Phil Vettel reviews Cafe Cancale

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CHICAGO, Ill. — Cool and refreshing as an ocean breeze, Café Cancale is a two-month-old French seafood restaurant. Sitting on the northern edge of Wicker Park, the restaurant is light and airy, with awning covered and shaded windows, and a few mirrors creating a porthole effect.

The name comes from a coastal town in Brittany, known for its oysters, and so naturally, oysters are a big part of the menu. Six varieties are offered daily, served on ice with a light mignonette. And from 4 to 6 p.m. weekdays, they’re just $1 each, which keeps chef A.J. Walker, or one of his teammates, busy shucking all day long.

There’s more to the place than oysters, of course. There’s a terrific salad of yellow chicory, poached egg, and bacon – essentially a salad Lyonnaise — but with the addition of crispy potato slices and smoked eel, which takes the salad in a whole new direction.

Halibut is in season, and Café Cancale offers an excellent version, poached in butter and vermouth and served with snap peas, hazelnuts and celtuce.  And do not miss the walleye quenelles, with lobster sauce and English peas. These souffle-like seafood bites are in the style of quenelles de brochet, only they’re made with Wisconsin walleye, instead of the traditional pike.

There are a couple of meat dishes on the menu, including a fine steak frites. The steak is topped with a vivid green escargot bordelaise sauce, and the frites themselves are so hot and crispy that they’re worth ordering all by themselves.

Desserts tend toward the simple, which makes sense, and the one to try is the kouign-amann, an absolutely delicious Brittany-style butter cake served alongside maple ice cream.

I give Café Cancale, 1576 North Milwaukee Avenue, three stars. If your seafood tastes run to the simple and straightforward, this is a good place to keep in mind.


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