Aigre Doux (Chicago)

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One of the things I rarely get to do on business trips is eat out. That’s because most of my meals are part of the conferences I attend, and those that aren’t usually involve a telephone and my hotel room.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve actually had some really good food during these trips. But I really love when my schedule affords me the opportunity to get out of the hotel and find a restaurant slightly off the beaten path.

Chicago seems to be a great restaurant town, and my pre-trip research yielded dozens of quality establishments. However, many were easy to knock off. First, because my wife was accompanying me, steakhouses were out. Considering how steak-centric Chicago is, I know that decision is upsetting to many of you, but it had to be done. Second, I had to put my foot down on price. We’re in a recession here, people and the $100 per person dinner is not helping my wallet.

After getting the list down to about half a dozen, we chose the French-inspired Aigre Doux. Following some delicious bread and butter (what would you expect from a part-time bakery?), we peppered our server with menu questions while sipping our wine. As soon as our appetizers arrived, I knew we had made the right restaurant choice. I ordered the Braised Oxtail Ravioli (wild mushroom ragout, roasted tomato vinaigrette), which was quite simply stupendous. I imagined it would be a heavy dish, but was pleasantly surprised by the delicate pasta, and the well-balanced, almost sweet ragout. My wife enjoyed, although was slightly less enthused about, the Hamachi Avocado (bruléed yuzu, yuzu vinaigrette). This ceviche-like dish was the mirror opposite of mine: cold, light and crisp in flavor and color. It could have used a dash more salt, but altogether, it was a successful appetizer.

For an entree, my wife again went with fish: this time, the Tandoori Wild Salmon (toasted Israeli couscous, cardamom-infused yogurt). I dare anyone who says to never order fish on a Monday to give this one a try. It was  spectacular! The salmon was so tender and well-spiced, I could see myself eating it every night of the week.

As for my entree, the story is a bit stranger. Originally, I ordered the Grilled Pork Chop (braised red cabbage, pomme de terre), which was plated simply and smelled heavenly. The only problem: the pork was tough as hell. I don’t know if it was a bad piece of meat or the chef accidentally overcooked it, but it took all my strength to saw through this thing. After a few bites, I decided to do something I rarely ever do at a restaurant – I sent it back.

Honestly, I don’t fault the restaurant for this hiccup, as they were overly nice and accommodating when I brought it to their attention. Not only did they apologize profusely, but they gave me a replacement entree that was terrific. I speak of the House Smoked Beef Brisket (crisped potato confit, maple pan jus), which was tender, flavorful and smokey in all the right ways. It really brought out that deep-seated carnivorous side.

Somehow we convinced ourselves that we had room for dessert. We probably didn’t, but all the reviews I had read  uniformly warned to not skip the meal-capping sweetness. Boy am I glad we went for it! Not only did we inhale a wonderful fantasia of chocolate and banana flavors, but we got extra chocolate pots de creme as partial compensation for the pork problem. I was so stuffed full of sugary goodness by the time we were done, I could just about roll out of there.

Even with the one entree misstep, Aigre Doux gets my unqualified recommendation. If you ever get a chance to go to a Chicago and steakhouses aren’t your thing, give this place a shot. It’s got flavor to spare.



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