When a restaurant makes it on the list of favorite places of a group of foodies, you know you are on to something. That’s how we found La Sardine, an unassuming French bistro on the near West side of Chicago.
When the owner, Jean Claude Poilevey, is just as easily found lending a hand in the open kitchen as he is greeting his clients in the dining room, you know you have something special.
And when, at the conclusion of the evening, the group is still talking about the food, you know you have success.
That’s the experience of La Sardine. The restaurant is intimate and whimsical, with artwork livening up the otherwise old-world bar feel. The service is excellent, and the food eclectic and perfectly capable of showing up on a menu in Paris.
Let’s just talk about the food for a minute, because it was definitely the star of the show. And, because we had a crowd, we had the chance to try more than our usual share of the menu.
One of the more popular appetizers is Les Moules Marinières, otherwise known as steamed mussels in a white wine herb cream sauce. Our host, a La Sardine regular, warned, “You’ll want to eat the mussels as quickly as possible to get to the sauce.” He was right, especially with the great bread they serve handy to sop up the last bite.
Another is La Queue de Boeuf, or braised oxtail with potato gnocchi, which got winning marks from those who ordered it. And if you happen in there on a night when they offer the Asparagus Strudel, go for it. Flaky pastry wrapped around . . . well, you get the picture. We also shared a bite or two each of their Seared Foie Gras appetizer. Very French and very delicious.
You could also try La Soupe á l’Onion Gratinée (baked onion soup), which is an option on the Le Petit Menu Parisien, or prix fixe, menu. Or consider a salad—they were piled high and fresh, with options ranging from a simple mixed green salad to La Salade Chèvre Chaud, a warm goat cheese salad complete with toasted walnuts.
We could keep going, but just check the website for more of the appetizer ideas.
Entrées were a challenge, since the choices were all intriguing.
When all the indecision had ended, we had at our table Le Steak Grillé Maître d’Hôtel, which was described as, “a simple steak” but was beautifully presented and cooked perfectly to the medium ordered. We had Le Rable de Lapin Rôtî (roasted saddle of rabbit) with pasta. We had La Bouillabaisse “La Sardine”, a dish full of seafood in a heavily saffron-flavored broth. And, we had a couple of the evening’s specials—not normally on the menu: Bone Marrow with Sea Salt and Fried Onions (which was a huge hit, both for presentation and flavor), Red Grouper with Mustard Greens and a lobster sauce, and Rack of Lamb.
In other words, plenty of great flavors to turn the evening into a food experience.
Did I mention dessert? Keep in mind that you need to order them well before you are ready for them, but either of the Soufflés will leave you satisfied. We tried both the Chocolate Soufflé with Crème Anglaise and the Grand Marnier with Strawberry Coulis. You could also opt for a Classic Apple Tart with frangipane and caramel ice cream, or the Molten Chocolate Cake made with cacao berry guayaquil chocolate.
The restaurant is open for lunch or dinner, and is located at 111 N. Carpenter in Chicago.
Take our advice. Go with a foodie.