Café des Architectes at Sofitel Chicago Water Tower Hotel.

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“Bonjour!” was the first thing I heard when I entered the luxurious lobby of the Sofitel Water Tower Hotel. The relaxed atmosphere and attentive staff are very welcoming and though I am tempted to linger awhile, my focus today is on the hotel’s crowning jewel, the restaurant Café des Architectes.

The dining room has an upscale European contemporary style, and is subtly sub-divided into smaller seating areas each offering a unique combination of colors and finishes, creating an impression of intimacy without physically dividing the airy, light-filled space. A clever row of pendant lights which are reminiscent of French chef’s toques convey the French theme in an understated and elegant way. To my eye they are an appetizer, and anticipation starts to build.

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Known for contemporary French cuisine with a twist, Café des Architectes’ Executive Chef Greg Biggers has created a stunning menu built upon fresh local ingredients, fine imported French cheeses, fresh seafood, and most impressively, an extensive array of artisanal cheeses and charcuterie made right here in-house!

To the casual restaurant guest, house-made meats and cheeses may sound simple, but it is important to note that Chef Biggers had first to acquire permits and licenses to certify and operate a creamery, not to mention constructing a humidity-controlled cave to age the charcuterie and cheeses!

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1st Course
Foie Gras Torchon with green onion puree, apple-cardamon jam, beet puree, brioche crisp

Perhaps the most delicate foie gras I’ve ever tasted, soft, buttery, and rich which is balanced by bright, aromatic spring onion and a wonderfully tart heirloom-style sweet apple cardamom jam and earthy-sweet beet puree. Apple and onion interact wonderfully together in this dish and together with the delicate foie gras, the combination is surprisingly delicious with the crisp, paper-thin slices of brioche offering textural contrast. While foie gras can sometimes come across as fatty, this particular preparation is light and creamy thanks to the long, delicate Torchon preparation.  

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2nd Course
Chestnut Provisions Tasting; Lomo, soppressatta, miso finnichionna, chevre, tomme, tellagio, brioche, sassparilla mustard, pickled cauliflower
An exquisitely presented array of delicious and authentic flavors, the individual selections vary by season; my tasting today consisted of soppressata, miso finocchiona, chevre, tomme, tellagio, sarsparilla mustard, pickled cauliflower, and toasted brioche. While several of these are familiar, a few are new to me and the sassparilla mustard is a unique twist on an essential condiment. Delicately sliced cured meats and cheeses with freshly baked bread is something most Europeans enjoy every morning, I would not hesitate to order this for breakfast with café au lait.

The quality and taste of Chestnut Provisions are quite remarkable, and will be featured in an upcoming piece that goes into further detail about the range offered and their preparation.

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3rd Course
Braised Pork Belly with artichoke puree, winter vegetable, roasted garlic jus
A classic combination of juicy and tender slow-braised pork belly with roasted vegetables. Blue potato, carrots, and brussel sprouts complement the deliciously deep meaty flavor of fork-tender pork belly; and are further enriched with a velvety artichoke puree and an umami boost of roasted garlic-infused jus. A rich and decadent combination, this is comfort food at its finest.

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4th Course
Poached Maine Lobster with butternut squash puree, truffle foam, baby vegetables
A generous portion of perfectly tender poached lobster with a natural briny flavor, rich squash puree and a delicately earthy truffle foam enhance the rich flavor of lobster without competing with it. Tender roasted baby vegetables, the parsnip was particularly good with seafood.

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When it comes to pastries and decadent desserts the kitchen is held up by Executive Pastry Chef Anna Young.

5th Course
Sticky Toffee Pudding with blood Orange, buttermilk, praline ice cream
The name of this delicious dish nearly says it all!  Rich, gooey, buttery, sticky toffee pudding served with a palate refreshing combination of creamy praline ice cream, sweet blood orange gelée and tart segments of fresh mandarin orange which are delicious with a dollop of light, creamy whipped buttermilk.

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6th Course
Chocolate Sphere with butter ice cream, caramelized cocoa nibs, salted caramel
An intriguing molded chocolate sphere reminds me of a birds nest with two “eggs” of buttery ice cream in a pool of rich salted caramel; an edible flowerbed of incredibly moist and rich chocolate cake studded with caramel cream and ice cream topped with edible flowers and crunchy cocoa nibs. Each element was executed perfectly and the result is a stunning plate that truly tastes as good as it looks.
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7th Course
Tower of Desserts
A striking architectural tower of delicate jewels perched dramatically on glass beams, an impressive presentation that literally elevates the art of dessert.

Dulce chocolate macaron
Macarons are by far my favorite French treat, and the timeless combination of rich dulce flavors and decadent chocolate ganache are at the top of my list. Perfectly smooth shells and just the right level of moisture gives them a delicate crunch and tender interior without being crumbly. Nothing beats a fresh macaron.
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Rubies Tea Truffle
A shining deep red chocolate shell tipped with gold accents and filled with a rich ganache infused with the flavors of black tea, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, and rose petals. These should come in boxes for valentines day!

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Apricot cherry nougat
There is something special about nougat that defies its simple appearance. Delicate, chewy, pillowy goodness studded with nuts and bits of dried fruit, I’m a sucker for this treat! Though it is mass produced (‘mandorlato’, with almonds) and sold in most shops across western Europe, the fresh-made version is something else entirely. My favorite source while living in Europe was a little Parisian candy shop in the 9th arrondissement called A l’Etoile d’Or; on this side of the pond, it’s Chef Young’s authentic version. Rich with floral honey notes, cherries, and apricots, this is something I’ve missed and look forward to enjoying again.
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Blueberry pâte de fruit
A traditional French favorite that can take on almost any flavor, this one highlights the deep flavor and delicately tart profile of blueberries in a sweet, sugary gelled confection with a tender yet dense consistency. Pectin gels are difficult to get right and can be gummy, these had just the right consistency; firm to the tooth yet tender and melting.

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An elegant menu, a passionate team of professionals, and an arsenal of artisanal pleasures make Café des Architectes a magnificent place to dine. Located in a modern architectural gem that is steps away from Chicago’s finest attractions yet conveniently situated on a calm street, the hotel and restaurant are easily accessible to locals and a magnet for visitors. The exquisite dining room is equally beautiful day and night, and make for a memorable dining experience all year round.

My sincere thanks to Chef Biggers and Chef Young for their hospitality and culinary expertise, and to their staff for the wonderfully attentive service.

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