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TODAY

Saturday, February 23

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On an ordinary evening, the majority of the eating public either can't or would prefer not to drop a ton of dough -- upwards of $100 -- on dinner. As someone who considers themselves a member of the former part of this category, I was all too happy to discover Red Rooster Wine Bar and Cafe, located just north of the Armitage/Halsted intersection. In a city inundated with pretentious, overpriced French bistros, Red Rooster, with its comical quirks and affordable fare, is a welcome anomaly.

Finding Red Rooster, however, is a treasure hunt of sorts. The official address is listed as 2100 N. Halsted, but upon arriving at that location, one sees not Red Rooster, but Cafe Bernard -- yet another French bistro. (In fact, the two restaurants are owned by the same chef. The menus are similar, but the items at Red Rooster are a bit simpler, and the entrees are about $3 to $4 less expensive.) To get to Red Rooster -- located behind Cafe Bernard -- one must follow the sidewalk around to a side entrance on Dickens, which looks like a normal, walk-up apartment building; if you don't know exactly what you are looking for, you will inevitably pass on by.

Once inside, it is necessary to allow a few minutes to let your eyes adjust to the light -- or, rather, lack thereof. There are some restaurants in town that are dimly lit -- Red Rooster is downright dark, with diners holding their menus up to the flickering votives on their table in order to make out the specials. The room is tiny: A cozy wood bar stocked with bottles of wine lines one wall, and the 12 tables are spaced close together. The decor has a sort of French country barn theme, with pumpkins, old-fashioned pots and pans and twinkling Christmas lights adorning the paneled walls.

The menu sports bistro standards like onion soup, steamed mussels, a cheese plate and boeuf Bourguignon, but what isn't so standard -- as I've already mentioned -- are the prices: Most of the appetizers (with the exception of the more expensively priced cheese plate and foie gras) range from $5 to $6.95. The entrees, priced from $10.75 to $15.75 (the majority of items are in the $13 range), are also reasonable. And, in addition to decent selection of moderately priced French wines, there are about six house offerings available by the glass (quite a full glass, I might add) that cost around $6.

My friend and I began the meal with glasses of the peppery house Cotes du Rhone and grilled calamari. The calamari itself was on the chewy side, but it was sauteed in an addictive buttery white wine sauce with fresh herbs and tomatoes. Capers and red onions gave this dish a bit of a kick.

The descriptions of both the grilled salmon with red wine sauce and braised lamb shank got my mouth watering, but I ultimately decided on the duck confit (cooked in its own fat) as a main course. The breast and leg of duck were tender, juicy and delicious. The meat came with garlic mashed potatoes and a variety of tasty roasted vegetables. This dish was a perfect size for one person; I finished my entire meal but wasn't grossly full.

The roasted half chicken entrée, which my friend ordered, was even better. The chicken had been infused with fresh herbs and lemon -- not only was the meat moist and tender, but you could taste these ingredients in each and every bite. The same sides of mashed potatoes and roasted vegetables also complemented this dish.

We considered passing on dessert, but the decent selection was too tempting to ignore. After considering the black velvet chocolate cake and chocolate bread pudding, we finally opted for the marjolaine cake because it sounded so interesting. And this nutty spiced cake layered with rich white chocolate and dark chocolate mousse and drizzled with raspberry sauce proved to be delicious, as well.

Our service that evening was spotty, with our server displaying a rather curt side of his personality. Red Rooster seems to only employ one or two servers each evening (given so few tables), and the resulting heavy workload was taking an obvious toll on our server's mood and timing. However, it was the charming surroundings and delicious food that made a lasting impression on me. I appreciate having a place that, given the dark atmosphere and rich French food, seems a little more upscale but won't empty my wallet. Red Rooster may be a little more expensive than one may be used to on a regular night out, but for French bistro fare, it definitely is one of the most affordable places in the city.

Red Rooster Wine Bar and Cafe is located at 2100 N. Halsted (the entrance is on Dickens). Visit it online at www.cafebernard.com/Redrooster/.

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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, do so at .

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