit too aggressively salted, but the surfeit of seasoning was the only blemish upon an otherwise outstanding meal. Halibut emerged from the kitchen with a deeply caramelized, shatteringly crisp crust and a flavorful Parmesan broth. The salmon, included in a special menu of health-conscious dinner choices, was topped in lemon foam that maintained its integrity throughout the meal instead of collapsing into a puddle on the plate. Though it was lukewarm, the pork tenderloin was juicy and perfectly cooked. The only thing that could have improved it would have been a more generous helping of the wild boar sausage that decorated the plate.
Dessert, as executed by pastry chef Patrick Fahy, was whimsical and provided an appropriate capstone to a wonderful evening. The standout, by far, was the playful assortment of Parisian mini-desserts, which included a petite Paris-brest, a miniature crème brulee, a wedge of opera cake and a few macarons and madeleines. A beautiful selection of mignardises was the last item to arrive from the kitchen, consisting of banana marshmallows, raspberry macarons and passion fruit pâte de fruits.
Café des Architectes also serves breakfast for early-risers wishing to squeeze in a productive meeting before work, as well as a $22 "executive lunch" served in 30 minutes — an offering that should appeal both to those without an expense account and those who are pressed for time.
Visit Café des Architectes at 20 E. Chestnut St., or cafedesarchitectes.com.
Stop The Presses - Part Four
After a bit of a hiatus, I'm pleased to announce that the latest edition of "Dining Due Diligence," was published in today's edition of The Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. As it turns out, there are so many food columnists writing for them that my column has moved to more of a bi-monthly than a monthly schedule. Look for the next one sometime in October, but until then, enjoy my thoughts on Café des Architectes, in the Gold Coast: