If you're trolling for antiques in Andersonville and find yourself in the mood for simple and authentic French food, you might go looking for La Tache, the adorable bistro that has been a staple in the neighborhood for years. But you won't find it. Seemingly overnight, La Tache has vanished and been replaced by Vincenta new Dutch restaurant brought to you by the boys who own Home Bistro in Boystown.
I have to admit that I was a little sad to see La Tache go, but times change, and restaurants open and they close. So I went to Vincent with a ( partially ) open mind for dinner the other night. My defenses started to come down when one of the owners wheeled a cheese cart up to my table. And I softened even more when he cut me a slice of five-year aged Gouda and scooped a blob of pungent triple-cream brie onto my plate. ( Cheese is obviously meant to be a dessert course, but I like to start my meal with a cheese plate, and I recommend you try it, tooconvention be damned ) .
Vincent swooped into the former La Tache space in a matter of weeks, so the interior isn't all that much differentthe dark paneled walls and ample candlelight remain, but there are now oversized black-and-white photographs of Amsterdam street scenes on the walls and the tables are topped with rustic brown butcher paper. And, just like you'd find in plenty hole-in-the-wall restaurants in the Dutch countryside, classic American rock music fills the dining room.
With several hearty soups on the menu, Vincent is going to be a great place to warm up on the cold winter nights that will be upon us before you can say "tot ziens." ( That's Dutch for "See you later." ) There's a mustard soup, which I'll admit was new to me. But, it is tangy, hearty and dressed up with a tarragon pestodelicious! In keeping with traditional Dutch cuisine, you'll also find snert at Vincent. Owner and Chef Joncarl explained to me that schoolboys in Holland are typically grown when snert is servedand now I understand why. The stuff is downright gross. It's a thick, flavorless gray porridge with sausage and brown bread. I think it's one of those foods that grows on you over the years and eventually brings comfort. But, unless you've been eating snert since you were a Dutch schoolboy, order the mustard soup.
Behind the bar, Vincent's mixologist has concocted a few interesting specialty cocktails. The "Spice Trader" is served in a champagne glass, so I really had no choice but to order one. It is kind of like a spiked cold chai latte, and could be a nice alternative to an after-dinner coffee or brandy. The "Red Light Fizz" refreshing, ever-so-slightly sweet and flavored with fresh herbs. The cocktails are admittedly creative, but I think a beer from the ample selections or a glass of wine from the interesting global list make better companions for the traditional Dutch dishes.
Of the meat- and fish-heavy entrees, the brown sugar-cured pork belly with suckling pig is the clear winner. Served with browned fingerling potatoes and a savory mustards sauce, it's the kind of meal you can really sink your teeth into. The lamb burger was also surprisingly fantastic. The tender and well-seasoned lamb is covered in gooey melted cheese and served on a pretzel roll. If you can actually get your mouth around the whole messy burger, you will enjoy what I like to call "the perfect bite." Try the Jardin du Charlotte Bourgogne rouge, a smooth, spicy red with fruity undertones that is perfect to wash down your lamb burger.
Somewhere between your soup and your dessert, don't forget to put in an order of moules frites for the table. Vincent has a handful of different preparations of this classic Dutch snack of mussels and French fries. I can vouch for the "Amsterdam"tender mussels bathing in a broth of beer, butter and garlic served with a heaping mound of crispy frites and garlic mayonnaise for dippingyou'll be instantly transported to the bike-lined, tulip-studded, canal-wrapped streets of Amsterdam.
The culinary minds behind Vincent are still working out the details of the dessert menu, but as far as I'm concerned, they've already nailed it. In a cute nod to one of Holland's favorite "recreational activities," there's an herb-infused brownie ( no, not that herb ) . This one is made with perfectly-legal thyme and topped with fresh whipped cream. There's also a strawberry tartebut not the kind with browned and flaky crust you typically find in America. Vincent's tartes are prepared with soft, thick European pastry dough, which is far superior, and is probably going to lure me back to Vincent far too often.
Vincent is at 1475 W. Balmoral; call 773-334-7168 or visit www.vincentchicago.com . Photos by Shira Kollins