French food, tired? French cuisine, stuffy and outdated? You’d never know it in Chicago, where two new restaurants have dusted off the most classic of cuisines for two very different takes. Taureaux Tavern proves to be ideal for downtown business lunches and a welcome return to the brassy French eateries of the ’90s, while Roscoe Village newcomer Le Sud provides an elegant take on French-Mediterranean fare innovative enough to compete with contemporaries but still utterly, timelessly French.
From the first bite at Le Sud—which unequivocally should be the baguette ($3), served crusty, bewitchingly fresh and radiating heat—there’s a feeling that everything is going to go right. And in our case, it did. The wood-grilled escargot ($12), served skewered, get a textural upgrade as each bite ends up a little crispy on the outside—the result of a “happy accident” when, ahead of Le Sud’s opening, National Escargot Day had the kitchenless chef Ryan Brosseau preparing snails without the traditional cocotte. “The smoke from the grill helps a lot, and everybody seems to dig it,” he says. Brosseau, formerly of Table, Donkey and Stick, credits the creation of several other dishes to similar happenstance, while others are his adaptations of classic recipes unearthed from vintage provincial French cookbooks. “I’m very old-fashioned,” Brosseau explains—but his food feels anything but. Creamy, rich croquettes ($8) keep from feeling weighed down, in part thanks to the vegetarian filling of celery root and nutty Gruyere. During one recent dinner, roasted quail ($17) was fork-tender and well-seasoned. Crumbly walnut-bread pudding and cranberries played beautifully off the meaty drumettes, while thin slices of pickled pear sprinkled with mustard seed added yet another dimension.
As for entrees at the welcoming, rustic eatery, Brosseau hits all the right notes: steak frites ($27) comes with a nicely seared steak that is flavorful and texturally great, and pan-roasted duck breast ($27) is brushed with a lavender-honey glaze just floral enough to play off the succulent bird and served with contrasting slices of pickled fennel. Having a vegetarian in tow meant we also tried the seared pumpkin with a pile of spherical fregola pasta ($18). It’s a warm, comforting dish that stands up to its meat-based siblings—something Brosseau prioritized menu-wide. “I try to make sure the meat is almost a garnish,” he says. “If you order a steak, I want you to remember the vegetables.”