When a friend from France - a particularly picky friend - recommends that you try a new French restaurant in Chicago you should pay attention. I was already prepared to visit Le Sud, but with that additional recommendation I had high expectations.
Le Sud not only met, but exceeded those expectations. This newly-opened restaurant in Roscoe Village has already garnered high praise and if the crowds on a Wednesday night were any indication, reservations are going to be in high demand.
Le Sud ("south" in French) offers a truly authentic French-Mediterranean menu focusing on fresh, high quality ingredients, enhanced with modern techniques. Located at 2301 Roscoe Street (on the corner of Oakley) Le Sud has started out strong and considering the “dream team” behind the concept, it will only get better.
Proprietor Sandy Chen (Koi Fine Asian Cuisine), a former resident of Roscoe Village, has created a delightful and charming environment. Everything from the elegantly understated exterior to the touches of country French decor show her attention to detail and her passion. The decor includes silver tin ceilings, exposed brick walls, glass hurricane light fixtures, antique French sideboards and hutches, pewter cage wine storage systems, and floor-to-ceiling French doors. Sidewalk seating will be placed along Oakley Avenue in the spring, followed by a rooftop deck that will accommodate 40 guests, year round. On my recent visit, Sandy was there and I cannot imagine a more gracious hostess. She is clearly thrilled about this project and her delight (and delightful personality) make the experience one to remember.
At the helm of the beverage program is General Manager Terry McNeese (Le Lan; De Quay; The Gage; Henri). He has curated a superior wine list that explores French regions, but also brings in fascinating options from around the world. There are over 150 bottles and 14 glass pours. McNeese has an unerring gift for choosing wines that will pair well with the French-Mediterranean cuisine. If you are unsure about your own pairing skills, just ask the servers (all experienced and knowledgeable) and trust their opinions. Six thoughtful signature cocktails (Tour de Mont; Floraison; Memoire; Martini; The Sylvan; Black Wave) and two reserve cocktails (Glass Joe; Yet Again) accompany craft brews from Chicago and beyond (Metropolitan; Three Floyds; Domaine DuPage; Lagunitas; Left Hand; North Coast; Off Color; JK Scrumpy). The beverage menu may be viewed online.
Of course, the true star of the experience should be the food, and Le Sud does not disappoint. Executive Chef Ryan Brosseau (Table, Donkey & Stick; Perennial Virant) is at the helm of Le Sud's kitchen. Brosseau's Provencal-influenced fare highlights time honored techniques and seasonal preparations of Mediterranean cuisine utilizing locally sourced ingredients.
Dining guests may start with "a partager" dishes like house made charcuterie, tuna tartare, and roasted leek panisse. For my visit, my guest and I sampled two offerings from this section of the menu. We were told by our French friends, in no uncertain terms, that we must try the house-made bread service. Honestly, I normally don’t take the time (or space) to eat bread before a meal, but this one was worth every bite. The baguettes are freshly-baked and the butter is churned in-house. There is nothing quite like freshly-churned butter on a warm baguette. We also sampled the escargot. Normally I avoid escargot since most preparations are simply snails swimming in a pool of garlic butter. Chef Brosseau has created a much more appealing option of wood-grilled escargot on a skewer with herbes de Provence, garlic, and a small salad of petite mixed greens.
Chef's "les entrees" features sardine escabeche, fettuccine with mussels, chilled tomato and cucumber soup, and more. We opted for two of these offerings. First, the foie gras tarte served with burnt almonds, plum and sherry caramel, sorrel, and a butter crust. We both noted that this would be a perfect dessert as well as a perfect appetizer. It was well-balanced between sweet and savory and satisfied both of our cravings for foie gras. We had hoped to sample the rabbit a la Provençal, but it had rotated off the menu. Instead, we ordered the quail that had replaced it. My only tiny quibble with the quail was that the skin was not crispy. Putting that aside, the meat was fork-tender and the entire preparation was a perfect shareable savory option leading into the next course.
Larger plates ("les plats") include pan roasted duck breast, pan roasted steak frites, Parisian gnocchi, and bouillabaisse. We opted to share two of these larger plates - the wood-grilled whole loup de mer and the wood-grilled pork chop. Both were excellent, but the clear winner for me was the fish. Whole roasted branzino is a staple of Provençal cuisine, and Chef Brosseau does not disappoint here. The fish is served with braised farm beans, almond butter, and consommé. There were few residual bones and the fish was cooked to perfection - just done and still flaky.
No trip to a French restaurant is complete without dessert. The “apres le diner” section of the menu includes a traditional Basque cake but we opted to share, the chocolate-orange mousse with whipped crème fraiche and house made ice creams with shortbread cookies. The mousse is a decadent, traditional preparation of dark chocolate and orange. For our ice creams we sampled chèvre with lavender honey, fig and thyme, and a sorbet of fresh peaches. My guest and I were split here - she loved the sorbet (which was excellent) while I definitely preferred the fig and thyme which I paired with an excellent Madeira. After all, what better pairing than figs with Madeira? My suggestion? Just order them all and share.
The complete dinner menu may be viewed here.
If you don’t have the time or budget to fly off to Provence at the moment, my opinion is that the next best option in Chicago is Le Sud. The entire experience made me feel as though I had been welcomed into someone’s comfortable countryside home in the south of France. Dining simply doesn’t get better than spending time with a good friend in a warm inviting environment, sharing delicious food, sampling beautiful wine pairings, and feeling pampered by a friendly welcoming staff.
Le Sud is now open for dinner service Monday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5-11 p.m.; Sunday 4-9 p.m. Ample street parking is available, much of it free (a huge bonus in Chicago). For more information or reservations, visit the Le Sud website or call (773) 857-1985.