When we think French food we think delicious, but pretentious and overpriced. We also had some questions about the location given that it was replacing Tribute, the American contemporary concept that only survived for a short five months. Luckily for Brasserie by LM, it seems like the burden of costly renovations to create a restaurant from scratch were taken care of by their predecessors. On the inside of the restaurant not much has changed.
Anyway, as we were walking to the restaurant, we played a game of "how many people would be at this restaurant?" It was a brand new restaurant and in reality opened relatively quickly without much fanfare. I guessed 20...my wife guessed 10. It ended up being more like 15-18 people.
If you've ever been to this space you quickly realize that this amount of people makes the restaurant and bar feel pretty empty. It's a really big space. Unfortunately this doesn't yield a great atmosphere for French ambiance. But for what the restaurant lacks in character and ambiance, it makes up in respect to food.
The menu is not overwhelming (maybe 30-35 options in total) and the prices are affordable (the most expensive item was the $25 three course special). We opted for the higher end of the menu and decided on the Brasserie Steak and the special (which on this day included a bib salad, duck congfit entree, and chocolate mousse). I also opted for Mesculan salad so I wasn't left out of the first course.
The salads were good, but pretty standard. The ingredients were fresh and the only complaint was that there might have been a little too much dressing. The entree was probably the highlight of the meal. The steak was very flavorful and grilled to perfection. It's not a prime cut that you would find down the road at the Chicago Firehouse, but then again it's half the price. The duck was good...if you like duck. It was tender and juicy.
For dessert, we opted to split the chocolate mousse and that was a good idea as the portion was rather large. It came in a cute little container and was supper fluffy and rich. Definitely recommended.
In regard to the service, it was opening weekend, so we wouldn't put much stock into this yet. However, there was clearly some confusion on the table numbers. We noticed the wrong dishes being delivered to the wrong tables repetitively. An easy mistake and something we assume will get better with time.
The staff was nice and warm. It also seems like some of the them are French (which makes the experience a little more authentic).
Finally, a couple random thoughts on the appearance and entrance to the restaurant. The Essex Inn isn't doing any favors for the restaurant. While they might provide customers who are staying in the hotel, the lobby (which serves as an entrance) is dated. The carpet looks like it's straight out of the 80's.
If we have one recommendation for the restaurant in regard to its appearance we would strongly suggest trying to establish that the entrance to the restaurant is from Michigan Avenue, not the Essex Inn lobby. It seems like this could be achieved by having signage or an awning over the door on Michigan Avenue.
So to summarize, the ambiance is lacking, the food is solid and affordable, the staff is nice but needs to iron out some of the simple logistics associated with running a restaurant (which we're sure they will with time). All in all, we will be back and highly suggest that you try it out.
(Image from RL Photography)