In 2019, after 15 years in north suburban Winnetka, chef Michael Lachowicz found himself at a crossroads, and he decided to divide his French bistro, Restaurant Michael, into three entities that shared one kitchen: noisy brasserie Aboyer, its more formal sibling, Silencieux, and haute cuisine sanctuary Georges Trois.
“I believe you must modify classics to fit the current palate,” Lachowicz says. “Otherwise you’re living in an antiquated world. No one wants to eat a meal they’re going to feel in their stomach for three days. My audience has changed, so we had to change the menu.”
Lachowicz is referring to younger people who had been leaving the city for the suburbs and harbored little nostalgia for the days when suburban restaurants like Le Francais — the high-end Wheeling restaurant he helmed — rivaled downtown’s fine dining options.
At first, the decision seemed to be a good one: business was going well, and Georges Trois won the Jean Banchet 2019 Restaurant of the Year award. And then in March 2020, ten months after the reopening, the pandemic hit, Illinois halted indoor dining, and Lachowicz had to learn how to adjust classic French cuisine once again, this time to the era of takeout.
He began delivery service from Aboyer — meatloaf and Italian beef because those were the only portable foods the fine dining specialist knew how to make. He closed Silencieux permanently and George Trois temporarily as he contemplated how to adjust his menus to appeal to customers with different expectations. The experimentation is ongoing: last week, he unveiled a new menu at Aboyer that finds room for both French classics like coq au vin and American comfort food like chicken wings.
Chicken wings are not typically found in French restaurants, nor are quesadillas, even if the quesadillas show the same attention to ingredients and preparation as the rest of the menu: Aboyer’s are filled with Oaxacan cheese made on-site. McDonald’s isn’t French, Lachowicz argues, but French people still eat it. “My experience shows me that guests are more comfortable when they know we have an eye on what’s going on currently with food,” he says. And if he can use the same inventory to create multiple preparations, why not? So now there are two escargot dishes on the menu, an appetizer with garlic and Pernod and an entree with roquefort and bordelaise.
He hasn’t abandoned the classics however: standards from the old Michael’s menu, like coq au vin and foie gras, now have their own special section on the Aboyer menu, “Les Classiques Michael’s.” Georges Trois, meanwhile, reopened with no major changes and retains its seasonal eight-course tasting menu.
As the pandemic forced him to evolve in the kitchen, Lachowicz also had to reassess his marketing strategy. The classically trained chef had been reluctant to embrace social media. He preferred to allow his cooking do the talking. But since he hired a social media expert to run the Georges Trois Group’s accounts, he decided the effort was worth the expense and has been preaching the value of Instagram with the zeal of the newly converted. “Social media management is a job and a skill,” he says. “To manage yourself is like representing yourself in court during a murder trial. Young people are who we need to reach, and they’re on Instagram. All my bad behavior was stemming from fear.”
Meanwhile, Aboyer and Georges Trois are no longer the only French restaurants in Winnetka. Ballyhoo Hospitality’s new bistro Pomeroy recently opened just a mile and a half away, with chef Jason Paskewitz leading the kitchen. Lachowicz is pleased to have the company. “I’m glad Pomeroy is here,” he says. “We need more restaurants of high caliber on the North Shore. I can’t wave the flag by myself. My arms are getting tired.”
Take a closer look at some of the dishes on the Georges Trois tasting menu below.