Paris Club

(Chicago, IL) — Since Chicago isn’t too far away, we often get the chance to zoom on over and visit friends. Oftentimes, that means joining them for a meal or two at our favorite places (like The Purple Pig), but we always try to squeeze in a fresh experience. Chef Jean Joho’s newest hot spot is Paris Club, a casual but upscale French restaurant that we just have to experience together. On a hot, blustery Friday evening, we walk the half mile from our hotel and meet Karla at the bar...

He Fed:

French food is my favorite, and I’ve had the exquisite pleasure of experiencing Chef Joho’s cuisine in the past (personally prepared, I might add). He’s turned me on to all kind of seafood, including giant sea scallops and lobster belly, and even managed to rekindle my long-forgotten love of white wines. I might be slightly biased, but I'm trying to approach dinner with a blank slate.

The decor at Paris Club is reminiscent of the larger, fancier places in the City of Light. One side is a dark, swanky open air bar, while the dining room is a larger common room with many tables and booths. The walls are scrubbed white brick like you might seen in the Parisian subway, while dimly-lit tube lamps glow overhead. We’re shown to a table in the dining room, but near enough we can peak into the bar.

Our waitress is all cool French offishness, with knowledgeable recommendations and a hidden center of warmth. There is a bit of a mixup with the beer selections (she brings a sample of Goose Island Matilda instead of Allegash Black, but it is rectified later); I start with a bottle of Jenlain Blonde, which is yeasty and light on the tongue. We’re in the mood to take it slow so we get a cheese platter with a mild blue, a soft brie, and a pot of creamy lavender honey goat cheese.

Juliet and Karla want appetizers. Although I abstain from the Lobster Crostini, I take a taste of their Goat Cheese Au Gratin with tomato marmalade: tart and sweet. I also get a single Escargot Bourguignonne, a snail steeped in a mixture of butter, garlic, and parsley, then topped with a puff pastry. I peel the pastry off the top of the cup, as instructed, then pluck out the snail, wrapping it in the puff and chowing down. Amazing!

Just when I think I’ve hit the pinnacle of what Paris Club has to offer, I try the Croque Fingers. These are essentially strips of bread, upon which thin sheets of ham have been topped with melted, grilled Gruyere cheese. I take one of these and dip them into the “sauce Madame”, a poached egg at the bottom of the cup filled with other creamy sauce. My bread pierces the egg and yolk spills out, soaking into the bread. The first bite is silky, oily, cheesy and simply incredible. No one can blame me for double-dipping.

I’ve had just about enough food, but there is one dish still calling me: Coq au Vin. It is prepared two ways: roasted juicy with crispy skin, then sliced, but also braised in a deep red wine sauce, falling off the bone. There are vegetables, too...potatoes, onions, snap peas, and asparagus. I only have eyes for the chicken, though. It is simple French food prepared simply and spectacularly.

We sip the rest of our drinks and pay up, finishing our conversation outside, where the weather has decided to simmer down a bit. I’m very full, and very happy to have made the Paris Club’s acquaintance, at long last. I hope to return again soon.
She Fed:

I love the Paris Club because they seat you quickly and get a drink in your hand just as fast! Karla and I decide to split a bottle of rose while Jeremy goes for a few new beers on tap.

We start with a cheese platter and an order of baguettes with truffle butter. The mini-baguettes (so cute and pointy!) are still warm from the oven. On its own, the bread is lovely; daubed with the truffle butter it’s simply heaven.

The cheese tray is composed of a pungent blue, a triple cream brie, and a potted goat cheese covered with a layer of lavender honey. On the side are figs, marcona almonds, and raisin toast. Karla and Jeremy aren’t grooving on the raisin bread but I love it with the honeyed goat cheese and a few almonds.

Before we can get too into the cheese, our next appetizer arrives: the gratin of goat cheese in a tomato sauce with charred toasts. The cheese is tangy while the tomato sauce is sweet and summery. Slathered on the crusty toast, it’s incredibly delicious.

Next up are the croque monsieur fingers. Ham and cheese sandwiched between buttery bread slices are grilled, topped with more cheese and sliced into “fingers”. They’re served with a poached egg topped with mornay sauce in a little side dish—perfect for dipping. We are only too happy to oblige. The crispy bread, rich ham and cheese, lush sauce and egg yolk are reminiscent of a traditional croque madame (or a croque monsieur minus the egg) but the presentation is playful and fun. I’m a sucker for a good croque monsieur and this dish is absolutely divine.

While Jeremy indulges in a single escargot with puff pastry, Karla and I share a lobster crostini with truffled scrambled eggs. The eggs are soft-scrambled with just a light touch of white truffle. They’re topped with succulent lobster meat, a drizzle of butter, and parsley. Another truffle dish is probably overkill, but damn is this good! Lobster, eggs, truffles...what’s not to love?

At this point, I should be having a salad for my main, but I keep thinking about the amazing steak frites I’ve had here in the past. Karla confirms she’ll share with me so I order the steak frites with “sauce doog”. I’ve had it before and know we’re in for a treat. Karla has one bite of the steak dipped into the sauce and her eyes roll back in her head! I don’t know what’s in the sauce, but it’s buttery, herby, and almost meaty at the same time. The steak is fork tender and cooked perfectly medium rare. The frites are exactly as I remember—sheer perfection. I’ve never had better frites anywhere, including Paris.

I’ve been lucky enough to eat at Paris Club several times and it remains a favorite. They offer affordable wines by the glass, insanely good starters (the charcuterie board is amazing), and great service. The frites alone merit a visit.

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