Many people are unaware the recent makeover Paris Club’s menu has had thanks to the new chef in the kitchen, Alex Ageneau. The other day I had a chance to try some items from their new menu and pick Chef Alex’s brain about why he wanted to switch things up.
Question (Q): Why the change from small plates to a more traditional bistro menu?
Chef Alex (A): I wanted to move away from small plates because often I’ve come to find that they are almost just too small to share. If you get something like one scallop it’s hard to share with four different people. Larger dishes allow everyone in the party to taste an entrée and actually get a good bite of it too.
Q: Studio Paris is wildly popular, how do you plan on differentiating Paris Club from Studio Paris with the new menu?
A: I want people to come to the restaurant to actually dine, and make a whole night of it. Order appetizers, entrees, a few bottles of wine, and actually dine and have that be the night out. I want people to know that Paris Club is different from Studio Paris and we are serious about the quality of the food served.
Q: You have a whole section dedicated to seafood and especially shellfish, what is the draw there?
A: Items like the Paris Club Plateau and Le Grand Plateau offer a sampling of a bunch of different kinds of shellfish from oysters, snow crab claws, shrimp, and king crab that come in a large enough portion for everyone at the table to share and actually get more than just one bite.
Q: I noticed you have poutine on the menu, isn’t that Canadian?
A: Actually its French Canadian, it’s from Montreal. As much as Paris Club is a bistro, I have to remember that it’s a Parisian restaurant IN Chicago.
Q: Where do you source your ingredients? With the move towards having everything be “local” how is that possible with some of the seafood you offer, etc?
A: I try and use local produce and products when possible, but my main goal is getting the best of the best, and if the best cheese comes from Vermont, I’m going to purchase it from there. I do plan on going to Chicago’s farmers markets once they open back up in the spring and trying to incorporate produce and foods from there into the restaurant’s dishes.
Q: How do you feel about the whole “celebrity chef” phenomenon? How do you feel about the chef no longer actually being in the kitchen?
A: I think that as long as you have a great team that is trained properly, it’s perfectly okay for an executive chef to be out of the kitchen promoting their restaurant and their personal brand, it’s good to be an ambassador of your craft. But for me, I could never do the celebrity chef thing, I happen to be in the kitchen all the time because that’s what I love.
Q: What are some French classics you’ve brought back to the menu?
A: We have a GREAT steak frites, which is a ribeye from Painted Hills; French onion soup, croquet monsieur, frise salad. I try and put a different twist on each of these dishes, like the frise salad has fried croquettes formed from a béchamel sauce.
Q: What do you think is most unique about your new menu?
A: I think that the plats du jour really separate us from other restaurants. Not many other restaurants have plats du jour and ours are some of the best things on the menu, especially the braised wild boar on Mondays and the spice-roasted duck on Thursday.
After speaking with Chef Alex I had a chance to try some of the new things on the menu along with my new PR friend who helped set the meeting up! We started off with the lobster crostini that came loaded with soft and creamy scrambled eggs, fresh lobster, and shaved black truffles on top. I’m not sure if I have to even say it, but it was A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. Next came the frise salad topped with a poached egg, bacon lardons, and the special, creamy, little croquettes. If you didn’t think a salad could be considered “rich” I suggest you try this one. It won’t disappoint. We realized later that our meal was a little seafood heavy, but we split the small portion of the snow crab claws and the mussels for the rest of the meal. The snow crab claws were incredibly, sweet, and just the right amount of saltiness and perfectly chilled, as they should be. The mussels weren’t in the traditional white wine broth but came actually in a Vietnamese coconut broth that was great for dipping the bread into. Overall the “new” Paris Club was a very tasty experience and I will certainly be coming back in the near future. Chef Alex was both knowledgeable about his food and personable, and I personally think he would make a great celebrity chef!