Looking for a cozy, romantic restaurant? You could do far worse than La Tache, 1475 W. Balmoral, a French eatery located in the heart of Andersonville.
Owner Lynn Malec has done quite a job with the new decor ( that now has a bar room in addition to the dining area, among other changes ) —and the cuisine. The mushroom tart ( with figs, among other ingredients ) possessed a zesty combination of flavors, and the Lyonnaise salad, while not the most healthful ( with pommes frites and bacon lardon ) , was succulent. Entrees such as horseradish-crusted halibut are hits—and the coq au vin is the best Dish List has ever tasted, hands down. Lastly, you also can't go wrong with desserts such as the incredible profiteroles, cream puffs that are topped with candied pistachios. ( By the way, Malec has enjoyed quite a ride as an entrepreneur, having run such businesses as Lakeview's Girlbar. She is also the force behind )
Dish List talked with Malec about the charming seven-year-old restaurant, renovations and her connection to Top Chef.
Dish List: Tell me about how La Tache's decor has changed.
Lynn Malec: Well, I changed all the colors. It used to be dark red in [ the front bar room ] and a green color in the dining room, so I changed that. The shades used to be round and I changed them to cubes. There used to be a fireplace here [ points to an area in the bar room ] , and I blew that out and added all these tables to make a bar area. The mirror behind the bar [ and ] the shelves—they're all new. I added the wallpaper, lots of mirrors...
DL: So what triggered the change?Read more story below....
LM: What triggered it was the economy. Things were getting slow, so I wanted to provide less expensive—so that's why I added [ the bar ] room and had this [ bar ] menu with good, cheap food. And I figured as I long as I was doing that, I thought I'd freshen up the place.
DL: And how long did it take to renovate the place?
LM: Five days—with no sleep. [ Laughs ] You can't [ afford to ] lose any days.
I had it all planned out—the colors, the purchases, the drapes. So I just closed it down, tore it apart and put it back together. It was fun, and I'm really happy with how it turned out.
DL: You said you've added a bar menu. What kinds of things are on it?
LM: There's French dip, mini croques [ grilled-cheese sandwiches with three cheeses ] , BLT sandwiches, mini Reubens, shrimp cocktails and salads. Everything's under $12.95; most are $8.
DL: And the dining-room menu is amazing. Are the items seasonal?
LM: Yes. We have pared it down, though, so we can concentrate on each dish a lot more. It's worked out well.
DL: Do you have a favorite item?
LM: My favorite on this menu is the filet mignon—and now I realize that I love Brussels sprouts, which I hated as a kid. I tried them here one day, and I'm like, "Oh, my God. I can't believe I haven't been eating these!"
DL: How did you come to be in the restaurant business?
LM: I was in the bar business, and this guy I knew had this space; he sat on it for probably a year, and I said, "I'll take it." I figured, "How much harder can it be to add food?" I used to own a coffee shop and other businesses. I got [ La Tache ] and I sold Girlbar, which I owned at the time.
Then I got a chef who happened to be on Top Chef ( Dale Levitski ) —and then I hired a sous chef, Stephanie Izard, who [ won Top Chef ] . The chef now is Andrew Alcid; he'll be next.
La Tache is at 1475 W. Balmoral; visit www.latachechicago.com or call 773-334-7168.
—Science fare: The scientific concept of hydrocolloids—substances that can thicken liquids or turn them into gels—is behind a whole new type of cuisine. According to the Los Angeles Times, In chef Thomas Keller's latest book, Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide, gellan gum is is used in making mango "yolk," an orb that has a gel exterior surrounding mango juice, and Ferran Adria uses the same concept to concoct "liquid olives" in his restaurant in Spain. Food scientist Ted Russin, who works at CP Kelco and who has studied ballet, said of the technique, "It's like being a choreographer. You have to have a certain amount of technique before you can create a dance." Locally, restaurants such as Alinea may employ the technique—if they haven't already.
—Main Fonda: Mexican restaurant La Fonda del Gusto, 1408 N. Milwaukee, recently opened. Run by the husband/wife team of Lisa Lee and Jose Palomino, Fonda's a cheap ( $2-$16 ) eatery features a variety of tacos ( with chorizo, barbacoa and carne asada, among others ) , shrimp in spicy tequila-lime butter and grilled Atlantic salmon with poblano cream. By the way, it's BYOB. Call 773-278-6100.
—Thread reckoning: Common Threads is hosting "The Crosstown Culinary Classic," a dinner/silent auction Friday, June 19, at 6 p.m. at the Four Seasons, 120 E. Delaware. Among the items on the menu are lobster corn dogs with caviar aioli; kobe-beef hot dogs; goat-leg confit ravioli; and champagne and beer floats. Tickets are $250 each; see www.commonthreads.org .