It’s not a stunner of an announcement but Entente, the Michelin-starred restaurant helmed by chef Brian Fisher, won’t be reopening in River North. The restaurant has remained closed for much of the onset of the pandemic — save sporadic carryout service — since March 2020, but owner Ty Fujimura (Arami) was reluctant to make the closure official.
Instead of a formal announcement, Entente’s demise is permanent as the space will soon welcome new tenants: Oliver and Nicolas Poilevey, whose parents founded iconic Chicago French restaurants La Sardine and Le Bouchon. With their new venture, Obélix, the brothers are attempting to carve their own paths.
Under the guidance of the Poilevey brothers, Le Bouchon continues to please its loyal customers in Bucktown. With Le Bouchon humming, Oliver Poilevey has gone to open the acclaimed Taqueria Chingón in December 2020 with the assistance of chefs Sotero Gallego and Marcos Ascencio. With Obélix, Poilevey says he wasn’t seeking to open another restaurant, but that Entente’s landlord called him with a deal too good to pass up.
And with that offer, he and his brother hatched the idea for Obélix, a modern French restaurant that will retain some of the dishes served at Le Bouchon and La Sardine, dishes like French onion soup and beef Wellington stuffed with foie gras. But the menu now centers on the next generation of Poileveys. The targeted opening is early 2022, but that will be affected by hiring. Poilevey says they’re looking for prospective employees to reach out.
“I grew up in Chicago, I opened a Mexican restaurant, so there’s some influence with that,” Poilevey says. “I love Southeast Asian food, so there will be influences. I wouldn’t call it French fusion, just French food through the lens of someone who grew up here.”
Poilevey compares what he’s attempting with his menu to music with artists gaining inspirations from musicians from different genres. He mentions how North African cuisine is influencing Paris’ food scene and compares that to how Mexican culture has influenced American cuisine. That’s how Obélix is different from the cooking of his parents, the late Jean-Claude and Susanne Poilevey.
“We’re still going to have the classics,” Oliver Poilvey says. “But I’m going to be putting a more personalized touch on French food.”
The menu will feature a section dedicated to duck and foie gras will also star. Poilevey says he’s excited to unveil dishes that mesh sweet and savory, and there will be fancy seafood towers. Nicolas Poilevy, who curates the wines at Le Bouchon, will do the same at Obélix and be in charge of the front of the house. The brothers say the wine list will be 98 percent French with plenty of whites and burgundies. They’ll offer a few domestics from California from small and family-owned vineyards.
Oliver Poilevey is excited about the modern and roomy kitchen he’s taking over. He’s never had a dedicated room to dry-age meat and there’s four walk-in coolers. There’s room to even do some prep work for Taqueria Chingón. Being a French brasserie, the space will look the part with new burgundy banquettes. Erin Boone of Boone Interiors is handling the design. She’s worked on Elske in West Loop and Chef’s Special Cocktail Bar in Bucktown. But major work wasn’t needed as Entente, in its second incarnation (the original was in Lakeview), was only open inside the newly constructed space for about a year before the state shut down indoor dining in March 2020 due to the novel coronavirus.
Even though Entente remained closed, the restaurant retained its Michelin star status in April when inspectors announced the 2021 ratings. Inspectors said they didn’t want to penalize restaurants which faced adversity during the pandemic. Still, Michelin managed to strip star status from Kikko, the West Loop restaurant underneath acclaimed cocktail lounge Kumiko. Michelin reps say that was due to a chef change. Entente’s owner, Fujimura, says he wishes Poilevey luck in the space but had no additional comment now that the closure is official.
The restaurant sits in a sleepy part of River North away from the tourist trappings of Hubbard Street. It’s different from West Loop (where La Sardine stood for 21 years) and from Bucktown. Poilevey is determined to crack this part of town. He doesn’t want to put a ceiling on what he can accomplish, but the goal isn’t a Michelin star. Giving regulars a place where they can enjoy a glass of wine and meal for around $50 is, but if big spenders feel they have a reason to celebrate, Poilevey says the new restaurant will be up to the task.
Poilevey says he and his younger brother struggled with finding a name for the restaurant. An idea sprung when Poilevey mentioned Obélix, a burly fictional character from the French comic book series Asterix. Obélix, with his insatiable appetite, represented the ideal customer for Poilevey.
Now that they have a name for the restaurant, perhaps it’s time to work on a name for a restaurant group. Obélix marks the family’s third restaurant: “I don’t know, are we a group?” he says. “Maybe? I guess we are.”
Obélix, 700 N. Sedgwick Street, planned for an early to mid-January opening.