If you want a trip to Paris without leaving the city, head over to Bistrot Zinc in Chicago. This French restaurant/pub has been a fixture on North State Street, but one that is often overlooked, I think, by those not in the know. You don't want to miss out on this authentic experience serving the same type of food and drink Hemingway enjoyed in the City of Light.
In France, zinc bars or zinc cafes now refer to a type of cuisine but, at one time, the bars actually were made of zinc because the metal resisted stains from beer and wine, unlike wood bar tops. Bistrot Zinc in Chicago features the real thing -- a zinc bar created in France and assembled in Chicago.
Owner Casey Eslick and chef-partner Tim Kirker have transformed the cavernous space into the real thing -- tile floors, tin ceilings and long-aproned waiters serving moderately priced, good food in a convivial atmosphere. On a recent visit, I was so transported back to La Belle France, I was tempted to burst into an Edith Piaf song but, luckily, my dinner partner restrained me. This was our experience.
We started with Labriola French bread, Baby Beets with Banyuls Vinaigrette and Shaved Fennel ($8.95), Yellow Watermelon with French Feta and Basil Oil ($8.95), housemade Pâté Traditionnel with red-wine mustard and croutons ($9.95), and Moules Marinières or mussels steamed with white wine, shallots, cream and parsley ($13.95).
Next, we moved on to the big guns -- Steak au Poivre, peppercorn-crusted New York strip steak with crème fraîche mashed potatoes, haricots verts, and Cognac-cream sauce ($33.95) and Bouillabaisse, head-on shrimp, mussels, scallops, monk fish with rouille croutons ($26.95).
It was tough, but we had to experience dessert, so we made room for the Gâteau de Beurre d'Amande, almond-butter cake with macerated berries ($7.50), Espresso Pot de Crème ($7.50), and Millas de Bordeaux, cherry custard turnover, crème anglaise & caramel sauce ($7.50).
Smaller plates are available for dinner and lunch, and include tagine, crêpes, quiche, crunchy-good croque monsieur, sandwiches and soup-sandwich combos.
None of the adjectives I use could adequately express the quality of the food and knowledgeable service, so let me just say Bistrot Zinc is at the top of my five-star must-return lists. Chef-partner Kirker frequently pops into the dining room to make sure guests are enjoying their meals and feeling at home, and owner Eslick has spared no details in giving an authentic bistrot experience.
The space fills up fast, so make reservations. Enjoy yourself, kick back, drink in the atmosphere in a place where you can have a glass of wine and the plat du jour without getting the "here's your hat, what's your hurry" shuffle.
1131 N. State St., Chicago, IL 60610
Lunch: 11:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays
Dinner: 5-10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 5-11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 5-9 p.m. Sundays
Brunch: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays