A Night Out

La Petite Folie – A haven for delightful French dining

Diners prepare to order from La Petite Folie’s extensive menu. (Photos by Karen Olson)

“Context and memory play powerful roles in all the truly great meals in one’s life.”

-the late Anthony Bourdain

By AARON GETTINGER
Staff writer

La Petite Folie, an intimate restaurant that opens onto the courtyard of the Hyde Park Shopping Center, delivers on both fronts.

The welcoming oasis not only provided a memorable meal but also turned our conversation to dishes we had shared at exquisite mom-and-pop Paris restaurants that are not in any guidebook. It was quite a trick.

The food is joyfully satisfying, from the first crunch of the fresh crusty bread from local bakery Medici to the luscious deserts. But some of the great joy of “Folie” is what it is not. It is not a bistro; it is not Cuisine Classique swimming in butter and cream. It is not trying to be the next hot thing; and it is not a restaurant where you must shout to have your companion hear you.

For the last 20 years, through a myriad of culinary trends, a recession, and a period of anti-French everything in America (remember Freedom Fries?), Michael and Mary Mastricola have stayed the course by keeping La Petite Folie a house of expertly prepared French cuisine that is approachable, affordable, and authentic. The restaurant’s longevity alone is a testament to its quality.

The menu is extensive, with seven appetizers and 14 main courses listed. Appetizers are widely varied to appeal to any palate. The beautiful golden Alsatian onion tart was impeccable, and the crudité salade featured a mound of grated celery root, carrots and beets were dressed with remoulade, vinaigrette and marinated, respectively, atop baby spinach. The smoked duck salad was equally pleasing, albeit a tad overdressed to my taste. The soup de jour (white bean and tomato topped with kale) stressed its simple, pure flavors but would have benefited from a pinch more salt.

Sea bass with lima beans, tomatoes and slivered black truffles is one of the star entrees. (Photo by Karen Olson)

Main course poultry offerings span the culinary width of France, from Basque chicken in the southwest to Alsatian quail with sauerkraut, Brussels sprouts, carrots, potatoes and mustard sauce.

The Basque chicken is a skinless breast and wing atop saffron rice beneath a blanket of aromatic peppers, Spanish chorizo, tomatoes and potent black olives. The chorizo tender and mild, but the peppers they were in full force. The chicken was tender if perhaps a hair underdone around the wing.

The fish offerings were excellent. The roasted sea bass had a delightfully crispy skin on top, while the rich white flesh remained moist a full-flavored. The pepper-crusted tuna arrived perfectly medium rare.

Steak au poivre is served with green beans and attractively piped potato puree, and it is finished with a peppery sear and herbed citrus butter.

The Belgian chocolate torte is almost too pretty to eat, but diners shouldn’t miss this mélange of chocolate and Chantilly cream. (Photo by Karen Olson)

Among desserts, the mixed berry crumble topped with a scoop of hazelnut ice cream and a gluten-free Belgian chocolate torte with Chantilly cream are two fine ways to end the meal. Both were luxuriously rich but not overly sweet and too delightful to share. The decidedly un-French-sounding pineapple carpaccio was grand, with thin slices of tropical pineapple and diced mangoes; kiwis added a pop of color, and the floral pink guava sorbet was about the prettiest scoop I’ve ever seen.

Besides its a la carte menu of meat, fish, and vegetarian dishes, La Petite Folie also offers a 3-course Prix Fixe menu for Court theatergoers from 5:00 to 6:30pm, which allows enough time for a leisurely dinner before a performance. At $38 excluding beverages, it is a real bargain.

Service was professional and discreet, though the servers can get overwhelmed when the dining room is filled.

Twenty years since opening, not much has changed about La Petite Folie, and it is doubtful that it will. Tastes change — for years, the restaurant was on the Michelin Guide’s Bib Gourmand list, but no longer, and Millennial foodies aren’t flocking there as they do to West Loop.

But the West Loop is all hype. La Petite Folie is doing what it’s doing pretty well, and two decades of business is something to admire.

(Freelancer Karen Olson contributed to this review.)

a.gettinger@hpherald.com

La Petite Folie,
1504 E. 55th St.
773-493-1394
Open for lunch Tues – Fri, 11:30 a.m. – 2 p.m.; dinner Tues – Sun, 5 p.m. – 10 p.m.