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The Purloined Menu

Brasserie Jo

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At first glance, Brasserie Jo looks charmingly Parisian, from the hard-boiled eggs set up in their funny stands at the bar to the little pots of mustard on the tables. But after you take off your coat and before your first aperitif that eerie Lettuce Entertain You feeling sets in.

Am I in a restaurant? Or on a set? Chef Jean Joho might be really truly French, but Brasserie Jo is merely Melman: homogenized and pasteurized. Still, I've got to admit, as fantasies go Brasserie Jo serves up a pretty good one.

Ice water will be served upon request: There's this ridiculous routine the waiters go through with each customer, pretending tap water is foreign to the tables of Chicago. I doubt it sells Evian, but it does strike a pretentious note mercifully avoided elsewhere.

Smoked salmon, crispy potato: Hills of fine, thinly sliced, smoked salmon rolling over a mountain of shoestring fries, accompanied by a small cloud of whipped horseradish. While the fish is delicious, the dish seems a tad out of water here. With a few toasted bagels, it would make an excellent breakfast for four.

Onion tart Uncle Hansi: A wedge of sweet creamy onion custard snoring on its pastry bed: practically dessert. Heavy, but heavenly so.

Leek vinaigrette: When in France, as Jo will make you wish you were, you must order leeks. They're supposed to be boiled limp, sliced round, and drowning in vinaigrette. These, still crisp, still whole, and lounging under a garnish of chopped egg, don't do the trick.

Lentils en salade: Another brasserie standard, this one upholds the honor of the slightly toothy, tomato-accompanied, vinaigretted classic.

The bread is only mediocre, which doesn't square with the authentically-French routine, nor the Lettuce family ability to restock at the Corner Bakery.

House salad: Startlingly tart.

Daily specials: There was also lovely sea bass spiked with fennel and served over couscous.

Roasted chicken, pomme dauphine: Wonderful soul-warming roasted chicken, served in a curiously declasse fashion, with cabbage and pomme dauphine, which apparently means fried mashed-potato dumplings.

Steak au poivre: Our well-traveled and devotedly carnivorous friends insist this is chewy for America and tender for France. Sticky with pepper/cream/cognac indulgence.

Braised lamb shank Not just falling-off-the-bone tender, but falling-off-the-plate too. The ladies at the next table, tarrying over their last spoonfuls of creme brulee, leaned over to savor a bite. They swore it made a delicious final course.

For dessert we tried the fabulously creamy lemon sorbet with vodka, the overly moussy and insufficiently chocolate chocolate mousse and the unusual but satisfying ice-cream fruitcake billed as kougelhof. Also profiteroles, which were pretty good. The best part is the chocolate sauce waiters pour (liberally, if you whine a little) from big yellow drippy pitchers. I'm a sucker for good props.

Brasserie Jo, 59 West Hubbard, is open 5 to 12 Monday through Thursday, 5 to 1AM Friday and Saturday, and 4 to 10 Sunday. Call 312-595-0800 for more.

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