A year and a half after its pandemic-induced takeout-only debut, a French fine dining restaurant in North Center has begun welcoming patrons inside its elegant, intimate indoor space for the first time.
Robert Et Fils, the first restaurant from chef Rob Shaner (Royal Grocer, the Kennison), introduced indoor dining in November at 4229 N. Lincoln Avenue. It’s a significant — if somewhat surreal — moment for Shaner and his team, who first opened in August 2020 with a family-style to-go menu and then introduced outdoor patio dining over the summer. The space previously housed Kitsune, a Japanese-influenced spot from star chef Iliana Regan (Milkweed Inn, Elizabeth) that closed in 2019 after three years.
After the tumult of a staggered opening, “it’s just starting to feel real,” Shaner says. “There’s been so many stop-and-goes and we’re always preparing for the next issue down the road, so it’s kind of ingrained in me now. It’s going to take some time for it to feel like we have a functioning restaurant.”
Shaner aims to use Robert Et Fils, named for his late father, as a platform to offer Chicagoans the kind of traditional French fine dining that he fell in love in the mid-’90s while living with his family in Paris. The restaurant is featuring a seven- to ten-course tasting menu in the French style, which means fewer courses and larger portions than a contemporary American tasting menu, Shaner says. It will change twice per season.
The nine-course opening menu ($205 per person) is dubbed Menu Lièvre à La Royale or “Royal Hare,” after a classic French dish made with with wild hare meat and blood. Hare is a challenging ingredient to work with, but the difficulty and unusual flavor of the animal excites Shaner, who is eager to show diners how it differs from its fluffy domesticated relative, the rabbit. “[The flavor] couldn’t be further from rabbit,” he says. “It’s like a Tyson chicken breast compared to a goose.”
Other courses include Oeuf Chaud-Froid Façon Arpège (duck yolk, foie gras, black chestnut, heather), Céleri-Rave Rôtie au Lichen, Champignons Sauvages (lichen-roasted celery root, foraged mushrooms, toasted yeast), and Tarte Tatin (apple, truffle, Tahitian vanilla creme anglaise) from pastry chef Cati Molnar (the Kennison, Lost Larson).
Celery root doesn’t generally evoke the same shock and awe as an ingredient like wild hare, but Shaner says he considers it the most thrilling dish on the menu. Inspired in large part by a potato dish at Michelin-starred Smyth, he uses calcium hydroxide to cure the root for about three hours and then roasts it to create a caramelized exterior. He then fills it with blackened celery root puree and spends an hour lacquering it with fortified chicken jus.
Shaner hired Siren Betty Designs, the well-known local firm behind Chicago hotspots like the Hi-Lo in Humboldt Park, to cultivate an environment that is elegant but not stuffy. Kitsune’s dark, minimalist look has been replaced by a breezy European approach, with dark wood tables and woven wicker chairs. Deep green walls stand out against light, textured curtains, bathed in the glow of a modern chandelier. The cozy space seats 20, and unlike at Kitsune, there’s no bar seating.
Though indoor dining season has officially commenced, Robert Et Fils is only open on Fridays and Saturdays and will be closed for Christmas. In the meantime, explore the charming space and a few menu items in the photos below.
Robert Et Fils, 4229 N. Lincoln Avenue, Open 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.