June is a big month for family gatherings and, of course, that might include a celebration of Father's Day. It seems to me that being a parent is an increasingly difficult prospect these days, so each parent really deserves a special day. Throughout the years, my own father has done more for my sisters and I than I can describe. So Happy Father's Day to my dad—and to yours.
One difficulty I often have with chocolates made in this country is that they lack subtlety. Such is not the case with June's Chocolate Find, Chocolats Le Francais of Wheeling, Illinois. Chocolats Le Francais produces a limited variety of chocolates available in several different assortments, but what hits you immediately when you try them is the understated excellence and freshness of the ingredients. These chocolates are not particularly flashy-looking, nor are the fillings brightly colored. In place of that, you have superior chocolate that covers centers you'll wish you had the skill to make yourself. These centers, which in most cases seem to be based on chocolate ganache, are notable for their delicate flavor variations.
You can find Chocolats Le Francais at 269 South Milwaukee Avenue in Wheeling. The phone number there is (847) 541-1317, or get in touch with them via fax at (847) 541-7489. Yes, they do ship, though in warm weather they must ship chocolates by overnight delivery, greatly increasing your costs. Jim Graham, the affable chocolatier in charge, tells me that the company does not yet have a website, but they hope to have one on line this summer. Prices are expensive, but no more so than they should be given the evident high standards in use; these are special chocolates for special people.
I've never had a Restaurant of the Month pick before, but recently I ate lunch at a place that knocked me out, food elitist though I am. Interestingly, this month's Chocolate Find is in the same location. The restaurant is Le Francais, at 269 South Milwaukee Avenue in Wheeling, IL. Walk inside, and you feel as though you've entered a different realm. Quiet elegance prevails, yet everyone you encounter is friendly. I was impressed by that, but what really won me over was the food. If you are fond of first courses, as I am, you might wish to start with the assortment of game and fowl pates, as I did. Once I had tasted them, I seriously considered refusing to ever leave the premises. There was a small salad of good field greens served between courses, then we moved on to the entree. I had a breast of duck with persimmon and Armagnac sauce, which might just have been the single best main course I've ever eaten. The sliced duck breast was served rare, as it should be, over a bed of soft polenta and what I think was some sautéed cabbage. I would have licked my plate clean if other people hadn't been present. My companion ordered veal. I am not a fan of veal, normally, but I tasted his and it had been prepared faultlessly. Dessert was just as good; my raspberry "mousse" was a many-layered creation with delicious contrasts in both taste and texture. Bravo!
Le Francais is open Tuesday through Friday for lunch, and they are closed for dinner on Sunday. Lunch can be ordered a la carte, or there's a fixed price menu with limited choices. Dinner is seventy dollars per person; for that, you get a choice of hot or cold appetizer, soup or salad, a main course, and a dessert. The restaurant has a liquor license. Mary Beth and Roland Liccioni are your hosts. If you would like to eat here, please make reservations (that holds true for lunch as well); the phone number is (847) 541-7470. I promise you that this restaurant is worth your time and hard-earned money.
'Til next month,
Yours in chocolate,
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