Dinner Date: Restaurant Michael
Hemingway wrote, “If you are lucky enough to live in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” Like Ernest and his wife Hadley, we were lucky enough to live in Paris as a young couple. From our apartment in the 16th arrondissement, we would stroll to a corner café or take a taxi to a bistro on the Left Bank, knowing that we could find a wonderful meal anywhere in the city. Dinner in Paris can be elegant, casual, romantic, or convivial—sometimes all in the same night.
Since returning to the North Shore, we have searched far and wide for a date night restaurant that combines the best qualities of our favorite Paris haunts. A restaurant that takes its food seriously, but doesn’t take itself too seriously. We have found that place in Restaurant Michael.
Restaurant Michael describes itself as “a personal creation by Michael Lachowicz.” Chef Michael honed his skills in New York and Lyon, France, and ran the acclaimed Les Deux Gros in Glen Ellyn before settling back on the North Shore and opening his namesake restaurant in Winnetka. The chef’s personal touches are apparent from the moment you walk in: the warm greeting from the maître d’, the soothing earth-toned walls, the dim lighting that sets the mood for a special night out.
On a recent date night visit, we started with Kir Royal, a traditional French apéritif consisting of champagne with a splash of crème de cassis, giving the flute a festive and romantic pink glow. This was accompanied by an amuse-bouche—flaky pastry puffs filled with warm Gruyère cheese. Our friendly and knowledgeable server invited us to take our time to settle in and relax, a welcome respite after a typically long week on the road (for him) and at home with the kids (for her). We sank into the comfortable chairs and listened to the jazz standards of Sinatra and Fitzgerald waft through the room. We toasted our date night, perused the menu, and surveyed the scene of our fellow diners: an older couple that looked like regulars; a table of foodies debating the merits of each dish; a slightly awkward first or second date; a gaggle of short-sleeved businessmen trying to close a deal over their third bottle of wine; a tall blonde and her somewhat less statuesque husband.
Our server reappeared and took our order. We started with the wild Alaskan salmon rosette over a warm potato gateau and the diver scallop over braised beef short rib. Both were beautifully presented, with the impossibly tender scallop being our first clue that Chef Michael was serious about the freshness of his ingredients that night.
Next, we shared bites of two classic French salads with a nouveau twist: the salade Nicoise featuring seared rare big eye tuna and the salade Lyonnaise with a warm poached egg. We reminisced about the Right Bank cafés where simpler versions of these classic dishes were a staple of our lunchtime rendezvous..
For our entrees, we chose the filet of wild sea bass with creamy goat cheese polenta and the roasted rack of baby New Zealand lamb over ragout of candied fig and exotic mushrooms. The sea bass was fresh and firm, with the goat cheese polenta providing a punchy contrast in taste. The lamb was tender enough to cut with a butter knife.
Our server poured the last glasses from our bottle of 2004 Château Pomys, a bright Bordeaux from Saint-Estèphe. We recalled the drinkable 1998 Bordeaux that we used to pick up at the corner wine shop on Avenue Victor-Hugo for 30 francs a bottle, back when the French used francs (and the dollar was a lot stronger). Michael’s wine selection is deeper, broader, and a little more expensive than our old corner shop’s, but equally well chosen.
We finished with the grilled pear and chestnut charlotte—a light and satisfying confection—and the hot fallen chocolate soufflé—rich and creamy and done to perfection.
The room had cleared out by now. The kitchen staff was cleaning up, and the waitstaff was preparing for the next day’s guests. We finally headed home after this relaxing and satisfying meal—not in our Peugeot down the Champs-Élysées, but in our Honda minivan down Green Bay Road. Alas, as Bogart said, “we’ll always have Paris,” and we hope that the North Shore will always have Restaurant Michael.
Restaurant Michael is located at 64 Green Bay Road in Winnetka. For more information, call 847-441-3100, or visit restaurantmichael.com.