A Snowy Night's Journey to Cafe Matou
Chicago got a lot of snow last weekend, as you can see from this photo of my porch. We had made plans to try Cafe Matou and were looking forward to going, so no amount of snow and slush could keep us away. On went the coats, hats and boots, and off we went for French food.
Cafe Matou is a cozy neighborhood restaurant. When you open the door, you are welcomed into a lovely bar area and then for dinner you are ushered into a second room, painted in warm colors with lovely lighting and artwork. The menu is French, but with a twist...several dishes had flavors or cooking styles that I wouldn't have expected at a strictly French place. As Bon Appetit, The Chicago Tribune, Chicago Magazine and others have noted, this works at Cafe Matou.
For our appetizers, Win ordered the escargot served with a garlic and herb-basted bread . I had a pasta with roast goose, Jerusalem artichokes, and kalamata jus. The escargot was excellent. My pasta was really delicious, but I personally found the goose to be...well...a bit too goosey for me. This is no reflection on Cafe Matou's goose, rather an indication that I am just not that big of a goose fan. I hadn't had goose before so I wanted to give it a try and now I know it's not for me. Win, on the other hand, adored the goose in the pasta so we traded appetizers mid-course. Both the escargot and the pasta were winners (once we found the right home for the pasta).
For my entree, I ordered a dish of peppered bluefin tuna and grilled shrimp, served in a citrus butter sauce with sesame seeds. I think I have mentioned before that I am always a little nervous to order tuna at restaurants because I just don't care for ultra-rare tuna and I know that is often how chefs like to prepare it. Cafe Matou cooked this one beautifully; it was cooked just enough around the edges and then nicely pink and more rare in the center. The citrus butter sauce was outstanding.
You'll also notice in the photo above that we had a bottle of hard cider with our dinner, served in charming cider cups. It was quite dry and the right kind of spirit for a cold and snowy night.
Win ordered the Poulet rôti en crapaudine for his entree, which was chicken stuffed under the skin with a panade of butter, tarragon, garlic, onion, and cognac. Normally Win would never order chicken out at a restaurant. It's something we cook at home all the time and it just doesn't seem that unique. But he had heard and read excellent things about this specific chicken and he was interested in trying it. He loved it; it was delicious and the herbs flavored the chicken beautifully.
For dessert, I selected the chocolate and banana bread pudding and Win chose the profiteroles. Win really enjoyed the profiteroles, but I must say my bread pudding was even better. It completely exceeded my expectations when I took the first bite by being intensely banana flavored and just the right consistency. This ended up being an even better dessert than I had thought it would be.
When we had finished our meal, we walked to the front bar and asked the manager if he could call us a taxi. The snow was deep and it was freezing, so a quick taxi home sounded much better than a long and snowy slog on foot. The manager said he'd try, but that Cafe Matou had been having a hard time getting the cab companies on the phone and that cabs often don't service their neighborhood (which seems quite odd, because it's a fine part of town). A nice man at the bar overheard our conversation and offered to drive us home. We were surprised by his kind offer and declined, thinking that we'd definitely be able to round up a taxi. After a few minutes of trying, things didn't look good and the man at the bar repeated his offer. Turns out, he's the boyfriend of a Cafe Matou waitress and he was sitting there waiting for his girlfriend's shift to end. He offers patrons rides home all the time when they find themselves in a similar cab bind. As we stood there pondering whether or not to take a ride from a total stranger, the manager and the bartender both said "He does this all the time for people; we don't know why, but he does." So with that endorsement, we hopped into his car.
The kind man's name is Jeremiah and he gave us a ride all the way home and wouldn't accept any money. We had a great chat on our drive and couldn't thank him enough for his kindness. When we repeatedly offered to pay him something for his trouble, he said "Just come back to Cafe Matou again sometime."
We will. Cafe Matou is an intimate place with an interesting menu of well-prepared French dishes. It made for a special night out.
1846 N Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
Web Site: http://www.cafematou.com