Café Cancale Remakes Publican Anker Into Beacon of Neo-French Seafood

Ariel Cheung | September 6, 2019 | Food & Drink

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Mussels a la Normande ($27) are bathed in white wine.

The team behind The Publican and Blackbird wades into new territory with the seafood-focused Café Cancale.

Savoring the moment is what Café Cancale is all about. The moral is woven into the very fabric of the new Wicker Park restaurant, which sprung up in the former Publican Anker spot in five short weeks. From there, executive chef Paul Kahan (Blackbird, The Publican) and chef de cuisine A.J. Walker—who also helmed Café Cancale’s predecessor—let loose, tweaking the menu continuously since the early summer opening. This has brought about some happy changes, but also left me mourning some early losses (chief among them, the standout whole-grilled lobster).

But savor the moment I did, reveling in the playful “neo-French” fare Walker has been dishing out. “It was important to me that the restaurant had a common thread running through it,” Walker says. “It had to feel like every dish fit.” Raw scallops ($19) are simply adorned with radishes and a drizzle of olive oil, but a silky, salty dollop of aerated butter pudding makes the dish. Dressed lobster ($34) arrives as a black lime-speckled mound of chilled morsels of lobster and sliced shallots, all tossed in that same sweet, light butter pudding. Don’t be discouraged by this no-frills presentation; the yellow chicories ($16) are similarly thrust on a plate, but smoked eel and bacon elevate the crisp, bitter endive-and-escarole salad to the point where stylish plating hardly matters.

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The new interior combines midcentury-modernfeatures with French flair.

It would be easy to comprise a full meal out of the raw bar and starters, but entrees are just as alluring. Corn ravioli ($22) touts a sweet richness gleaned from black truffle and pecorino. The corn pops against the buckwheat pasta shell, and a little hit of spice finishes things off nicely. Trout amandine ($27) arrived steaming hot and perfectly pink, with sprigs of dill adding levity to the brown-butter vinaigrette and salty, rich fish. It was so good, the innocuous sea bass suffered by comparison.

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Trout amandine ($27) is a play on a French classic.

A happy accident (well, for me) resulted in my requested Pablo in Paris cocktail ($14) being switched with my dining partner’s Jacques Rose ($13). By the time we caught on, I’d finished off her sweet brandy sipper, tempered by housemade pomegranate syrup and lemon. In contrast, the Pablo’s mix of suze, absinthe, Lillet Blanc and Rhum Clément VSOP was too one-note, and the one note was bitter. If you’re not already familiar with One Off Hospitality Group partner Eduard Seitan’s knack for great wines, take a trip through his natural wine-heavy list.

Like the rest of our meal the strawberry sundae ($9) is a perfectly simple end to dinner: fresh berries, sea-salt ice cream, almonds and, well, that’s about it. It’s delicious; it’s unpretentious; and it’s utterly worth savoring. 1576 N. Milwaukee Ave., 773.904.1121, cafecancale.com



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Photography by: Jason Robert Scott