For years Le Bouchon had the best roast chicken in town, not to mention the most convivial atmosphere, especially if you like the sardine effect imposed by huge popularity and only 44 seats. So when the owners decided to go upscale and --more significantly--up-capacity, I was ready to wriggle into La Sardine. The new place, right across the street from Oprah's studios, tries to keep up the buzzing bistro ambiance, though it does a better job looking the part than tasting it.
Leek and bacon tart Lovely light crust wrapped around a triangle tangle of leeks, free of the tiresome cheesy weightiness that commonly besets quiche. Also curiously free, so far as I could tell, of bacon.
Roasted rack of lamb The usual lamb-on-a-bone number, somewhat chewy, entirely flavorless. The ratatouille pooled center-plate perked things up a bit, while soggy potato rounds rounded out the disappointment.
Roasted duck breast This dish looked almost exactly like the lamb, right down to the sprig of thyme sprouting from the polenta. Tasty duck, smooth sauce spiked with green peppercorn zip. Still, the two shouldn't spend a lot of time together. The incredibly rich, heavily reduced sauce was way too potent for the indulgent, fat-topped duck slices. Accompanied by some brown stewed onions.
For dessert we tried the beignets, which I've always imagined as supple Frenchified doughnuts. But these looked and tasted like fried calamari filled with a cold-hearted dollop of ganache. We switched to the basket of clementines, a more dependable ending to an unsatisfying meal.
We were led further astray by the well-meaning if misinformed sommelier, who recommended a delicious Cote de Beaune. It might have paired perfectly with a delicate fish dish but seemed nothing more than a perfumey distraction next to our hearty entrees.
La Sardine, 111 N. Carpenter, is open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11:30 to 2:30 and for dinner Monday through Thursday from 5 to 10 and Friday and Saturday from 5 to 11. For reservations call 312-421-2800.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): La Sardine logo/ menues.