[Photographs: Roger Kamholz] The back bar at Bistrot Zinc, with the day's newspapers hanging on wood rods.

I could watch the afternoon light cling to the mustard walls at Bistrot Zinc, well, all afternoon. It's a ritual restaurant—a cozy spot you could revisit week after week, never tiring of the warm atmosphere and simple, reliable pleasures. I'd opt to park myself at the pewter-toned zinc bar with a pastis and the paper.


The dining room.

When I got peckish, I'd naturally dip into the Gold Coast mainstay's menu of French bistro fare. Now typically, this is the point where you might think that this kind of while-away-the-hours, early-retirement fantasy would cease for the vegetarian diner (French, after all, is not exactly the most veggie-friendly cuisine). But Bistrot Zinc's menu is in fact quite amenable to meatless eating, with a couple of very tasty options.


The salade de chèvre ($8.95), made with mixed greens, goat cheese fondue, toasted hazelnuts, red onion, roasted pears, and sherry walnut vinaigrette, is a quietly charming starter. Here the roasted pears steal the show, with a concentrated yet not syrupy sweetness and a firm, pleasantly grainy texture.


While the goat cheese in the salad is creamy, fluffy, and well-integrated, it woefully drags down the ratatouille & chèvre crepe ($9.95). On a recent visit, the crepe itself was dreamy—light, pliant, and just slightly doughy-sweet. By contrast, no care had been taken with the filling, which consisted of one mega dollop of cheese lost among bland stewed vegetables. By the time I had excavated the chèvre, I was over the veggies. And the cheese, which had gotten pasty from partial melting, was too cloying to eat alone.


The kitchen at Bistrot Zinc handles cooking veggies much more adeptly with the colorful Moroccan-spiced vegetable and chickpea stew ($16.95), which is topped with fragrant parsley leaves and toasted almonds and served on a bed of nutty couscous. For a "stew," there's not a whole lot of liquid, but the veggies themselves—laced with a robust, cumin-heavy seasoning—harbor enough tender juiciness to complement the couscous. There's an enjoyable balance here that I didn't find with the crepe. It's the kind of hearty, varied, long-eating dish you could easily base a dining ritual around.

Bistrot Zinc

1131 North State Street, Chicago, IL 60610 (map)

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