The Taylor Street district of Chicago is notable for the massive medical district at one end and Little Italy on the other end. Nestled in between, however, is one of the finest French restaurants I have ever visited. Chez Joël Bistro Français, located at 1119 West Taylor Street, has been serving up superb Provence-inspired French favorites for over 15 years and continues to excel at that mission.
According to their website, “In the midst of Little Italy, Chez Joël creates the tastes and aromas of France. Featuring traditional favorites, Chef Joel Kazouini offers his straightforward, expertly prepared Southern French cuisine. Chez Joel’s atmosphere is reminiscent of a true French bistro; its walls adorned with French posters and tables covered with butcher paper. The cozy environment makes Chez Joël the perfect spot for any romantic meal, and when weather permits, garden tables offer an open-air experience where you’ll find one of the most divine al fresco dining settings in the city.”
I was recently invited to sample the menu at Chez Joël and I can honestly state that this is my new “favorite French restaurant” in Chicago. On a lovely spring afternoon, I joined owner Ahmed Kazouini on the outdoor patio for superb food, perfect wine pairings, and engaging conversation about the restaurant.
I had the opportunity to sample three of the most iconic of French dishes, all prepared with the special flair that makes Chez Joël stand out from the crowd:
Bouillabaisse Marseillaise (Assortment of Shell Fish with Daily Fish over Julienne of Vegetables and Bouillabaisse bouillon) – What can I say except “magnifique”? This dish will definitely remind you of the cuisine of Southern France. The seafood is fresh and plentiful and the broth is hearty in flavor, but light enough so that it serves as a gentle carrier for the flavors of the seafood. Nothing gets “lost in the sauce” so to speak. Each flavor is distinct, and the overall combination is superb. The specific seafood changes based on what is fresh and available, so you are certain to have a fresh flavorful experience on matter when you order this.
Steak Frites, Beurre Maître d'Hôtel (10 oz. Center Cut Grilled Angus NY Strip Steak with Garlic Butter & Pommes Frites) – This is the comfort food of choice for millions of people in France and after tasting this version, it will become your favorite as well. The thin cut of steak is tremendously difficult to cook to medium-rare perfection, but this one was perfectly-prepared. The butter contained a combination of herbs including a hint of anise – a unique touch that gives Chez Joel’s steak that certain “je ne sais qua” that made me want to come back for more.
Coq au Vin à la Mode Rustique à Ma Façon (Half Chicken Roasted with Lardons, White Wine, Pearl Onions, Mushrooms Served au Jus & Pommes Frites or Mashed Potatoes) – Forget everything you think you know about Coq au Vin. This preparation is one of the most perfect I have tasted. The “traditional” elements are there (pearl onions, mushrooms) but the sauce is created with white wine rather than red. This lends the stock a lighter flavor, allowing the rest of the dish to shine through. Much like the bouillabaisse, this is a wonderful concoction that focuses on all of the elements of the dish and how they interact rather than focusing on the sauce alone.
What visit to a French restaurant is complete without a French dessert? Chez Joel excels at this as much as everything else. My suggestion is to order their "signature dessert," a delightful almond pastry that will definitely be a perfect conclusion to your meal. Pair it with a vintage port and you have pure ecstasy! Each one is baked specifically to order. Be sure to let your server know if you want to sample this delightful dessert.
Do yourself a favor . . . make a reservation today and enjoy a little bit of Provence on Taylor Street.