I've created this topic to include both these restaurants because of the personnel relationship between them. Until last September, Martial Noguier was the executive chef at one sixtyblue, and Suzanne Imaz was the pastry chef. At that time, both of them left and were hired by the hotel, Sofitel Chicago Water Tower, where they serve in those same capacities at its Café des Architectes restaurant. Shortly thereafter, one sixtyblue hired Michael McDonald as executive chef and Stephanie Prida became pastry chef.
I had dined at one sixtyblue numerous times under Chef Noguier's tenure, and always thought it was outstanding; on every occasion, I was wowed by every dish I tried there. In fact, at that time I considered it the very best casual fine dining restaurant in the city of Chicago. I had not dined at Café des Architectes under its previous staff. And I have not yet dined at one sixtyblue under Chef McDonald.
Since it has now been several months for everyone to settle in and make their marks upon their respective restaurants, I figured it's now a good time to see how these two restaurants are doing. The current Restaurant Week promotion provided an added incentive to do so. So last night I had dinner at Café des Architectes, and I am looking forward to dining at one sixtyblue in the near future. The rest of this post comprises my report on last night's dinner.
I'll start by giving away the ending. This was an absolutely GREAT dinner!
Café des Architectes (CDA) is named after the stunning architecture of the Sofitel Chicago Water Tower, in which it is located, near the "Mag Mile" of Michigan Avenue. Its relatively small space occupies the ground floor of the curving glass façade of the hotel entrance. The décor is contemporary in black and white; one entire side of the restaurant consists of that huge curving window facing Chestnut Street. It is visually gorgeous.
The normal dinner menu at CDA, which can be viewed at
consists of a prix fixe 3-course option for $42, plus a la carte selections with most entrees in the high twenties. Since this week is Restaurant Week (RW), CDA is offering a special three-course menu for $32, viewable at
Alongside the RW menu, they presented a shorter menu than usual, with a few appetizers and entrees available as a substitution at an upcharge from the RW price, as well as several entrees available a la carte.
Since I had viewed the normal dinner menu on their website, I was interested in trying their foie gras appetizer, which did not appear on either menu, so I asked about whether it might be available. Our waiter checked, and not only were they happy to make it available, but they did so at a reduced price ($15 instead of the normal $18). This item was in addition to the three courses I was having on the RW menu. The reduced price was a very welcome surprise!
After ordering, we were brought a basket of four different types of delicious bread: a somewhat sweet raisin roll, a whole grain millet roll, and two types of French bread/roll, along with some olive tapanade and butter. All were very good.
For the appetizers, two of us got the "Saffron Fish Veloute - Madagascar shrimp / croutons / black mussels", and this was SPECTACULAR, possibly the best dish of the entire meal. A really good bisque - lobster, shrimp, etc - takes a lot of time cooking the shells of the fish to infuse their flavor, and this was like the most intense shrimp bisque you can imagine, with yummy pieces of fresh shrimp and mussels in it. Very rich and decadent. The other two got the "Homemade Spice Duck Confit - Frisée / Satsuma orange / honey caramel". The orange and spice flavors were quite subtle; it was more like a fairly conventional duck confit, but extremely moist and flavorful. Just excellent. And the foie gras appetizer from the regular menu - "Port marinated foie gras - Pineapple chutney, Balsamic reduction, toasted brioche" - was also delicious (it was cold foie gras, not the sauteed type served hot).
For entrees, one of us had the "Lake Superior Whitefish - Hillside chestnut purée / red cabbage confit / Seedling Farm apple foam". This too was outstanding, with a very thin crispy outer layer on the fish, moist and flavorful throughout (although the red cabbage confit was somewhat bitter). Two of us had the "Duo of Beef - Hanger steak and braised short ribs / shallot purée / watercress salad" (although the wording on the actual menu was slightly different and billed it as "Hanger Steak", with the short ribs as one of the additional items). The short ribs were superb, very moist and tender. The hanger steak was very good too, with a nice bite to it (not tough), and very flavorful. One of us had the "Swan Creek Farm Chicken Breast - Nichol’s fingerling potatoes / oyster mushroom / caramelized Cipollini onions" and reported that it was a bit tough, the only real blemish on an otherwise fabulous meal.
For dessert, one of us had the "Floating Island - Steamed meringue / crème anglaise / caramelized almonds", one the "Chocolate Pistachio Dome - Jivara milk chocolate mousse / pistachio cream center / sour cherry foam", and two the "Coconut Crunch - Lime curd / coconut milk / fresh pineapple". All of these desserts were marvelous, every bit as divine as they sound. Suzanne Imaz, the pastry chef that Chef Noguier brought with him from one sixtyblue, is continuing to do wonderful things at CDA!
One additional note about the food. It's not easy (and not necessarily constructive) to try to categorize the food, but I would refer to it as contemporary American with global influences. I would not call it French cuisine, certainly not in the traditional sense; these items would fit in at any contemporary upscale restaurant. Call it what you will; as with most restaurants, it's easier to get a sense of what kind of food they're serving by viewing their entire menu than by trying to give their food a label.
The service staff was efficient and friendly. One service note is that Chef Noguier was present and stopped by our table and others, to make sure that everything was fine (which of course it was). His presence keeps everything going smoothly, and he doesn't miss a thing; the last time I ate at one sixtyblue, he noticed when one of our party briefly left the table, and he was the one who refolded the napkin belonging to the absent diner. Over dinner tonight, we had been discussing how one test of the level of service of a restaurant is how they treat a solo diner (particularly females dining alone), and we observed that Chef Noguier gave the same attention to a solo diner as he did to the larger parties around the dining room.
The Restaurant Week promotion made this dinner an exceptional value, but even at other times, the value here is excellent. Our dinner, with four of us getting the RW menu, the additional $15 appetizer, and a glass of wine each, came to around $50 per person including tax but before tip. At other times, the three-course prix fixe menu is only $10 more than the RW promotion, and that's still considerably less than many other prominent contemporary American restaurants.
Café des Architectes is a wonderful restaurant, as well as a great value. It does not get as much attention as it should, which is a shame, because Café des Architectes is as good as any casual fine dining restaurant in the entire city. I highly recommend it!
Café des Architectes
Sofitel Chicago Water Tower
20 East Chestnut