Eat This: Mon Ami Gabi

Mon Ami Gabi is one of the dozens of restaurants owned by the Lettuce Entertain You Group; there’s also an outpost in the Paris hotel in Las Vegas. But don’t let the fact that it’s a chain turn you off. Mon Ami Gabi is one of the best place to get French bistro fare, or to enjoy a low-cost romantic evening out in Chicago.

Located in the Belden-Stratford hotel on the outskirts of Lincoln Park (the park, not the neighborhood), it’s across the hall from it’s upscale sibling in the Lettuce family, the posh and pricey L20. If, upon stepping inside, you felt as if you’d been transported to 1950’s France, you’d be forgiven. The interior is cozy but not cramped, with a black and white checkered floor, low lighting, small bistro tables and high-backed booths, a small polished-wood bar above which chalkboards list the specials, and floor to ceiling windows that look out on the patio and the park.

Start with a stop at the bar, where you can samples some of the house cocktails like the Kir Royal while noshing on classic escargot or brie with crusty French bread. French onion soup and several salads (the frisee with poached egg and bacon is particularly good) are also available for starters. Or you can skip right to the main event. While the restaurant does wonders with chicken and fish (if you go on a Friday, get the impossibly delicate Dover sole), it really shines in the meat department.  Classic French steak preparations like steak au poivre with a brandy peppercorn sauce or steak roquefort with a blue cheese sause are just $19.95 for a hearty portion served with fries. My favorite is the tender hangar steak, served with a rich and creamy merlot butter that melts over the steak and soaks into the crispy fries. C’est magnifique!

Most entrees are under $20, with cocktails around $12 and several bottles of wine to choose from at under $40 (though you can also spend much more on bottles from the French-centric list). If you’re celebrating a special occaision, be sure to inform the staff as you’ll be treated to a complimentary portion of their flaky and delicious profiteroles.

Reservations are highly recommended on most nights of the week and all-but required on weekends. There’s no dress code and you’ll be equally at home in trendy casual clothes are you will more dressy attire. For an appetizer and entree per person, one dessert and one bottle of wine, you can expect to spend about $100 before tax and tip, making this one of the most budget-friendly romantic restaurants in the city.

Photo by jasonlam