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Monday, May 21, 2012

Troquet vs. Brasserie by LM

Posted By on 05.21.12 at 04:09 PM

Le declivite Francaise, Troquet
What do you call a French dip sandwich in France? Nothing! Like the Philly cheese steak or the Italian beef, this iconic shaved-meat sandwich served au jus on a baguette is an American invention, probably created at one of two iconic Los Angeles eateries (there's abiding controversy).

That hasn't stopped chef Bradford Phillips of Troquet—the newish "neighborhood French bar" from the folks who brought you LM—from putting one on the menu. As it goes, that's about the only non-Frenchy thing to eat at this Ravenswood corner bar, the home of Wolcott's until owners Stephan and Nicole Outrequin Quaisser took it over in March. That wasn't long before they reopened the restaurant in the Essex Hotel (the ill-fated, erstwhile Tribute) after luring Phillips away from the Pump Room to command both. In scope and ambition, both menus are way scaled back from anything he was doing there, or, for that matter, anything he did at LM when he was the Outrequin Quaissers' opening chef.

This is simple iconic, serviceable French food, with each place featuring many of the same dishes. But the respective environments are radically different enough that they have a profound effect on how you experience the food. Troquet is a snug corner spot, with big windows that open on a wide sidewalk cafe but do little to abate the din from the crowd and incongruous soundtrack (Stevie Ray Vaughan?). There's a quiche, a plat, and a poisson du jour, a cheese plate, a charcuterie plate, a couple salads, a few sandwiches, and just a couple standard entrees. There's a gooey croque monsieur (upgradeable to a madame), a bowl of plump garlicky fresh mussels. The grilled pork belly is wonderfully crispy and luscious, bedded on a green salad, with thick-cut frites that have a white cloudy interior and crackly golden armor. For a French bar there's a limited selection of wines (only seven by the bottle), a more varied selection of craft beers on tap and in the bottle, and some appropriately French concoctions like pastis and Kir royales (Stick to those. The barkeeps don't realize that shaking a Sazerac turns it into a slushy atrocity). The food and spirits at Troquet seem just about good as they need to be to attract a healthy neighborhood crowd. Pretty much everybody there seems like they want to be.

Not so at Brasserie by LM, where a cursory renovation can't dispel the depressing sense of hotel captivity that's lingered after Tribute's demise. Weary travelers hunch over (mostly domestic) beers, or something from the 18-bottle wine list, unable to face the prospect wandering out onto Michigan Avenue or up to the TV-lit despair of their own empty quarters. A larger, less rigorously French menu is there to ease this (possibly wholly imagined) ennui with a burger, bow-tie pasta, and brick chicken, and the same offering of croques, frites, mussels, pork belly, and duck confit as Troquet, plus nonthreatening chestnuts like steak frites, salmon and lentils, a Lyonnaise salad, onion soup, and a sausage du jour. A workmanlike beef bourguignon or a grilled currywurst on potato puree has the potential to cheer this thin crowd up, but somehow it seems perfunctory, phoned in, perhaps a liability of the broader demands of a hotel kitchen that needs to provide daylight-appropriate items like breakfast pastries, eggs, crepes, and muffins.

Troquet, 1834 W. Montrose, 773-334-5664

Brasserie by LM, Essex Inn, 800 S. Michigan, 312-431-1788

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