If we were doing it again, I'm pretty sure my husband and I would honeymoon in France. Not that we didn't enjoy our week in Jackson Hole, Wyo., but I think if we had known then what we know now, Paris, Burgundy and Alsace would have been in the plan.
During our 16 years of marriage, we've discovered as much about French cuisine as we have about each other. We've dined at many of the at the iconic (and now shuttered) French restaurants in the suburbs and each time discovered a new wine, a new cheese, enjoyed a chef's spin on a classic sauce. So when we were looking for a restaurant for our recent anniversary dinner we knew it had to be French. With our favorite spot now closed, I remembered Retro Bistro.
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Retro Bistro1746 W. Golf Road, Mount Prospect, (847) 439-2424, retrobistro.com
Cuisine: Classic and contemporary French
Setting: Vibrant, casual bistro
Entrees: $16.95 to $24
Hours: 5:30 to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday; 4:30 to 9 p.m. Sunday; also lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday to Friday; brunch 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday
Retro Bistro has been around for 23 years, opened by chefs Chris and Lorraine Barth, who met while attending culinary school. It had been about 20 years since I had been there.
Never as formal as Wheeling's Le Francais (once the country's top-rated French restaurant), Retro Bistro nonetheless serves finely crafted classic and modern French cuisine.
The tables are dressed with white clothes and set in a lively room that belies the rigid paneled rooms of yesterday's French dining palaces. Bistro, after all, is in the restaurant's name, connoting a more casual spot to dine.
From the salads to the entrees to dessert, the menu is definitively French.
My husband started with the charcuterie plate and savored every bite of Barth's homemade pate and duck sausage. A bit of Dijon provided a nice smear of spice.
I gravitated toward the herbed goat cheese salad: a golden nugget of breaded goat cheese holding center court on a plate of greens, carrots, dried cranberries and apple slices. An herbaceous dressing complemented the ensemble nicely.
The poached pear and Roquefort Alsatian tart was another thing of beauty, with the walnuts adding a contrasting crunch to the luscious soft pear and creamy cheese.
Lighter appetites could make a nice meal of one of the tarts (duck confit and roast chicken are other options) and a salad (heirloom tomatoes and arugula or a traditional egg-topped Lyonnaise), but we were in for the long haul so we proceeded to entrees.
While the steak au poivre and goat cheese-stuffed capon breast certainly gave us something to consider, it was the pork tenderloin with apple-brandy sauce and mushrooms and the seasonally available Copper River salmon with garlic scapes that eventually won us over. The pork medallions were seared to perfection and the sauce was magnifique! Not a drop was left on the plate.
The salmon fillet was likewise perfectly cooked, with just the right amount of flake without being dry. The buttery sauce and scapes made a dramatic presentation and pleased the palate.
When it came to selecting wine with dinner, our server called on one of the more savvy waiters to guide us. The wine list isn't exclusively French and contains some familiar New World labels.
Moving onto dessert, we bypassed the traditional cheese course because the strawberry and rhubarb tart and creme brulee were calling our names. Enjoyed at the peak of their seasons, those two fruits work together wonderfully and Barth did them justice. The brûlée was the weaker of the two desserts. It had a nice sugary crust but the custard, while evenly flavored, was on the runny side.
The service was friendly without being overly so and contributed to a wonderful evening.
It might be a few years before my husband and I get to France. So next time we need our French fix, we'll be back at Retro Bistro.
• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.