In a Nutshell: The fine dining French sister restaurant of the Michelin-rated NAHA from Chef Carrie Nahabedian. There is enough to understand why it was named the “Best New Restaurant of 2013” from the Chicago Tribune. Yet, the uneven execution of the food itself made me also understand why, despite its pedigree, it has yet to earn a Michelin star.
Ambiance: From my perspective, this is the primary reason to dine at Brindille. I’m certainly not alone in this opinion- it won a 2015 James Beard award for Outstanding Restaurant Design. The perfect level of dim lighting, the cool silver, violet and chocolate hues and captivating artwork make for a sumptuous yet elegant setting. There are silk pillows on the banquettes, exquisite silverware, fine table linens and real china. Don’t let the sub-par online pictures (this post included!) or the nearby surroundings of an especially gaudy section of River North deter you- this is a stunning, intimate restaurant fit for the most special of occasions.
Service: After the ambiance, service is Brindille’s finest quality. We dined during French Restaurant week- only the second one Chicago has had and the event is certainly still working on elevating its fanfare. It was sort of a miracle to even hear about their involvement as Brindille did not release their menu or advertise their involvement on their website. In fact, from what I could tell, we were the only diners at the restaurant on a busy Friday night who were taking advantage of the special menu. In fact, we weren’t even offered it when we sat down and actually had to ask for it (the whole point was to avoid a random $400 tab not meekly stumble into it by being too shy to ask about the less expensive option). But I digress. Even though we were taking up a prime Friday night slot, they were still very gracious during our meal. All too often, it seems high-end restaurants participate in these types of events but get a little cranky when guests actually order from that menu. Not the case at Brindille. Our waiter and the manager were warm and prompt. And then the traditional hallmarks of sterling service: drinks and courses were perfectly timed. Crumb sweeper was discretely used between courses. Glasses were never empty. Etc, etc. Overall, Brindille expertly attends to diners without suffocating them. And they do it in very stylish form- the mostly male staff were uniformed in expertly tailored, stylish slacks, dress shirts and trim-fitting sweaters. A welcome divergence from typical waiter garb.
Beverages: If only that stellar service and ambiance came at a slightly more reasonable price. $16+ for a cocktail, $16+ wines by the glass and most bottles of wine over $100. To be fair, there were actually a few options in the $50-$80 range but at least half are over $200 and a number in the $400+ range (mostly French but some offerings from California, Australia, Germany, etc.). I understand that this is a wine-focused place so perhaps those are justified for a unique and rare selection. My eyebrows, however, were more than a little raised regarding the spirits; baseline cocktail prices like that are not seen in many Chicago establishments aside from price-gouging hotel restaurants and Grant Achatz’s acclaimed Aviary.
Food: Certainly the part of the experience on which I was most divided. Amazingly, the prix fixe menu featured all dishes off the a la carte menu (there is also a $150 pp tasting menu) so it was a relatively good value since this was not a watered-down version of Brindille. That also makes me feel confident in my ratings of the food. My main dish was absolute heaven-I would venture to say the duck was the best I had ever tasted. Perfectly prepared and a surprisingly ample serving. The duck, unfortunately, was sandwiched by 2 courses that were each downright overwhelming in their own way. I started with the Irish Point Oysters from Prince Edward Island with Eggs Brouillés, Leeks and Oscietra Caviar. Oddly, there could have been virtually anything as the base of the dish as the oysters were absolutely smothered by a far too rich sauce. Needles to say, I was surprised to see how little the oysters were allowed to shine in this dish. I did some research after dining, thinking maybe this was a new dish or maybe I had just experienced an off preparation that night. While some patrons certainly seemed to enjoy, a number of both professional and regular diners shared my sentiment. To finish, I had the Oeufs à la Neige with fall fruits. I have a Texas-sized sweet tooth and could not get through more than a few bites as it was that cloyingly sweet. Overall, I was surprised that 2 of the 3 dishes were so off-putting at a restaurant of this caliber and from a chef with such a celebrated reputation.
The Devil’s in the Details: The decor is gorgeous and the place settings are fit for a (trendy) queen. Service fit for a king. Unfortunately, so are the prices (starters roughly $15-30, main dishes $40-59). Even with a prix fixe menu at $44 each, our final bill was still roughly $200- all without a bottle of wine. There are few restaurants I have felt as conflicted about as Brindille. For my money, the sister restaurant NAHA has much better (or at least, even) food but given its overall strong reputation, perhaps worth another try for a (very) special occasion.