Not surprisingly, the first wave of devotees of Bistro Voltaire (226 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago; 312-265-0911)
"There is a reason why classic French bistros are still very popular in France in spite of the influence of modern globalism," said Boukram. "There is a certain joie de vivre in a bistro and this is certainly true at Bistro Voltaire-the food and wine go together perfectly and the people feel free to eat hearty and converse with enthusiasm. There is a shared sense of community and spirit. We all have a good time together."
Entering Bistro Voltaire, one is struck by the authenticity of the straightforward French bistro atmosphere. This is no theme restaurant; it's a cozy and comfortable gathering spot that transports one to les rues des Paris. The color tones are traditional red, white and black and the restaurant is furnished with simple tables, banquettes and a nicely-sized bar. A wall mural with a large etching of Voltaire is the only whimsical touch, accompanied by Voltaire's famous quote: "Je m'arrêterais de mourir s'il me venait un bon mot ou une bonne idée (I will stop my death if a good word or a good idea come to my mind).
The restaurant is very appealing to the bar crowd as well as those who desire a sit-down meal. People drop in after work so they can unwind with a great glass of wine and some robust French comfort food. "As the weather gets colder, we'll see more and more guests escaping the weather and sitting at the bar to enjoy a bowl of our wonderful Soupe a L'oignon gratinee with some house-made crusty bread and a glass of Bordeaux wine," said Boukram. "Marvelous!"
The new fall 2012 menu, which changes regularly with the season, offers an ample variety of classic French bistro dishes which run the gamut from light and refreshing to robust and comforting. At Bistro Voltaire, it is easy to compose a meal that suits one's appetit du jour.
First Courses offer a sampling of some the most beloved small plates in the French bistro tradition. Included are such dishes as the Oeuf en cocotte (sheered egg atop sautéed mushrooms, crème fraiche, porcini truffle mousse), $9; photo left: Foie gras Parfait (foie gras mousse, sour cherry compote, toasted baguette), $14 ; Assiette de Charcuterie (house made paté, air dried sausage, cured ham, gherkins and grainy mustard), $14; Escargots de Bourgogne (braised escargots with garlic herb butter and puff pastry), $11; and Moules (sautéed PEI Mussels, white wine, shallots, herbs), $12.
Salad selection include the Laitue au bleu (tender bibb lettuce, toasted pecans, crisp apples, fresh herbs, crumbled blue cheese, house vinaigrette)
Main Courses for fall are bistro standouts. On the lighter side are fish and seafood dishes like Grouper provencal (seared grouper fillet, stewed ratatouille, tomato basil sauce), $23; Pave de Saumon grille (grilled salmon with Toasted Israeli couscous, asparagus, tomatoes, lemon butter sauce), $22; and Noix de St. Jacques (seared sea scallops, parsnip puree, roasted Brussels sprouts, crisp pancetta, red wine reduction), $25.
Pasta lovers will enjoy Bistro Voltaire's rendition of Gnocchi a la Parisienne (French style gnocchi, sautéed vegetables, beurre noisette), $18.
Poultry selections include Magret de Canard (seared duck breast, organic brown wild rice, red wine braised apples and red cabbage, sweet and sour sauce), $25, and photo left : Ballotine de poulet (roasted stuffed chicken breast, sautéed asparagus, pommes daupines, sherry Dijon sauce), $23.
Hearty meat dishes include Carre d'agneau au romarin (roasted rack of lamb, butternut squash, fingerling potatoes, mushrooms, rosemary demi-glace), $28; photo below right: Boeuf bourguignon (braised short ribs in a red wine burgundy sauce, pearl onions, carrots, fingerling potatoes, bacon), $25; and the nicely prepared Steak au poivre w/ Pomme Frite (pan seared, 10oz NY Strip, with green peppercorn sauce), $26.
All main courses are available with guests' choice of sides ($5 each): Mushrooms, Brussels sprouts, pancetta, Pommes frites, Asparagus, Baby carrots.
No meal in France is finished until dessert is thoroughly enjoyd, and Bistro Voltaire offers perfectly prepared sumptuous classic finales. Topping the list is the photo left: Tarte Pomme Normande (apple tart with almond), $8. Another crowd favorite is the Gâteau chocolat (warm chocolate cake with espresso cream), $8.50. Those who prefer photo below right: Profiteroles will enjoy Bistro Voltaire's version, topped with warm chocolate sauce ($8). There is also a traditional Vanille Crème Brulee ($7), and an Assiette de fromage (cheese plate with accoutrements, $12).
A Well-Chosen, Value-Driven French Wine List
A bistro experience would not be complete without an excellent wine and Bistro Voltaire's wine program does not disappoint. The wine list features only French wines, personally selected by Boukram. "We choose wines that are delicious and pair exceptionally well with bistro fare," said Boukram. "Our wines by the glass are the same as those which can be ordered by the bottle. We don't serve lesser quality wines because they're served by the glass. We have tried to emphasize high-value, reasonably priced wines that are delicious and we also include some extra special wines for those who don't mind the higher price."
Bistro Voltaire also presents classic French cocktails ($11 each) such as the Jean Paul Sartre (Vodka, St. German, pineapple juice, fresh squeezed lime juice); the Camus (Calvados, Rum, Sugar Cube); Moliere (light rum, dark rum, pineapple juice, orange juice, grenadine); the Chambord Royale (Chambord, vodka, triple sec, fresh squeezed lime juice); the Simone de Beauvoir (Tequila, amaretto, grenadine, pineapple juice); the Colette (dry gin, St. Germain, Chartreuse, fresh squeezed lime juice); and the Dubonnet Rouge Martini (Dubonnet, triple sec, cranberry, vodka).