C’est si bon. So I say it to you, like the French people do, because it's oh, so good. We boarded the CTA, walked a short distance on a beautiful night and Voilá! arrived in Paris. We have our French interns, Nacéra and Constance, to thank for our lovely soirée—they were hungry for French food. What else could we do but take them Brasserie JO? To our untrained eyes, it was the genuine French item. But our French interns could tell us if it was the real thing. First, a definition. A brasserie is a lively place that is both a restaurant and café. Let’s see if the definition fits.
It sure looked French. Nacéra, obviously delighted, looked up and saw the address:
Although it was not open on the evening we dined, there was the traditional sidewalk café.
De rigueur, the bar.
Doesn’t this not look like a French brasserie?
Now add the Salon Privé
And the piece de resistance, the Executive Chef, Joho!
Brasserie JO boldly asserts that it is “Chicago's only authentic French brasserie.” So far we’re convinced. The winner of the 1996 James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant of the Year, we’re all anxious to taste the cuisine. So let’s see if it lives up to it’s first impression.
There were four of us, each with our own palates to please and two experts on authenticity. Our server, Teresa, was more than ready.
What do you serve such a motley crew? For starters, carrots, and a baguette of fresh, warm, crunchy French bread and butter. “The first French loaf we have eaten since we arrived in Chicago! Delicious!!” Nacéra exclaimed.
What carrots! Just enough olive oil, Dijon, a hint of horseradish and a sprinkle of cilantro made these carrots a delectable starter. I will try this at home.
The, Amuse-bouche, a salmon Rillette mixed with magic ingredients including a drop of gin on a crouton was delightful, but problematic since Nacéra does not touch a drop of liquor. Dietary restrictions were no problem.
The our waitress communicated with the Chef de Cuisine Phillip Levinson every step of the way and Nacéra was served a gin-free Amuse-bouche. As it turned out, the “special recipe” Amuse-bouche reminded Nacéra of her grandmother’s recipe!
Both of our Françaises chose Shrimps à la Française. Nacéra summed it up well: “a typical French hors d’oeuvre, it was fresh, spicy and served in a sparkling cocktail glass, a very chic presentation!”
Constance enjoyed every detail of her very French main course, Steak Tartare with Pommes Frites. She says it best: “What a pleasure to savor French fries served in the original white and red squared paper! They were very delicious. For a minute, I thought I was back home, in my hometown brasserie in France. I was delighted to re-discover the tasty steak tartare which is a famous dish in our country. This is by far one the favorite plate I love to eat when I go out to dinner with family and friends!”
I decided to eat like a tourist and started with Onion Soup Gratinée, Baked with Gruyère; then Steamed Mussels, Alsace Riesling, and Pommes Frites. To be totally predictable, I almost had chocolate mousse, but could not resist the Rhubarb and Strawberry Tartlette à la mode. Everything was excellent, but my favorite was my little tart with the flaky crust and ultra creamy ice cream.
My husband, Herb, never predictable, chose the Smoked Salmon with Crispy Potatoes and Horseradish. He was both pleased and intrigued by the light cream sauce subtly laced with just a soupçon of horseradish. It’s presentation was intriguing, too.
When the Tour de France begins this July 4, Brasserie JO will celebrate with special dishes from each region as the cyclists pass through, hold race raffles and show the race on a big screen TV. All this excitement may make Constance a bit homesick—the Tour de France actually passes through her home town.
Needless to say, our “French brasserie authenticity experts” pronounced Brasserie JO an authentic French restaurant and we Americans declared it a terrific place for outstanding cuisine, relaxing ambiance and a delicious front row seat for the Tour de France.
Brasserie JO, a Lettuce Entertain You Restaurant, at 59 West Hubbard, 312.595.0800 www.brasseriejo.com.
Photos: Brasserie JO and Nacéra Kassi