Happy Bastille Day! I've been obsessed with French cuisine ever since I was in high school, thanks to my food-loving French teacher Monsieur Llama (let's not talk about how many years ago that was... yikes!). As a reward for surviving the hours and hours we spent conjugating verb tenses each semester, M. Llama would set aside a chunk of time to explore the cultural aspects of France; there were movies, music, and politics, but most of our time was focused on food. He had a never-ending stash of food photos from his trips abroad and would often lovingly describe dish after dish as we all drooled on our desks. Other times he would assign us cooking homework, in which we all had to make simple French dishes and serve them to the rest of the class (I once made a really sad French flan tart with my cooking partner). The best times were when he gave us small treats he either made or brought back from his trips - I remember how excited I felt about this food that was all so incredibly different (to a Midwestern suburbanite who subsided on mostly cereal and mac & cheese) and how I couldn't wait until the day in which I could travel to France and explore the cuisine for myself (and practice my terrible French during a chance encounter with a lovely single French boy).
My high school French teacher most definitely sparked my interest in French culture and all these year later, I still not only love French cuisine, but also I've developed a great appreciation for its simple preparation methods and robust flavors, along with the artful and often delicate ways in which the dishes are presented. The French are truly masters of creating dishes that both taste good and look good; in Chicago, Café des Architectes is known as one of the best when it comes to capturing everything that is special about French cuisine.
Located in the heart of the Gold Coast in the gorgeous Sofitel Hotel, Café des Architectes offers diners a contemporary, seasonally-inspired French menu in a chic, stylish environment. I've long been a fan of the elegant hotel (it's such an architectural masterpiece!) and while I had encountered both Executive Chef Greg Biggers and Executive Pastry Chef Anna Young at numerous events and festivals over the last few years, I hadn't ever actually made it into the restaurant... until now!
The lobby of the hotel is always filled with fun touches and beautiful arrangements; Ashley and I both loved the gorgeous sunflower display created in honor of Van Gogh’s Bedroom exhibit at the Art Institute.
We started off our morning at Café des Architectes with some necessary caffeine...
...and the gorgeous and perfected presented Chestnut Provisions Tasting Plate. The tasting plates all offer a selection of cured meats and cheeses, accompanied by a selection of housemade preserves, jams, and pickles. Everything in the Chestnut Provisions line is crafted on-site, as Café des Architectes holds the only cheese-making certification given to a restaurant in the state (yes, they have their very own super fab cheese cave!).
Not only are the Chestnut Provisions boards presented beautifully, they're also unique to Café des Architectes, as no other restaurant in the city offers its own meat, cheese, and pickling program. Trust me, you are going to want to completely clear this fantastic board!
After demolishing our tasting board, we moved on to this refreshing Ahi Tuna and Chickpea Salad. This simple salad packed quite a flavorful punch - most definitely a dish I can see myself returning to during the hot weather when I'm looking for something light and healthy.
Along with the Ahi Tuna Salad, we also nibbled our way through another of their signature seafood dishes: the Maryland Style Crab Cakes with Chipotle aïoli, citrus, and avocado purée. I particularly enjoyed the sharp bite from the slightly spicy mustard paired with the tangy citrus and creamy avocado. This is definitely one of those dishes in which you'll want to get a little of everything in one bite!
We then moved on to our entrées, starting with this perfect, perfect, perfect Croque Madame (can you tell how much I loved it?!), made with Nueske's ham, béchamel, and gruyere cheese. While the Croque Madame (or Crouqe Monsieur) is obviously a staple in any French restaurant, there are some restaurants that get it so right there's no way you can resist indulging in this rich gooey treat. Café des Architectes offers one seriously drool-worthy sandwich!
We love our egg porn!
This French-inspired CDA Burger is slathered with Boursin aioli and covered in crispy onions, bibb lettuce, and applewood smoked bacon. I really enjoyed the addition of the sweet Boursin aioli, which blended nicely with the heavy meat and crunchy onions.
How cute is this burger?!
Despite being ridiculously full (yes, that's a common theme when we lunch together), we couldn't leave without sampling some of the delectable desserts. We started out with this amazing Seasonal Dessert Degustation, filled with tiers of various chocolates, seasonal fruit candies, mini pastries, and macarons.
Designed by Executive Pastry Chef Anna Young, the Dessert Degustation consists of her top confections and highlights the partnerships she creates with local farmers; the rotating selection focuses on the best flavors of each season.
We also sampled the Valrhona Chocolate Sphere with almond praline mousse and black raspberry, and garnished with cocoa nibs. As Ashley mentioned several times, this is one of the most spectacular chocolate desserts I've ever had. We both absolutely loved the deep rich chocolate paired with the tart black raspberries. And let's be real - you really cannot beat this gorgeous presentation!
Despite the extremely strong start to dessert course, there was still one dish that ultimately won my heart: the re-imagined Sticky Toffee Pudding with dates, blood orange puree, and praline ice cream. I could not get enough of the gooey toffee bites paired with the acidic citrus. I already loved sticky toffee pudding to begin with - Chef Young took it to an entirely new level!
The loveliest and most delicious pudding ever!
Needless to say, I LOVED my meal at Café des Architectes, thanks to the elegant space, attentive servers, and seriously delicious food! Café des Architectes is a must-visit for Chicagoans and visitors alike - anyone who appreciates the European touch and a bit of whimsy will take joy in the French masterpieces.
You can try all of this deliciousness and more at Café des Architectes: 20 East Chestnut St., Chicago, IL.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary meal to facilitate this post. Review and all opinions are my own.