Restaurant openings are full of hope and angst whether its night one or three of the practices. You're tweaking the game plan and hoping no one notices any gaping holes in food, service, decor or basic standard operating procedures. Three weeks of practice, tests and tastings all come down to execution and the moment of guest satisfaction. Now throw in an EPIC blizzard for some added stress!
I was golden ticket lucky to get an invite for the 3rd night of pre-opening dinners for Paris Club. I have been curious about the rebirth of the former Brasserie Jo space for some time. The Melman boys proclaimed in one article this restaurant would show they were serious about food and grown up. Personally, I loathe HUB 51 for a variety of reasons. At the pre-opening, I went for lunch and got sat near the brothers "friends" who ordered the entire menu and were obnoxious with every bite. My other visit a month later - service was glacial and the food didn't sit well with me the next day.
Walking in to Paris club, the space has an industrial vibe and upbeat energy like HUB but more subdued and not ROCK CONCERT loud. We had an early reservation at 5:30pm and were sat quickly at a table near the service station. I was hoping to overhear some gossip! Chef Joho was nearby and I thanked him and wished him good luck with the restaurant. He was back to our table quickly telling us not to order anything he had some dishes coming our way. Our server Halle was friendly and like any of the Melman brothers employees attractive, not an ugly person on the team. We ordered a couple of cocktails - Kiki rouge, French 75 both excellent - and perused the menu.
Chef Joho's "treats" were a charcuterie platter fit for King Louis and a dish of duck cracklings. The cracklings were deep fried skin with spicy vinaigrette, in a word addictive. The charcuterie had every pate and terrine on the menu - country pate with pistachio, chicken terrine, foie gras and short rib, duck roulade, pot of chicken liver mousse and 5 salumis. The warm bread, bits of radish, comte cheese and carrots made this an excellent start. This could be one of the best summer lunches with a bottle of wine in the city.
Chef came and checked in on us and then said don't worry about the steak, I'll order that for you. A rule I have in life is never say no to the chef when he's this excited and ordering for you! We ordered a parade of classic French cuisine asking Halle for advice between dishes we were torn between. The fresh cured sardines will rival Spiaggia and I'll willing drink Chablis or Roero Arnes anytime trying to decide which is better. Short Rib bourguignone, labeled French Soul Food, was braised well but could have had an added pinch of salt to brighten the flavor. The steak tartare was a carry-over from the Brasserie and still as good as it ever was. The skate wing meuniere was another classic that was excellent with the lemon segments, brown butter and caper.
Our added special treat from Chef Joho was Beef Wellington. The beef was cooked medium rare and other then possibly being a bit warmer was great. Puff pastry and mushroom rounded out yet another classic. The last savory dish was the Pig's Feet bonbons and a sauce piquante. Rich and meaty pork paired well with the spicy sauce. We didn't have the lobster frites but I saw a picture later on twitter and that is on the list for next time.
The savory menu is a mix of classic and updated modern twists. There is no reinventing French food. It took me until this point to realize that it was a hipper, Chicago version of one of my favorite French bistro Thomas Keller's Bouchon. I'm glad Paris Club is within walking distance of my house come summer and not in Vegas!
Staying true to the classic nature of our savory menu, we ordered chocolate mousse and pistachio pot de crème. We both agreed at the same time the portion size was perfect and the little pots were great service vehicles. I appreciate a dessert that isn't going to cost me $9.
No opening night is perfect and I'm sure the coat check, random seasoning and temp issues will be resolved as time goes by. The only thing that tasted odd was the Luminary cocktail. The lemon flavor was bitter like the pith and honestly unpleasant. I look forward to coming back in the near future to see if the service team is still working as a team and as motivated to help tables not their own. I'll also be curious to see if any of the Melman's, father or sons, will actually crack a smile and appear to have fun in their own restaurant. No need to be sullen fellas this restaurant is a winner and a great improvement from Hub.
Paris Club - Opening February 9, 2010
59 W. Hubbard St, Chicago, IL
Studio Paris - Nightclub opening soon