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Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011

Chez Jacques Adds French Flair to Milwaukee

Fine bistro fare, moderate prices in relaxing setting

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About 10 years ago Jacques Chaumet opened Jacques' French Café, not far from the Allen-Bradley complex. Chaumet, who hails from the south of France, brought some Gallic panache to Milwaukee's near-South Side. But the original café was a tad small, so in 2007 he moved to larger quarters (on First Street, just a block away from the original location) and changed the name to Chez Jacques.

Chez Jacques continues to provide a pleasant setting. The front room boasts a classic Art Deco bar, and a series of small dining rooms feature tile floors and walls painted in the sunny hues of Provence. The delightful outdoor patio manages to offer European charm in a post-industrial setting.

The menu is just what you would expect at a casual restaurant, except that it also offers a crab-cake appetizer, shrimp cocktail and couscous entrée. To follow the restaurant's French theme, begin with fromage de chevre a la Provencale ($10.95), a large bowl of chopped tomatoes with fresh basil and plenty of garlic. In the center is baked goat cheese. Eat it with crouton rounds or slices of bread. There is more than enough to share. The mussels ($7.50) offer a plentiful serving for an inexpensive price. The mussels are of the superior blue variety and arrive in a cream sauce laced with garlic and shallots. There is plenty of sauce, just begging to be sopped up by the bread.

If you prefer to go the route of American tourists, order the onion soup gratinee ($6), the classic French onion soup with a subtle broth filled with sweet onions and topped by crouton rounds and melted Gruyere cheese. For a light lunch, pair the French onion soup with salade de betteraves ($9), a salad of roasted red beets served over field greens. Crushed walnuts and Roquefort cheese complement the beets, producing interesting flavor combinations, especially when you add some of the mustard vinaigrette that arrives on the side.

Classic entrees are served for dinner, including steak frites ($19.95), an 8-ounce New York strip, and beef bourguignon ($18.95), the seductive beef stew slow-cooked with red wine. Seafood options include coquille Saint-Jacques ($19.95), jumbo sea scallops in a cream sauce laced with vermouth, and bouillabaisse ($24.95), a Provencal seafood stew that seems very appropriate in this setting. One entree that really stands out is the canard roti a l'orange ($19.95), or duck in orange sauce. This is a half-bird complete with bones. The sauce reduction is intense—not too bitter and not too sweet. This is duck in one of its finest preparations.

Breakfast is served daily, but not at factory hours (do not arrive before 10 a.m.). Sundays offer a very popular brunch. Chez Jacques makes some fine savory and sweet crepes ($8.95-$13.95). Crepes are also served for lunch and dinner. The sweet crepes include versions with caramelized apples and poached pears. Among the savory choices are smoked salmon and spinach Roquefort.

In addition to a decent beer list, a wine list offers about 20 vintages by the glass. There are 40-some available by the bottle, and even more on Jacques' "special list," which will run more than $90 per bottle.

Chez Jacques continues to bring French flair to Milwaukee, with fine bistro fare at moderate prices—all in a suitable, relaxing setting.

Chez Jacques

1022 S. First St.

(414) 672-1040

$$-$$$

Credit Cards: MC, VS

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chezjacques.com