Troquet is a bar and brasserie more than a fancy dining establishment but definitely has French influences. My companion and I agree it seems a very pleasant place as we stroll into the sunlit space in the Ravenswood/North Center neighborhood at 1834 W. Montrose. A couple of dozen tall windows form the walls and let the lazy early evening sun pour in on the dark wood tables and floors. The kitchen window is carved out of a curved wall that defines the back space. A big chalkboard menu sports the day's specials and our server, Mona, greets us with a smile and a hint of an accent---she's only just arrived from Germany a few weeks ago.
Our first order of business is to get a couple of cooling beverages---the air conditioning on the 100-plus heat index day we visited was not working well. The manager explains the restaurant has only been open a few months, and one of the big things they didn't realize from the previous owners was that the one giant air conditioning unit on the roof really needs to be three units. They're working on it, he says. So we just hold onto our menus to use as fans.
I like the simple way their wines are presented - 3 reds and 3 whites, from sauvignon blanc to pinot noir to cabernet. It's comfortable choosing your wine when there are only six on the menu. A nice selection of beers and ales, too.
I picked the sauvignon blanc, my companion the White Alagash ale, and we enjoyed sipping them while we checked out the menu. We happily listen to some 80s and other oldies music---it makes a pleasantly rockin' background at a decibel level a notch or two below bar level. We appreciate Mona's willingness to recommend as we do have questions about a few of the menu items.
I couldn't resist the mussels with fries, especially when she described the french fries as twice-fried. Mona encouraged us to start with a cheese plate---as the French often do, she explained. I always thought the French tended to serve cheeses after the main courses, but we weren't into quibbling, took her advice, and were soon plowing into our appetizers.
Small but plump mussels came in a delicious buttery wine broth. I had to ask for more bread from the cheese plate for dipping. The cheeses are served with chopped apricots, but we asked for some of the grainy mustard and cornichons they normally serve with the charcuterie plate. A creamy blue cheese and a drier cheese were most appetizing.
The fries were beautiful---skin-on, crispy-looking. My companion thought they seemed a bit overcooked, but I thought they seemed a little hard from being ever so slightly undercooked. Still good, just not as perfect as they might have been.
The cheeses and charcuterie change weekly as the restaurant chain shares its selections among its three locations---LM in Lincoln Square, Brasserie by LM in the South Loop, LM Troquet. LM also operates a catering arm. By the way, all locations are serving fabulous French cocktails today to celebrate Bastille Day, and LM in Lincoln Square is moving very soon to River North (see details below this review*).
All the main dishes are served with salad and french fries---I like that simplicity, too. And fortunately, since we already had a bowl of fries still with us from the mussels, she said they'd be happy to substitute more salad with our entrees instead.
I decided to test the kitchen by ordering their fish special---seared lake trout. I was not only not disappointed, I was thrilled. The fish, a thick cut compared to to a typical thin brook trout filet, was exquisite---perfectly cooked, juicy and tender. My companion ordered the pork belly, a thick slice layered with fat---a nice way to moisten and flavor the naturally slightly dry meat. Our salads were lovely mix of greens with tomatoes and complemented by a slightly sweet vinaigrette. The dressing was generous, so ask for it on the side if you prefer it more sparingly applied; it was very good.
Despite being full, we let Mona charm us into trying their custom-made desserts: chocolate mousse and unique rice pudding, both of which I normally love. These were very light, cool, whipped versions that sat easily on the tongue and lightly on the stomach. We shared the two and were glad we got them.
I took some photos of the menu; check out the pictures for specifics---but I'll add the pics later as Examiner.com is having some issues with sizing.
By the time we were leaving, the bar had filled up (it was almost 7 pm) with a friendly group of folks who looked and sounded like they were enjoying themselves. Our visit to Troquet was altogether a relaxing and tasty experience. Call ahead on a hot day if you're sensitive to heat and want to know about the a/c situation. Otherwise, just go and enjoy. I'd love to have a place like this in my neighborhood!
- * LM moving to River North. LM Restaurant located in Lincoln Square announces the move to the Felix Hotel in the month of August. The current location will remain open for service during all regular hours of operation through Thursday, July 19.
5 more days - til July 19, LM diners who come to the Lincoln Square restaurant will receive a coupon that offers 25% off at the new River North location. Limit one per table, four diners per table, valid Wednesday, August 15 – Saturday, September,15 2012.