Recently we went to Chicago for the weekend, mainly just to hang out and eat—unfortunately hubby had been a little under the weather, so we changed up our plans at the last minute and cancelled our Blackbird reservation in favor of eating at the restaurant in the hotel at which we were staying—just in case he started feeling really bad, we could ditch out early. Anyway, we had actually looked at the menu at Café des Architectes before and always been intrigued so it seemed like a good idea.
It is a sleek modern space, and calls itself a “modern French bistro.” We had a hard time making our negotiations, and I ended up doing as I often do, making a 3 course meal out of two appetizers and a salad. None of the entrées were jumping out at me. This was where things went a little wrong. Our server acted like this was a completely foreign concept to him and could not understand what I wanted to do (um, appetizer, salad, and then appetizer as a main). It was kind of annoying.
Anyway, we got our order in eventually and then were brought an amuse bouche. It was a lobster salad with shaved fennel and tarragon and vanilla oil. It was ok, honestly made overly liquorice-y and sweet with that combination of things. The bits of lobster were nice and tender though.
My first course was the beef tartare ($14)—it was served as three little towers, one topped with garlic chips, one topped with a deviled quail egg and one topped with grated cheese. The meat was clearly good quality, but was very lightly seasoned—for me I could have used a little more of the flavors I like with tartare—some mustard, some sort of onions (there were a few shallots in there) or something. I did enjoy the bites with the teeny deviled quail egg (and it was very tasty). It added to the meat and gave it a little more of that flavor I was looking for—unfortunately, it really only helped a couple of bites because it was so small. I would have loved to have half a dozen of those on the plate--although then I guess it wouldn’t quite have the stark plate presentation. The swish down the middle was squash puree and wasn’t the additional flavor I was looking for. I needed saltiness, not smooth sweetness. Interestingly, this was the first place I started to notice the trend of every place we went to in Chicago including beef tartare on the menu---of course I love it, so I didn’t mind and it also made me wonder if it will maybe make it on more than a few menus in Indy.
The next course I had was my salad course—which was their take on a Nicoise with grilled baby octopus ($12). It had lettuce, small bits of purple potatoes, green beans, large pieces of the grilled octopus, a light vinaigrette and was all sitting on a puree of salsify (a root vegetable). Luckily, they only gave me about 4 and a half minutes to eat this dish before bringing out the next course (the server really did not get what I was trying to do with this meal), and there wasn’t enough room on the table, so they had to take it away before I got to eat much of it. I say luckily, because this one wasn’t doing it for me. The octopus was too chewy and the salad didn’t have a lot of flavor. The salsify on the bottom gave it a weird, non-salad feel and it was too sweet and savory. I wanted more brightness from a salad.For my main dish, I had the roasted shrimp with truffled risotto and Brussels sprouts. I don’t know, again, this didn’t do it for me either. There was just a sort of across the board lack of finesse in all the dishes and this one was no exception. I did not taste truffle at all in the risotto, the Brussels sprouts were too large and rawish, and the shrimp were on the edge of being overcooked. One thing I will say about this place though is that all the dishes were lovely to look at when they were presented. I just get the feeling that this place has hit its high note at some point in the past, and just isn’t there anymore. Nothing I had was bad, but nothing, and I mean nothing, was in any way memorable (well other than the argument I had to have with the waiter about ordering what I wanted). Oh, there was a nice service of complimentary sweets at the end—and I did enjoy the passion fruit flavored item as well as the dark chocolate caramel piece and the piece of equipment they served it on was pretty cool looking—very architectural—but still not enough to wow me.
Café des Architectes
The Sofitel Hotel
20 East Chestnut Street
Chicago, IL 60611