Phil Vettel reviews Brindille

CHICAGO, Ill. -- A lot of people ask me to recommend quiet restaurants. Well, here's one of my favorites: Brindille, an elegant French restaurant in River North.

Here, the atmosphere is as muted as the dark walls and low-key artwork (16:44.26). Chef and partner Carrie Nahabedian says she wanted to create a place where guests could relax.  

This is matched by Nahabedian's food, which is refined but approachable. Her tart-tatin of potatoes, for instance, is a complex mix embracing rocket greens, Armenian walnuts and herbs de provence, but at its core, it's just a delicious, gooey potato-and-cheese casserole. The steak tartare includes a quail egg and, on the side, a line of bright, acidic accents of mustard, cauliflower and pickled onion, but the key to this dish is that the raw steak isn't chopped until you order it.

This pasta dish features twisted trofie noodles, elevated by lumps of crab meat, bits of granny smith apple, lobster coral cream and a generous topping of shaved black truffle.

Seafood and game dominate the entree selections. The luxury item is the Dover sole, roasted in brown butter with almonds, Parisian potatoes and lemon; you won't find a better piece of fish anywhere. Arctic char, which a lot of people mistake for salmon, is an ocean fish whose richness is balanced by roasted and charred brussels sprouts and hedgehog mushrooms.

Scottish wood pigeon is a real treat. This bird is wild-shot and imported from Scotland; it has an assertive gamy flavor that's enhanced by a liver-bolstered rouennaise sauce, foie gras, bacon and wild-boar sausage. Get this dish if you can.

Not surprisingly, pastry chef Craig Harzewski's desserts tend toward the classics. His sugar-dusted clafoutis is light as a feather, and his blancmange, similar to panna cotta, is lightly custardy and decorated with pomegranate, gooseberries and tapioca pearls, and served with star-anise sorbet.

I give Brindille, 534 North Clark Street, three stars. French dining is making a comeback in America, and in Chicago, Brindille is leading the charge.

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