Uncharacteristically, due to a change in editorial oversight, "Dining Due Diligence" happened to run twice this month in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. I'm looking forward to working with my new editor in the months to come, but for now, please enjoy the latest edition from today's paper:
Restaurateur Brendan Sodikoff is the culinary mastermind behind some of Chicago's hottest restaurants and stepping into the River North location of Bavette's Bar and Boeuf, his latest venture, it is easy to see why.
At Bavette's, Sodikoff captures the essence of a French brasserie, down to the dim lighting and luxurious oxblood leather booths, but without the claustrophobia that often accompanies the dining experience abroad. Tables are widely spaced, and unobtrusive jazz music wafts through the air, fostering conversation.
If it weren't for the obnoxious policy of refusing to seat diners until their party is complete, Bavette's would be a welcome haven for business-minded customers wishing to discuss important matters or woo new clients. With that policy, however, Bavette's is better suited to an after-hours cocktail with coworkers who arrive together.
At 218 W. Kinzie St., Bavette's greets guests with a complimentary basket of house-made sourdough bread, served warm, instead of giving in to the burgeoning trend of charging extra for so-called "bread service."
For an appetizer, the shrimp de jonghe is rich and well-rounded, though a bit too zealously salted. The sauce perhaps outshone the crustaceans floating within it, leaving one longing for more of the marvelous bread to soak it up. For those seeking a lighter start, the apple and endive salad is bright and acidic, despite a heavy dose of salty Parmesan that adds an important umami element.
The entree course was inconsistent, succeeding wildly in some dishes and falling flat in others. The fried chicken was surprisingly succulent, but the crust so lacked in seasoning it drew unfavorable comparisons to Shake 'n Bake. Similarly, the short rib stroganoff offered a less heavy riff on the original, with remarkably tender beef, though the flavor did not translate to the bland noodles.
Boeuf is in Bavette's name for a reason, as even the most modest offering, the steak frites, was exceptional. The flatiron steak had incredible flavor and was perfectly cooked as requested, in addition to being tender in a way that cut is seldom experienced. Both components were accentuated and complemented by the lemony, tarragon-scented Béarnaise sauce, which magically added richness and much-needed acidity.
On the side, the chili-laced elote-style corn is a certain crowd-pleaser, while the almost absurdly crisp hash browns were unevenly seasoned, though this oversight was easily addressed by the addition of Bavette's custom steak salt.
Dessert was memorable largely for its grandiose scale. Chicago-style cheesecake towered over the table like the city skyline, and the airy cloud of meringue heaped on top of the lemon meringue pie was equally epic in proportion.