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With its earth tones and nature-inspired art, Brindille is one serene space.

Branching Out

by Lisa Shames | Photo: Anthony Tahlier | CS magazine | July 1, 2013

When chef Carrie Nahabedian’s customers talk, she listens. That was the case with her addictive chicken wings served in the bar area at her Michelin-starred restaurant Naha. When she tried to take them off the menu, their many fans—we hear Rick Bayless is among them—cried “foul” so she relented and kept them on. It’s the same scenario with her Angus beef burger, which has earned permanent status on the lunch and lounge menus even though it doesn’t necessarily match Naha’s white tablecloths and contemporary art.

That ask-and-you-shall-receive motto also came into play with Nahabedian’s second restaurant, Brindille, which she opened in late April with her cousin Michael. “We just listened to our customers and friends who came to us and said, ‘We want a restaurant where we can eat comfortably, feel pretty and be surrounded by beauty,’” says Nahabedian.

And that’s exactly what you’ll find at the serenely elegant spot a short walk from River North’s Naha. Inside the 50-seat space, formerly a gift shop for neighboring live music club Blue Chicago, muted tones of gray, cream and gold fill the interior. On the curved banquettes, throw pillows are strewn about even though the cushions are plush enough on their own. Behind the host stand, the cabinet doors are the same soft lavender as the servers’ pullovers. The light fixtures resemble tree branches, reflecting the name of the restaurant, which means “twig” or “new growth” in French (for non-Francophiles, it’s pronounced “brawn-DEE”). And in the glass case near the entrance, you’ll find a museumworthy collection of vintage serving pieces from Nahabedian’s personal collection, some more than 200 years old we’re told, as well as a beautifully illustrated nature book.

The food at Brindille matches that aesthetic, featuring a French-esque mix of appetizers, entrees and desserts that tap into Nahabedian’s travels—think 10 years working at Four Seasons hotels in California and Chicago, as well as visits to Portugal, Istanbul, London and, yes, Paris. For the concise menu, Nahabedian, along with Chef de Cuisine (and former Naha sous chef) Ali Ratcliffe-Bauer, puts the spotlight on some of her favorite things. “Cooking is an expression of life,” she says.

That expression, in the case of Nahabedian, includes plenty of luxurious ingredients. Take, for instance, the king crab merus appetizer. Considered the most prized part of the crustacean, the sweet meat is paired with tapioca custard, spring pea tendrils and a Sauternes sauce. A refreshing way to begin your meal, sure, but too bad the generous shaving of summer truffles lacked needed flavor.

That wasn’t the case with the oh-so-tender veal sweetbreads, however, in which each of the ingredients on the plate, including a small rabbit chop and pieces of loin, added something to the dish. I loved how the fiddlehead ferns and sweet baby onions provided a nice foil to the richness of the sweetbreads, too.

That luxe angle is also found in the eight entrees. There’s the lobster Brindille, which from the abundance of perfectly cooked pieces of meat on the plate, must include an entire one. No complaints about that or the way the hen of the woods mushrooms, pebble potatoes and smattering of greens are brought together with a fragrant yet subtle butter and vanilla sauce.

But as good as that dish is, it’s the lamb saddle with its forest of spring vegetables and umami-rich Parmesan crisps that tops my must-order-again list. Heck, I’d even recommend it to vegetarians, minus, of course, the two blood-red-rare pieces of meat. My friendly bartender/server offered to wrap up the leftovers from the two thick medallions I was unable to finish, suggesting they’d be great with some scrambled eggs for breakfast. Good idea.

Another good idea? The Paris-Brest, a classic French dessert that includes cream-puff pastry and, in the one here, strawberries, fromage blanc and rose water ice cream, a nod perhaps to Nahabedian’s Armenian roots.

While it’s hard to find fault with the food or attentive service at Brindille, the prices, including those for wine, are another story. At other similarly priced restaurants, you’d expect an amuse-bouche to start your meal, but there’s not one here—although some lovely mignardises do end it. The bread may be made in-house, but why not serve it warm? Nahabedian has expressed hope Brindille doesn’t become just a special occasion restaurant, but one where diners come often. For those who can drop 100 bucks per person for dinner on a regular basis, Brindille is definitely a welcome addition. And for those who can’t? Since Brindille’s menu is a la carte and not prixe fixe-only like some of its counterparts, ordering just an appetizer or entree is an option that’s not only easier on the wallet but the waistline as well.

534 N. Clark St.,

Dinner Mon.-Sat. 5-11pm, Sun. 4-8pm
Appetizers $14-$27
Entrees $35-$48
Desserts $12-$14

What to Eat
Veal sweetbreads, lobster Brindille, lamb saddle, Paris-Brest dessert

Who Goes
A mix of older moneyed couples and young foodies, as well as a smattering of restaurant industry folk, including Grant Achatz on one of our visits

Bar None
Can’t snag a reservation? The bar with its comfy stools is a terrific alternative, especially if Bar Director Steve Carrow is in the house. Watching him whip up one of his creative cocktails is a show in itself.

Clothes Minded
While there is no dress code per se, you’re going to want to leave the jeans and casualwear at home. With a room this pretty, it’d be a shame not to dress up.

Family Affair
Cousins Carrie and Michael aren’t the only family members here. Michael’s brother Tom Nahabedian designed Brindille as well as Naha.

Culinary Cred
Carrie Nahabedian was inducted into the Chicago Culinary Museum and Chefs Hall of Fame in September 2009.