Want to eat your way across France without traveling first to O’Hare, flashing a passport and boarding an international flight? The critically acclaimed Henri, a gorgeous restaurant just across from Millennium Park at 18 South Michigan Avenue, has introduced “La Carte de France,” a delicious new menu concept that features French dishes from specific regions of the country. Executive Chef Dirk Flanigan, Executive Pastry Chef Ji Yoon and Sommelier Shebnem Ince have put their culinary masterminds together to offer food and beverage specials each Sunday and Monday evening. The specials will rotate every six weeks, taking guests’ taste buds with them on a gastronomic tour of La France. And it makes sense, as Henri touts its innovative cuisine as “energetically American, French influenced.”
First up on La Carte has been the southwestern French region of Aquitaine, which borders the Atlantic Ocean, the Pyrénées mountains and the northeast corner of Spain—and its capital city is Bordeaux, famous for its world-acclaimed wines.
Chef Flanigan traveled with his wife a couple years ago to Paris—a city that’s a veritable playground to foodies. “As a chef and as a traveler,” he said, “you go with this list (of famous eateries) because other chefs say, ‘My friend owns this restaurant. You have to check it out. There were times when we had five meals a day.” But when it came to researching French regions in preparation for La Carte, he went straight for a map of France and decided to kick off this cuisine tour in Aquataine, although “some people might not even know what the Aquataine region is and what’s there.” So for the past few Sundays and Mondays, Chef Flanigan has been making that introduction between the region and his guests’ tastebuds.
Henri’s special Aquitaine-inspired menu, infused with Basque and Mediterranean influences, is available just until Monday, April 9—but the La Carte de France program continues throughout the year, much to the delight of Francophiles like this writer. (Although I’m now able to eat genuine French food every day, I can’t WAIT to check out Henri’s take on cuisine a la française that I haven’t yet been able to try because I haven’t yet visited these parts of the country!)
Still on Henri’s La Carte menu through April 9: dishes including Cou d’Oie Farci livers and truffles goose neck salad ($17); Crisp Whiting saffron, an ultra-light battered filet served with a smoky fish stock ($14). Sautéed greens and crisp pastry filled with Pyrénées cheese ($13) and a Beet Roasted onion served with cooked in-season baby root vegetables ($13). Champignon-Stuffed Quail, apple, onion, and parsnips ($35); Wild Boar chop and crisp shoulder, truffle, and Jerusalem artichoke ($40); and Rum Raisin Brioche Pain Perdu, chocolate ganache and banana ice cream ($9). And bien sûr, these dishes are served with great French by-the-glass pours and specially selected bottles of wine.
“I try to design every plate so that for the foodies and the chefs and everyone it’s special,” says Chef Flanigan, an acclaimed chef who throughout his culinary career has taken French techniques and influences and made them his own. (He also oversees the kitchen at The Gage next door, an enormously popular spot with locals and tourists alike.) “But I want to make it approachable enough so people are excited to come in and aren’t scared.”
Next up after the Aquitaine menu ends is the sunny, lavender-scented region of Provence (April 21-May 21), which will feature dishes including Traditional Pissaladière, a pizza-like tart with onion, olive, and anchovy and Poisson Provençale, fish flavored with olives, tomatoes, peppers, oil, and herbs.
Following Provence on La Carte is the Atlantic coast region of Brittany (May 27-July 2) and the popular wine regions of Burgundy (July 22-Aug. 27), the Loire Valley (Sept. 2-Oct. 8), Alsace (Oct. 14-Nov. 19), and Champagne (Nov. 25-Dec. 30). And as Chef Flanigan says, “It’s a lot cheaper than a plane ticket over (to France).”
For more about Henri’s famed French menus, visit the restaurant’s website or call 312.578.0763 for reservations.