A masterpiece of French Cuisine in downtown Oak Park.
While Ernest Hemingway had an understated writing style, his descriptions of locales captivated readers, whether a back country river in northern Michigan, a battlefield in Spain or a café in expatriate Paris.
At a garden-level bistro in Hemingway's native Oak Park, visitors feel transported to Paris, a city he once described as a "moveable feast." Hemmingway's Bistro (yes, spelled with an extra "m") is fittingly located inside the historic Write Inn, not far from the author's childhood home, and offers a feast of classic French cuisine in a beguiling space.
Here, butter-colored stucco walls and subtly sparkling sconces are a preface to French staples like a glass of champagne and a warm, crusty baguette accompanied by a scoop of sweet butter One might be tempted to just savor that pairing, as if on a Parisian picnic, but a full menu beckons.
That menu includes classic French starters like escargots de Bourgogne, baked imported brie and fois gras du jour, among others. The smoked salmon is a standout, served wrapped around a ball of potato pancake filled with horseradish cream cheese on a dish dotted with salty capers. Patrons are well advised to build on starters with a frisée Lyonnaise salad, topped with a perfectly yolky farm egg, or a wilted spinach salad, prepared table-side for two and perfect for date night.
Diners cant go wrong with entrées prepared by executive chef and co-owner Christopher Ala, whether it's a classic seafood dish of lobster, oysters, shrimp, clam and crab claws for two, the mainstay of steak frîtes with mâtre d'butter or a delectable roasted Amish chicken served with rainbow carrots and pommes purées with pan au jus, which elevates the basic mashed potatoes and gravy beyond the fancier name. There are proteins for every palate, including a ragout of Indiana rabbit, roast rack of lamb, veal Oscar and a mixed grill of wild game, with boar, lamb, quail, venison and rabbit sausage in a vibrant diablo sauce. Although the dishes are decidedly French, Ala prepares them with fresh, often-Midwest-sourced ingredients.
If you're dining at Hemmingway's Bistro, look for the chalkboard to check out the special of the day. Fans of coq au vin, for instance, might make their way to this restaurant on a Wednesday; cassoulet lovers, meantime, should put a Monday aside for that dish. Also on the rotating menu: Beef Wellington, bouillabaisse, trout almondine, veal blanquette and duck a l'orange.
The dessert menu features sweet endings a Francophile would love, such as a chocolate mousse with raspberry coulis (in a word, silky), and an oh-so-sumptuous apple tart. A daily souffle and cheese plate is de rigueur for a French eatery of this caliber.
Completing the feel and flair of a moveable feast, Hemmingway's hosts entertainers like the Rose Colella and Andy Pratt Duo who grace the room for martini nights and Sunday champagne jazz brunches.
Mixed grill of wild game, coq au vin, classic seafood
Appetizers: $7 - $19
Entrées: $19 - $38
Desserts: $7 - $14
M - Sun: 7 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Seafood delivered fresh daily, private parties, extensive wine list, champagne brunch, valet parking
211 N. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park