Tag Archives: restaurants

Farewell to an Old Friend

Le Titi de Paris

I’ve been enjoying the food, ambiance, and staff at Le Titi de Paris for more than 30 of the restaurant’s 40 years. It has become like an old friend — the place one celebrates important days or simply goes when one needs a special treat. It was the one world-class French restaurant that one could actually describe as “accessible.” Owners and staff were amazingly friendly and people-oriented, prices were reasonable for the astonishing quality of the food, they went out of their way to create meals that matched a wide range of budgets (fixed-price menus were often a real bargain, and the $16 “Express Lunch” was a great value), and I can’t think of any other really high-end place that encouraged people to drop in for dessert after a movie. Or that offered an annual motorcycle outing. Or that offered weekend cooking camps for kids.

But it is all soon coming to an end. My beloved Le Titi and its wonderful owners, Michael and Susan Maddox, are saying farewell. They have, like most people, been hurt by the economy. However, in their case, the positives were looking very attractive. They are eager to spend more time with their growing children, plus the city has been leaning on them to relinquish their prime piece of property, because it is felt that another strip mall will be more useful–which means the Maddoxes will be going out on a high note.

The place is packed every night, now, in anticipation of the end. It reminds me of the corporate world, where no one says anything nice to you until your farewell party.

Any of you who have been reading my blog for a while will know that I wrote a profile of Chef Michael Maddox several years ago for North Shore Magazine. If you’re interested, you can check it out here. In the writing vein, I had always loved the fact that I could order an express lunch, curl up with a notebook and pen, and they’d keep the iced tea coming for a couple of hours. I had envisioned my becoming a famous writer and being known for hanging out at Le Titi, rather than the diners or bars associated with some other notable writers. Sigh.

And I’m not sure I’ll ever find a bouillabaisse I like as well as theirs.

I will miss Le Titi terribly. There are other great French restaurants in the Chicagoland area, but I can’t imagine there will ever be another one that is so welcoming and feels so much like home.

So farewell, mes amis. I wish you all the best in whatever lies ahead for you. You will be leaving a big hole in the lives of a lot of people– but I suspect you’ll make a great success of whatever is next.

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Dinner at Alinea

As we headed for the unassuming front door of Alinea, my friends worried that it might not live up to their expectations. After all, there had been so much press, so many people talking about it. Were there any surprises left? Would they be disappointed? I just smiled and encouraged them to notice the fanciful, diminishing hallway and automatic door, the view into the kitchen from the entryway, and the spare but stunning décor. I figured I didn’t have to convince them. Alinea would do that for me.

I’ve been a fan of Achatz’s cooking for some time. I fell in love with his culinary inventions when he was at Trio. This would be only my second trip to Alinea, but I knew from the first visit that Achatz was just getting better. Granted, Alinea’s food is not for everyone, just as not everyone can imagine a destination that justifies a 12-hour plane ride. But these friends were open to new experiences, so I had no doubt this would be love. Continue reading

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The Joy of Michael’s Cooking

(This article, which first appeared in North Shore Magazine, won 2nd place in the International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association Awards competition. Since this article came out, Chef Pierre Pollin retired from restaurant work and now teaches in the Culinary Arts program at Kendall College. Chef Michael Maddox and his wife, Susan, bought Pollin’s share in the restaurant, and Le Titi is still a thriving operation, with wonderfully expanded offerings that now include a wide range of classes, including summer cooking camps for kids. For those who are interested, by the way, Le Titi is French for scamp or rascal.)

Luxuriant plants dance in the stream coming from the hose trained on them. The tall, sandy-haired farmer’s son who is doing the watering strides gently but confidently among the tidy rows of healthy herbs, vegetables, fruits, and flowers. However, this farmer’s son is not attired in overalls. Instead, he sports a spotless, white jacket with a line of embroidery that identifies him as Michael Maddox, chef/partner of Le Titi de Paris, the celebrated French restaurant in Arlington Heights.

“I think people have more respect for the ingredients if they know where they came from,” Maddox explains. Directing water to the sorrel, he notes that it is at its peak. For the sautéed Rhode Island skate wing with sorrel and sun dried tomato infusion currently on the menu, the fish cook must cut the herb daily. “All the cooks are involved in the garden at some level,” Maddox explains. He thinks they should know how to raise what they use and sees education as an important part of what he does. Continue reading

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