Henri Restaurant, Chicago

Henri

Restaurant background:

A recently-opened French-influenced American restaurant on South Michigan Avenue, Henri is located in a 19th century building, which is part of the Gage Group of buildings, originally housing the Gage Millinery Company. The name of the restaurant is taken from Louis Henri Sullivan, a 19th century architect, who designed the ornamental façade for the building. The architect was considered by historians to be the “father of the skyscraper” and a mentor to Frank Lloyd Wright.

– June 2011, celebrating our one-year anniversary

Dressed in our Friday-best, we hopped on the bus and made the 45-minute journey to the Chicago Loop. Fortunately, the bus stopped right outside the restaurant, so there was no need to totter too far in heels. Our reservation was for 8:30 pm, though we were perhaps 10 minutes early, so they directed us to their sister restaurant, Gage, next door for a drink at the bar while we waited. It wasn’t until about 9 pm until we were fetched (the couple seated at our table I suppose took their time leaving), which would normally be somewhat annoying, but the restaurant was certainly quick to make up for it. We’d mentioned in our reservation that we were celebrating our anniversary. A gentleman we later discovered to be the Director of Operations seated us and informed us that normally for anniversaries they provide a glass of complimentary sparkling wine; however, to make up for the wait, they upgraded us to champagne. Not just a glass, but what ended up being a half-bottle of Champagne Fleury, which was outstandingly good. I was quick to notice that our menus had been personalized, printed with a note on the top congratulating us on our anniversary, which I thought was absolutely adorable.

We perused the menu and settled on some appetizers to start with–David would have the smoked steak tartare with quail egg and crisp baguette, and I, not surprisingly, went straight for the torchon of foie gras with kumquat and brioche. As we waited, I took the opportunity to take-in the dining room and its ambience. It was a well-appointed room, chic and elegant and not too large, which kept the din of conversation down. Service was impeccable, with numerous wait staff attending to our needs (water glasses were never less than half-full, the sommelier came by offering to consult on wine choices, etc.). Our first course soon arrived, and I was soon transported to that heavenly place that is the eating of foie gras–so incredibly smooth and flavourful, literally just melting in your mouth. David’s tartare was excellent as well, surprisingly mellow (I even braved a bite).

The lively pair of folk at the table next to us proceeded to strike up a conversation, complimenting us on our elegance (and David on his musician-like posture). We chatted about our work and where we were from, reminiscing on Portland and Canada. Our main courses soon arrived, and we eagerly dug in. David enjoyed the game of the day, Colorado venison in a truffle emulsion, and I tried the duck breast, paired with a strawberry-rhubarb-goat cheese tart atop duck confit, with an extra side of potato purée. Everything was delicious (my potato purée was divine!), though I was becoming increasingly full, having filled up on the brioche/foie gras. David had a glass of French-style country ale with his vension, and I chose, rather unadventurously, to have a glass of pinot gris. Our neighbours soon departed, bidding us a hearty farewell, and we were left to attempt to finish our meals. We finally gave up, and David concluded the meal with an espresso. As we prepared to leave, our waitress came by and informed us that our meal was taken care of by our charming neighbours. We were so flabbergasted, gaping at her in surprise, that we weren’t really sure what to do. The hostess who retrieved our coats mentioned that she was so giddy when she found out what they had done and wished us a happy anniversary. In a shocked stupor, we left the restaurant and headed back to the train, unable to believe the kindness of near-strangers.

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