Le Francais has always been a special place for us, since we dined there the night we became engaged. That was back in Jean Banchets heyday. You had to dodge the rolling silver carts (as big as Smart cars) stuffed with the multiple catches of the day and various meats. Excess ruled: extreme quality and massive quantities of everything - ingredients, service, wines, interior furnishings, etc, etc. I have yet to experience anything like those meals.
Here is a great story regarding the previous JB era of excess. Every dish came out on a different Villeroy & Boch oversized dinner plate (at least thats what we thought they were), appetizers, salads, desserts, everything. When we were china shopping prior to our wedding, we wanted the over-sized VB dinner plates. No one knew what we were talking about because they did not exist. JB was using round platters for plates at IIRC about $150 per almost 20 years ago. For perspective, we paid about $65 to $75, on sale, for a 5 piece place setting of Villeroy & Boch Amapola at that time.
Tuesday was our anniversary and we took advantage of Le Francais new no corkage fee on Tuesdays. It was our first time back since the second coming of Roland Liccioni.
We decided on the seven course degustation menu, even though it was a school night. Our super-waiter, Daniel, knows the menu inside and out. He will give you honest opinions and even make some off-the-menu recommendations. Not to mention terrific (without being intrusive) service. Honestly, one of the best waiters Ive ever seen.
The evening began with a two-fer amuse-bouche, a very tasty mushroom duxelle profiterole over sauce Bordelaise and a crisp seafood spring roll.
Our first course was actually three appetizers: white Alba truffle custard with chestnut espuma and topped with shaved black truffles (deep, rich and complex), king crab ravioli (good, but we both expected this to be the highlight of the three and it was our least favorite app) and cold foie gras on toast (I could have eaten an entrée sized portion). A terrific start.
The scallop cake (the consistency of a thick mousse) with cucumber salad and Vietnamese broth was a delicious combination of flavors. Another winner.
Seafood course number two was roasted Loup de Mer (sea bass) with killer thin-shaped, herbed spaetzle, and caviar eggplant over a watercress sauce. If there wasnt enough going on, there was a single ravioli filled with liquid truffle (eat it in one gulp to prevent losing the filling) resting comfortably on top. Our bottle of 2003 Sine Qua Non Pinot Noir Omega, Shea Vineyard, Willamette Valley played very well with the riot of flavors, especially the truffle and herbs.
Our third type of ravioli for the evening was this pasta course of foie gras ravioli with fresh basil and banana water. This odd-sounding pairing worked very well, especially with sommelier Bruce Crofts recommendation of 2003 Balthazar Ress, Hattenheimer Schutzenhaus, Riesling Kabinett. Just the right amount of sweetness for the foie gras, plus some nice minerality and acidity. Bruce has made some very thoughtful selections for the extensive wine list.
A lover of game could never pass up Assiette de la Ferme or three preparations of game. Perfectly rare New Zealand venison medallion, stuffed rabbit loin, and mahogany colored, crispy-skinned quail were each surrounded by its own sauce as the plate was divided into three wedges by piped potato puree topped with spears of asparagus. Now were talking. Many times the entrée cant live up to the complicated starters, but not tonight. That well structured (the fruit, acid, and tannins were in perfect balance) Omega just sang with the earthy game.
A nice combination of six very good cheeses were served with a nut bread, some red grapes, and an apple slaw. While the remaining pinot was good, Bruce thought we should try the 2000 Chateau Tirecul Cuvee Chateau Monbazillac. Another great suggestion.
Desserts were plentiful. Sharing a rectangular plate were a delicious coffee crème brulee, a chocolate tart, really good coconut panna cotta, and an unbelievable cassis sorbet (WOW! How can a sorbet steal the show? Tremendous depth of flavor.). The blue, black, and strawberries on the plate tasted like they were just plucked outside, but it is November 29! I wish the berries Ive been buying lately tasted half this good. There was also an emergency tray of sweets, delicious chocolates and cookies. We were glad we saved some of the Monbasillac for dessert.
Since Tuesdays are calmer than weekend evenings, we were able to chat quite a bit with Daniel, who we know from previous dinners at Les Deux Gros (as well as Le Francais) and Bruce. They are both extremely knowledgeable, very friendly, and just good guys. We wound up being the last party to leave.
Just a delightful evening.
269 South Milwaukee Avenue
Wheeling, IL 60090