Bistrot Zinc, a Little Piece of Paris in Chicago

No Chicago trip is complete for me without a stop at the always charming, consistently delicious Bistrot Zinc.  After  a stroll up Oak Street to build up your appetite, wander just a bit to the side of the “Viagra triangle” for some of the best simple French food in the city. Two items in particular should always be ordered, no matter what else you get. To start the escargot are divine. Plump and fatty and garlicky, unless you’re some freak who hates garlic and pernod and snails, you just can’t go wrong. Also, they don’t stick them in those annoying shells so you don’t have to work for your dose of buttery goodness.


 To finish you have to order the Millas de Bordeaux a custard and cherry filled pastry, that’s just sweet enough and uber flaky.  The only bad thing about this dish is that I’ve never seen any rendition of it elsewhere. Pair it with a glass of Muscat de Beaumes de Venise and then call to thank me.

 Round out your meal with a lamb sandwich or well executed steak frites while basking in the one un-French thing about this restaurant – the attentive and polite service! (Just kidding, I’ve actually always encountered lovely service on my trips to France, but the joke was there so I had to make it).

Porko Bongusto at the Purple Pig in Chicago

Porko bongusto means tasty pork in Esperanto, I have no idea where I learned that, but it’s certainly what the Purple Pig provides.  Tucked into a small alley right off North Michigan Ave. the Purple Pig delivers excellent meat, cheese and wine – just as advertised on its sign.

I was dining with the Bob and the original gourmand, a Mr. W. Rothwell who is an excellent dining companion both for his company and adventurous palette. We started with pork roasted almonds mixed with whole roasted cloves of garlic. Why hasn’t anybody thought of this before?  Every meal should start this way. Salty and tasting of fatty goodness they were the perfect accompaniment to a glass of wine or an aperitif (think anything with Campari).
Next came an embarrassment of riches. Crispy pig’s ears and kale with a soft fried egg on top may have been my favorite item on the menu.  Crunchy pork fat, slightly bitter kale and rich egg yolk meld together for what can only be described as hog heaven (yeah I went there).



The bone marrow was basically the same knock off of St. John you see everywhere these days.  Which I’m fine with.  Marrow is so tasty that there’s really no reason to get too creative with it.  (Unless you’re the Kin Shop in NY – they do an excellent complicated marrow dish, but that’s for another time).  The Purple Pig’s marrow was almost perfectly executed, full fatty bones with marrow tasting like meat butter cut by a sharp parsley salad. Only one bit of criticism, the toast would have been better sliced thinner and a little crunchier so as not to overwhelm the star of the show.



The only small plate that was a bit of a disappointment was the lardo.  It just didn’t have the melt in your mouth quality that lardo should have.  Too bad too, because it came out looking beautiful and smooth. Alas, but nobody can win them all.

The two large plates we tried were also well executed.  Rare hunks of albacore on top of a samphire salad were a welcome bit of freshness after what can only be described as a parade of animal fat.  Plus they had samphire!! The wagyu sirloin tip was tender and perfectly medium rare, but the bone marrow vinaigrette it was dressed in was lost against the flavor of the beef.  We also had some rather nice charred ramps and green onions in a less assertive than usual romesco sauce.  But really, nobody was paying attention to the vegetables.
By the time we got to the cheese I wasn’t in any position to remember what I was eating because I was full almost to the point of madness. But the Pecorino Noce was nice and nutty and that one that looks like butter? It tasted like it too! The delicious “butter cheese” was just lovely with a glass of Dios Baco Oloroso sherry. The Bob paired a white whisky (which he liked and I hated) with a ricotta and chocolate filled fried brioche. It was kind of like cannoli on crack.  In a good way.
I don’t really need another “must go to” restaurant in Chicago.  But the Purple Pig is too convincing not to add to the list. Service is a bit slow (though full of personality) so plan to while away the afternoon eating and drinking with a group of friends. I would probably lean towards all small plates on my next visit, but I’d be confident enough in the menu to let someone else pick all of them.