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Saturday, April 20

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Airbags

Ever since my last visit to Bistro Campagne a couple weeks ago, I've had trouble sleeping. Try as I might, whenever I close my eyes, visions of their glorious roasted chicken and frites dance in my head. I can't remember the last time I didn't wake up hungry. Think I'm being overly dramatic? Then you obviously haven't tried it. This is easily one of the best dishes I've had all year.

In fact, the entire restaurant is a dream come true. Maybe I just have a place in my heart for cozy, intimate neighborhood joints, but with its delectable menu featuring fairly priced, rustic French cuisine, down-to-earth staff, and exquisite outside patio complete with trickling fountain and lush garden, I don't see how anyone could find fault with this place. This Lincoln Square spot is so popular, that chef-owner Michael Altenberg changed the name (and concept) of his other restaurant in Evanston (formerly known as Campagnola) to Bistro Campagne as well.

And now, back to the chicken.

I realize that chicken is the least exciting thing to order out (let alone fantasize about), but after two different servers on two separate visits told me it was their favorite dish, I dared to take their recommendations. And their ravings were dead on: A pile of golden frites towered over a leg and thigh of roast chicken -- the skin was crunchy on the outside, the meat was tender and juicy on the inside. A luscious wild mushroom ragout sauce swathed the entire dish, perfectly offsetting the salty frites.

This is not the only entree worthy of praise at Bistro Campagne. The simple yet sublime salmon with a tasty pea purée almost rivaled the chicken as my favorite dish (and, I'm guessing, it has about half the calories). Also delicious was the leg of lamb atop melt-in-your mouth tomatoes and fresh spinach, and the mustard-crusted, double-thick pork chop.

Starters are likewise impressive. I sampled an extraordinary appetizer of warm goat cheese, bitter dandelion greens and portabello mushrooms. The same rich goat cheese made one of the seasonal green salads absolutely sinful (I tried these two items on different nights -- no one would be able to eat that much goat cheese in one sitting). Other appetizing options include onion soup and duck confit.

Sadly, I have yet to find any desserts to wax on about with such flourish. The profiteroles -- pastry shells filled with ice cream and drizzled with chocolate -- were decent but not very inspiring. The crème brulee had a weird fishy aftertaste that really grossed me out (although, please note that I have only had this once at Bistro Campagne and it was probably just a dud on an off night). And the pot au chocolat was heavenly, but so rich that I found eating more than a few mouthfuls to be impossible. Overall, however, I can't complain: Usually, by the time I get to dessert at Bistro Campagne, I'm too full to truly enjoy a final course.

At this point in your reading, either roast chicken hallucinations have taken over or you're wondering how much a meal like this is going to set you back. I'm not going to lie to you: Bistro Campagne is not cheap. Even though none of the entrees are priced over $19 (pretty remarkable since most of the food is organic), dinner for two, including appetizer, two main courses, and dessert, plus a couple glasses of wine each, will cost about $100, not including tip. There's no way I can afford this place on a normal night, but for a special occasion -- a birthday, perhaps, or a reunion with old friends -- it's certainly worth the money.

After all, you're not just paying for the food; Bistro Campagne is a place with charming atmosphere, pleasant service and culinary creativity. And in my case, it's a place where dreams come true.

Bistro Campagne is located at 4518 N. Lincoln Ave. Reservations recommended, especially on weekends.

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Comments

robin.. / August 2, 2004 10:15 AM

bistro campagne is my favourite spot in the city. if the amazing food isn't enough, the secluded, urbs-in-horto type side patio/tent/eat-under-a-tree area might just push it over the edge. i'll get my beef out of the way first: not enough truely vegetarian options (check for the use of stock in things), but as a foodie, i've enjoyed everything placed in front of me and been able to swallow my conviction long enough to really, really dig on the rabbit. but not everyone is as weak in their beliefs when it comes to food. onward: i love the service--just hands off enough, and never ever makes a punk feel out of place for loving good food. their committment to organic and slow food is admirable, and something for which i am quite willing to pay. and for dessert, my strong advice is to split the pot au creme avec chocolat with yer baby, have a cuppa coffee, and then just try to make it home without falling asleep: we almost didn't make it the three blocks...

Andrew / August 2, 2004 10:18 AM

i'll get my beef out of the way first: not enough truely vegetarian options

That's funny.

paul / August 2, 2004 11:28 AM

I'd give a similar review to the Evanston location.

They have a good belgian beer selection and they have an all French wine list, so don't bring any ultra-conservatives.
There's a generous appetizer of mussels steamed in belgian ale, a nicely done frog's legs, and a simple but very tasty rabbit with prune.
For dessert you better order your own profiteroles - chocolate-drenched cream puffs filled with ice cream - cause no one's gonna share theirs. I ain't sharing mine.

Huddy / August 24, 2004 9:35 PM

We tried to enjoy an early dinner one Sunday several weeks ago and I don't recognize the restaurant we ate at from the reviews above. Starters were slipshod and non authentic. The snails were terrible--tough, and redolant of burned Pernod and sugared fake butter oil. The mushroom/goat cheese appetizer has nothing to do with French. I tried the steak frites and what was served would never pass for the real thing in any other French restaurant. A regular average steak and hot dog stand fries instead of frites. All in all the managment doesn't care and this ain't real.
It was waaayyy over priced (I'm not cheap) and silly. Service was good but the core is rotten and average.

 

About the Author(s)

Kim Conte loves to write and eat, and dreams that one day someone will pay her a lot to do both.

If you feel the need to get in touch with her directly, instead of using the comments below, do so at .

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