Third time's the charm for Pasteur Restaurant
When someone says "Amazing restaurant!" in Chicago, the Edgewater neighborhood is not necessarily the first area that springs to mind. With the re-opening of Pasteur, that might just be changing.
In 1985 Pasteur began in a small space on the corner of Sheridan and Lawrence. The initial concept was to offer simple service of traditional Vietnamese Pho Beef soup, in a manner reminiscent of the row after row of Pho shops in Saigon's Avenue Pasteur neighborhood. In the early 1990s they moved to 5525 North Broadway in Edgewater, but a fire destroyed the restaurant in the mid 90s. They rose from the ashes (quite literally) but once again closed their doors in 2007. Finally, in January of 2012, they reopened for a third incarnation with a new look, new vibe, and a tremendously eclectic and flavorful menu of French/Vietnamese inspired dishes.
Recently, I had the pleasure of being invited to check out Pasteur's new menu. I called one of my intrepid foodie friends and we headed up north to explore the world of French/Vietnamese cuisine.
First of all, the facade of the building is lovely - evoking a feel of French colonial architecture at its finest. Once you enter the restaurant, take a moment to just enjoy the interior decor. The high ceilings, whitewashed walls, light furniture, and funky chandeliers give an air of elegance while also feeling very inviting. Even though the weather is still too cool for outdoor dining, they showed us their enormous outdoor patio. Once the weather warms up, I will be back to enjoy the outdoor space with its fireplaces and water features.
At some point during your meal, unless there's a private function going on, you should definitely take a quick peak at their private dining space. Gorgeous. They seat about 40 in an intimate and inviting space. Of special note, ask them about the artwork hanging on the walls of the private dining space. That alone is worth a quick visit.
But of course, you want to hear about the food, right? Well first you get to hear me wax rhapsodic about the cocktails.
Beverage director Paul Tran has crafted some of the tastiest and most intriguing cocktails I have tried in some time. My friend and I managed to sample several different drink offerings and each one was truly memorable.
I started with the Pauly Buff (Buffalo Trace Bourbon, St. Germain, Cedilla, Licor 43 and Apple Pucker garnished with a lemon twist). It started out a bit on the sweet side, but about halfway through the flavors melded perfectly. This is a great cool weather cocktail. My friend started with the Pasteur 85 (Hendricks gin, lemon juice, lychee puree, agave nectar, Cremant, plum bitters), a unique take on the classic French 75. She reported that it was superb, refreshing, and complex (in a good way). With dinner, we both tried out the Dirty Girl martini (Snow Queen Vodka, olive juice and muddled fresh basil garnished with Thai basil and chile blue cheese olives). This one is worth a try if for nothing else besides the amazing freshly-stuffed olives. The basil, too, is a unique and fascinating twist.
The wine menu (largely French, of course) is small but very impressive so if you're not a cocktail drinker you will still be satisfied with the beverage service.
Now for a few words on the food. In Vietnamese, you might say "Ngon!" or in French, "Délicieux!" but in any language the food we sampled was delicious. Nearly everything on the extensive menu is available in two different sizes offering a perfect way to sample numerous dishes in a tapas-like manner.
We started by sharing two appetizers: Chao Tom (Sugar Cane Shrimp) and Canh Ga Chien (Lollipop Chicken). The shrimp was served in a style much like a maki roll, composed of grilled shrimp paste wrapped around sugarcane, served with rice noodles, fresh herbs, rice paper and a sesame plum sauce. They were very light, but the flavors melded well and as an appetizer the portion size was perfect. The chicken was one of our favorite items of the meal, largely because of the awesome sauce. The marinated chicken lollipops were served with a spicy citrus sweet and sour sauce that was good enough to eat all on its own.
We followed that up by sharing a salad. At the advice of the server we opted for a relatively traditional Thai dish, the Goi Vu Du Tom (Shrimp Papaya Salad), shredded green papaya, topped with poached shrimp, fresh herbs and roasted peanuts. This was another light offering, but very fresh and flavorful. It's a small salad, but perfect for sharing if there are multiple courses involved with the meal.
For the entree, we shared three offerings. We opted for the small-plate version of the following:
- Muc Xao Sa-te (Calamari Sa-te) consisting of lightly battered calamari sautéed with a caramelized glaze of baked dried red peppers, onions and garlic.
- Suon Bo Nuong (Grilled Beef Short Ribs), marinated bone-in beef short ribs, charcoal grilled and served with a side of endive, mango and avocado.
- Seared Pork Tenderloin - Bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin, sautéed with mushrooms, carrots and zucchini, served with a whole grain mustard and apple sauce.
The pork was the only disppointment of the evening because it was slightly overcooked and dry. The other two offerings, however, were superb. We both agreed that we would return just to order more of the calimari. That specific item (along with the Chicken Lollipops) would be on my "must try" list when you visit Pasteur.
Photos courtesy of Pasteur.