French dining in Chicago . . . c'est magnifique!

Chicago is a world-class dining city with restaurants of every conceivable type.  Whatever you might crave, there’s a pretty good probability that you will find it with very little effort in Chicago.  French food is no exception.  One of my personal favorites  is Mon Ami Gabi located at 2300 N. Lincoln Park West in Chicago.

Several weeks ago, a friend took me to Mon Ami Gabi for the first time.  Although it’s a small restaurant and tables are placed in close proximity to each other, the ambiance still manages to be warm, inviting and not at all noisy.  We had an excellent meal that night and I filed the experience away in the “I should go there alone sometime” part of my brain.  I didn’t have long to wait before that message popped back up in my brain!

Here’s where what I call my “Single Diner Assessment” module kicks in.  I have a series of parameters by which I judge any dining experience, but particularly when dining alone:

  1. First Contact: How am I greeted?  How is my interaction with the host/hostess?  How do they make me feel?
  2. Seating: Where do they seat me?
  3. Second Contact: How is my first interaction with the server(s)?  How long do I wait?  How do they make me feel?
  4. The Meal: Does the menu discriminate against single diners?  How am I treated during the meal?  Do I ever feel rushed to finish?
  5. The Exit: When I leave, does anyone engage me in conversation or say anything to me? 

So how did Mon Ami Gabi score?

First Contact Excellent!  I walked in and was greeted immediately by a charming hostess who welcomed me to the restaurant.  I requested a table for one.  Without a single instant of hesitation, she looked at the chart, handed her assistant a menu and wine list and gave her a table number.  She then wished me a good meal.  One of the hallmarks of good service for the solo diner is this type of attitude.  There was not a moment of hesitation, no looking surprised, no query about whether I might prefer to sit at the bar.  They treated me like any other party, regardless of the party size.
Seating Excellent again!  One of the major complaints from solo diners around the world is that tendency of many restaurants to seat you in the worst possible locations.  Apparently, some restaurants assume that a person dining alone won’t mind sitting next to the kitchen or adjacent to a prep station.  After all, it’s better to ruin a meal for one person than a large party, right?  Oops . . . did that sound cynical?  Yes?  I guess it is.  In the case of Mon Ami Gabi, however, they sat me at a two top in the middle of the restaurant nowhere near the doors to the kitchen or any kind of prep station.

Second Contact Great once again!  Seconds after sitting, my water was filled and only a moment later the server appeared.  He was consistently excellent throughout the meal and made me feel like a valued customer.
The Meal Superb!  Many restaurants have menus which instantly make me angry as a solo diner.  Often you see something that sounds delicious, only to then see something like “available for 2 or more only.”  Really?  That stinks!  The menu at Mon Ami Gabi has none of that discriminatory language.  This night, the meal was spectacular.  The server was attentive but never intrusive.  He gave excellent wine pairing suggestions and when he didn’t know the answer to something or felt someone else might be a better resource, he would take my food/wine pairing question to them and report back.  Overall, it was a superb meal and never once did I feel rushed to finish, despite the fact that the restaurant was quite full by the time I left.
The Exit –  Once again, excellent!  The server thanked me for dining with them, the hostess engaged me in conversation and thanked me as did her assistant.  Everyone made me feel welcome and valued as a customer.
Here’s the link to the Mon Ami Gabi menu and one to the Mon Ami Gabi wine list.  They even have a gluten free menu!  My meal that night consisted of:
Sea Scallops Gratinées paired with a glass of Sancerre – Domaine Roger Moreaux 08
Fish du jour which was a roasted sea bass on a bed of celery root purée paired with a glass of Côtes du Rhone – J. Vidal-Fleury 07
Flourless dark chocolate cake paired with a glass of single malt scotch – Balvenie 12 yr.

I just made myself hungry all over again!

Epicuriously Yours,
Tommy Hensel
Table For One, Please






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