Splash Magazine Worldwide publisher, Lawrence Davis, recently visited Chicago and after a day touring highlights in the city, he and Chicago Splash Magazine editor, Barbara Keer, visited Bistro Voltaire. Bistro Voltaire is tucked away at 226 W. Chicago Avenue but it is a little hidden treasure, charming, and serving some of the best food either of us has ever had. It has been open just over a year. It was our good fortune to be there on a Monday night because a 3-Course Prix Fix $27 a person menu is offered.
We were charmed the moment we entered the restaurant - the décor, the low lights and candles and the music. It was warm and romantic. Lawrence commented that it was “a great date place”. There are pictures of French philosophers along the walls and a wall mural with a large etching of Voltaire that is a whimsical touch, accompanied by Voltaire's famous quote: "Je m'arrêterais de mourir s'il me venait un bon mot ou une bonne idée (I will stop my death if a good word or a good idea come to my mind), and a black board at the end of the bar. Steven, our server, greeted us, seated us and in between courses shared bits of information about the food and the restaurant.
A wonderful small loaf of warm French bread was placed before us as we studied the menu. It was unusually crunchy on the outside and moist and pleasant and flavorful inside and the butter exceptional.
The Prix Fix menu was as far as we got because it had everything we wanted. The appetizers included: Soupe a L’olgnon gratinee (Classic French onion soup), La salade maison (Farmed market greens with Herbs de Provence and warmed goat cheese crouton) and Moules (Mussels, white wine, shallots, herbs)
It was a difficult choice but, being a vegetarian, onion soup is rarely available in restaurants and this was made with vegetable stock. We could not resist which was a good thing, because it was amazingly good. It smelled so good. As each spoonful followed the next, neither of us could believe the wonderful flavor. The caramelized onions and aged Gruyere cheese were plentiful and delicious. This was possibly the best onion soup either of us had ever tasted and it stayed surprisingly hot.
The entrees included: Pave de Saumon grille (grilled salmon with Toasted Israeli couscous, asparagus, tomatoes, lemon butter sauce), Jarret D’ageau (Braised lamb shank over Red barley risotto) and Gnocchi a la Parisienne (French style gnocchi, sautéed vegetables, beurre noisette).
Lawrence selected the salmon. It was among the best salmon he has ever tasted. He was surprised that it was even better restaurants that specialize in fish. This may have been due to the fact that the chef preparing this dish had previously worked at Trump Tower and specializes in fish. The salmon was beautifully presented, very fresh and not “fishy”. It was tender and flaky and served with a great sauce and delicious Israeli couscous.
I selected the Gnocchi a la Parisienne. This was not the gnocchi I have experienced in the past. It was French gnocchi and not like the Italian variety. It was fluffy and tender and had a cheese flavor. I nearly finished the very large portion as one delicious bite followed the next. It was so good. It was the best gnocchi I ever had.
The dessert choices included: Gateau au chocolat (Warm chocolate cake with espresso ice cream and candied vanilla), Crème brûlée (Rich vanilla custard and caramel), and Profiteroles (Choux pastry, vanilla ice cream, warm chocolate sauce).
Both of us chose the Crème brûlée. The caramel was crunchy and crispy while inside it was soft and mellow, the contrast was perfect. It was so good, the best either of us had ever had. It was not overly sweet and the topping was thicker than usual. Steven explained that it was made with fresh vanilla bean. In fact, all of the desserts are made fresh each day with the finest ingredients.
Clearly the talents of owner Ned Boukram who has experience with his bakery, La Provence Bakers (http://laprovencebakers.com) and Chicago Organics offering an array of competitively priced, 100% certified organic produce, meats and dairy products in addition to delicious ready-to-go soups, salads and sandwiches at Chicago French Market, Steven who has been involved with Let Us Entertain You and the Levy Brothers and the sous chef with fish expertise from Trump Tower blend their skills in perfect harmony at Bistro Voltaire.
The wines are also very special and wide ranging. More than 50 wines are offered, a dozen of which are available both by the glass and the bottle. Both red and white are chosen with care and are special. Bistro Voltaire also presents classic French cocktails ($11 each) such as the Jean Paul Sartre (Vodka, St. German, pineapple juice, fresh squeezed lime juice); the Camus (Calvados, Rum, Sugar Cube); Moliere (light rum, dark rum, pineapple juice, orange juice, grenadine); the Chambord Royale (Chambord, vodka, triple sec, fresh squeezed lime juice); the Simone de Beauvoir (Tequila, amaretto, grenadine, pineapple juice); the Colette (dry gin, St. Germain, Chartreuse, fresh squeezed lime juice); and the Dubonnet Rouge Martini (Dubonnet, triple sec, cranberry, vodka).
On the regular menu the First Course offers eleven items ranging in price from $9.00 to $14.00, the main courses include lamb, salmon, gnocchi, duck, sea scallops, Cornish hen, short ribs and a 10oz NY Strip steak with prices that range from $18.00 to $28.00 and there are several side dishes at $5.00. The menu changes seasonally so there is always a good reason to return and we intend to do so soon.
Bistro Voltaire, a classic French bistro owned and operated by Ned Boukram, is located at 226 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago, IL 60610. The restaurant is open for dinner from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., Monday through Saturday; closed on Sunday. For more information or to make reservations, please contact Bistro Voltaire at (312) 265-0911. Please also visit the website at www.bistrovoltaire.com
Chicago French Market http://www.frenchmarketchicago.com/vendor/chicago_organics
Photos: Lawrence Davis