I have been to France only once in my life, when I was 14 years old. I wasn't really old enough to appreciate it for what it is and to really immerse myself in the French experience. The open space of Bistrot Zinc allows me to feel as if I was there again every once in a while. The space is just so, well, French, at least what I remember French to be. The owner said that the bar is his pride and joy, that his design was inspired by the bars of traditional Parisian bistros, and it's beautiful. Wood molding around the length of the bar and a brushed steel top make it seem quite authentic. There are long, sprawling banquettes that run down about one-half the length of the restaurant - straight down the middle. Large mirrors adorn the walls and the front windows open up onto the street. My favorite part, though, are the floors. The red, black and white tile is unimpressive on its own. But as a part of the whole it completes the scene. It brings a quaintness to the space and allows what has the potential to seem too fancy to be entirely unstuffy. The clientele is a bit on the older side; that could be either a cause or an effect of the low noise level of the restaurant. I have never struggled to maintain a conversation, and you are far enough from the table next to you to speak at a normal level and not fear unintentional eavesdropping. The waiters are all dressed in white shirts and black ties with white aprons tied around their waists, and are all very accomodating and pleasant. The menu is typical French bistro fare, featuring staples like Salad Niçoise, Soupe à L’Oignon and Steak Frites. There is also a seasonal menu that changes monthly, but still keeps the typical French theme a running constant throughout the entire menu. I've been here a few times before and have never been disappointed with my food. I've never really left thrilled and blown away, but Bistrot Zinc executes the standard French fare quite reliably, with Chicago-sized portions, which are not so French, of course.
Mussels steamed with white wine, shallots, cream and parsley:
The portion size of this dish has decreased dramatically since the last time I ordered it, which was probably a good eight months ago and was also the last time I had eaten here. The sauce in this dish is very good, if standard. It is perfect for soaking up and devouring with bread, which I did happily. The mussels themselves are incredibly plump, as you can probably see from the photo above, far larger than any other mussel I have found in any Chicago restaurant. I do wonder, though, why the protion size is now less than half of what it was before.
Sautéed Skate with Brown Butter, Capers, and Lemon:
This dish was a bit too greasy for my liking. I know, I know, a brown butter sauce is going to be greasy, but it permeated the fish a bit too much and made parts of the portion a bit soggy. From the color of the fish I expected a bit of a bite, a slight crunch, but I was wrong. It was cooked well though, it was not at all overcooked and the fish flaked into sections with the slightest touch of my fork. The capers lent a nice flavor to the butter, and thereby to the fish. The plate was completed with a giant mound of mashed potatoes, which were quite bland. This characteristic was at the same time disappointing and relieving, since I then had the ability to season them myself. Why, however, there were croutons thrown atop this mound I don't quite understand. It seemed like a last-ditch effort to complete the dish and give the potatoes a bit more of a presence on the plate, to ensure that they didn't just blend into the white china on which they were served. Grinding some pepper into the potatoes would have lent the same effect, though, and the pepper's role in the dish would have been a bit more apparent. The croutons just didn't do anything for the dish, their texture wasn't necessary and their presence lent no flavor to the dish, as the croutons themselves were not at all seasoned.
And it was another pleasant dining experience. Not the best food I have ever eaten, but I left sated and happy. Part of that happiness has to be attributed to dining with my boyfriend, Andrew, but it was also due to the fact that Bistrot Zinc delivered exactly what I had expected of it, good but not great food and good service, and that was all I had asked of it. I don’t go into Bistrot Zinc expecting to be wowed and awed by culinary creations, but I know what I expect and I get just that, reliably.
1131 N. State St. (at E. Elm St)