Last year I had a truly amazing meal at Hotel Essex’s Tribute. The service, drinks and menu were all extraordinary, including the only crab cakes I’ve ever liked and a beet salad that even my veggie-averse fiance adored. I never got a chance to go back, as the spot closed less than a month later, having been open only seven months. I was saddened, but not entirely surprised, since budget-conscious diners have been reserving fine dining spots for special occasions. Without repeat customers, Tribute had a lot of empty tables.
Chicago’s prime restaurant real estate doesn’t go empty long. Enter Brasserie by LM, which opened in Tribute’s former digs March 28, offering an affordable menu of tasty French fare. The space has a mellow color-scheme, with orange and wood chairs and exposed bulbs, plus equally chill sidewalk seating offering a gorgeous view of Michigan Avenue. Like a true brasserie, the menu is written on a wall-sized chalkboard, though they also hand out menus so you don’t have to crane your neck. Its hotel location means your likely to find plenty of people dining solo along with dates and small groups.
Our server immediately made us feel welcome, offering up his favorite drink selections and then presenting us with the cocktails he mixed himself insisting that we send them back if we had any complaints. We didn’t, since they were great. The French Manhattan adds a splash of Chambord to the classic drink, which is also prominently featured with Champagne, vodka and St. Germain in the super refreshing Twisted Frenchie.
Satisfied with our sippers, we took our server’s recommendations and dived into the menu. Brasserie by LM has an awesome deal in its $25 three-course dinner, which featured a salad, seared whitefish and cinnamon rice pudding the night we dined. Wanting to go for a bit more variety, we ordered a la carte. We started with the cheese plate, a selection of three cheeses nicely presented on a long stone tray, along with candied pecans and a mushy and sweet fig spread. I know plenty of Wisconsinite cheese-heads that disagree, but mild cheddar just doesn’t do anything for me. I did love the soft cheese our server described as similar to brie but stinkier, and the potent bleu that put those salad crumbles to shame.
We also ordered the duck rilette. Confession time: I had no idea what rilette was, but I was embarrassed to ask and I’ve never been disappointed by duck at a French restaurant so I just went for it. I was a little worried I’d made a mistake when it came out as a jar with a thick layer of fat on top that, honestly, looked pretty gross. But digging down with our forks, we got to the shredded duck beneath, which was delicious spread over toasted bread with some whole grain mustard. My record remains intact.
For entrees we went with the hanger steak and mussels with white wine, both of which come with a heaping serving of thick cut fries. Our server showed off his excellent menu knowledge by offering great wines to pair with each dish. The mussels are served with very little sauce, avoiding drowning the seafood’s flavor while providing just enough for dipping. It turned out Brasserie by LM’s version of medium rare was a little on the gray side for our taste, but they were super understanding and quickly whipped us up a new version that satisfied our desire for bleeding meat. We were pretty full after that, but made room to share the cherry bread pudding, which was warm, soft and gooey perfection served with caramel sauce and vanilla gelato. I’m still sad that Tribute is gone, but it’s made room for a worthy wallet-friendly spot.
She is fun, fabulous and fierce. She is chic, intelligent and in-the-know. But most of all, the Cheeky chick is the kind of woman who embraces, admires, respects, smiles at and opens her heart to other fabulous chicks. Now THAT'S Cheeky, darling!