Old Town Brasserie is the newest and probably most exciting restaurant (culinarily speaking) in Old Town. I finally dined at this much-reviewed French restaurant this evening. With no reservation and rain about to come cascading down any minute, I decided to take a chance and see if OTB had any free tables. It being a Tuesday night, they were able to accommodate our party of two with a table in the bar.
It was actually a great table next to the window looking out on Wells Street. The bar was doing steady business with only a few vacant seats at any given time, but not overflowing to the point where the crowd would bother our table. Plus, from our table we could see the Cubs game playing on the four plasma TVs scattered above the bar.
We started the meal with the soup du jour, a roasted squash puree which I was pleasantly surprised to learn was not cream-based. The puree was magnificent – velvety-smooth it started off sweet and finished slightly salty. There was a small garnish with a bite to it, which provided a nice contrast to the smooth texture of the soup.
Next came the amuse bouche: a cucumber salad with a duck spring roll. The crunch of the spring roll worked well with the smooth, almost slimy nature of the cucumber. Again, the flavors transitioned well – it started sweet, then was a little spicy in the back of the mouth with a somewhat salty finish.
For the main course I ordered the fish of the day, an oven-roasted halibut with wild rice, carrot battonets and red wine reduction. From a presentation standpoint, this dish was outstanding. The rich, vibrant colors of the sauce, carrots and beet chip garnish contrasted beautifully with the nicely browned halibut and white plate. As for taste, the flavors were nice but overshadowed by a cook who was a little heavy-handed with the salt.
The other entrée at the table was wonderful. It was the nage de homard: oil-poached lobster, seared scallops and Israeli couscous with lobster sauce. The flavors were delicate but rich, the seafood cooked to perfection and seasoned well. The only thing strange was the garnish, a parsley leaf sandwich between two small pieces of dough. At first glance, I thought it was a large ravioli until I realized the dough was flat. It was nice to look at but bland.
For dessert we shared the chocolate moelleux, a warm-centered chocolate cake with ice cream, a blackberry and two grapefruit supremes. The cake was great. It was slightly crisp/dry on the outside but the center was moist. Personally, I thought the tart grapefruit was an odd garnish but overall enjoyed the dish.
Service was great. Our waiter was very attentive and recited the many specials with ease. The food came out hot and quick, which was appreciated as my dining companion (my dad) doesn’t like to linger between courses. If anything, the bussers were a little quick to clear the plates but certainly not to a point worth complaining about. I was even impressed with the valet service. While waiting for our car to be retrieved, we noticed a small space attached to the restaurant. The valet explained that it would soon be used as part of an outdoor lunch café and dinner-time carryout. This valet also rushed to open our car doors in the rain while his co-worker was still exiting the vehicle. Their attentiveness was a surprising finish to an overall pleasant dining experience.
Old Town Brasserie: 1209 N. Wells St., Chicago (312-943-3000)
Soup du jour: squash puree
Amuse bouche: cucumber salad with duck springroll
Nage de homard