Brave New World

Cafe Highland Park and Addison Cafe are siblings, but it's another kind of cafe society out in Addison whose cafe is subtitled "Le French Bistro." If Highland Park society has delusions of old New England, Addison is strictly New World in its aspirations, at least as far as you can judge from its interior design and its diners. My impression is, if you don't sparkle, you're not completely, or at least adequately, dressed to go out at night by Addison standards. But just as we found the dowdiness of Cafe Highland Park perversely pleasing, the glitziness of Addison Cafe surprised us with French food that's about flavor, not show.

Addison Cafe is in a strip mall and when you first walk in you need to take a minute to get your bearings to avoid being disoriented by the decor. The walls are covered in a dizzying floral fabric, big blooms on a black ground that reminds you of the wallpaper in a brand-new builder-designed home. There are walls of mirrors, encouraging you to imagine the restaurant is much larger than it actually is; and dramatic lighting, creating islands of brightness that allow the illusion of intimacy in a crowded space and at the same time encouraging you to imagine you're in a much more romantic and extravagant place than a suburban strip-mall. (Occasionally, this dramatic thrust backfires--one particular hall of mirrors leads walkers straight into the wall instead of the restroom door.) At our particular table, we also found the stuffed peacock flying out of the wall over our heads a little disconcerting.

Again, concentrate on the plate. This cafe has been open for 10 years and people don't come here for the wallpaper.They come for the cooking which, although there are cultural lapses, mostly concentrates on French-style dishes, even when the main ingredient is tortellini.

Our appetizers were all starlets--sparkling, glamorous, unabashedly rich. Duck foie gras, blobs of fine-grained, velvety meat coated in a deep fruity sauce--who dares to offer indulgences like these anymore? On the other hand, everyone offers crab cakes and everyone at Addison Cafe--our waiter, the maitre d', the busboy--recommended theirs, so we felt it a duty to try them. They turned out to be flat, unpromising looking little things, but packed with sweet meat and flavor. Escargots were swimming in deep red-wine sauce, rescued by a crisp, buttery puff-pastry shell. The smoked salmon was satiny and cool on the tongue, expanding into a bouquet of sweet smoke through the nose.

We were on a roll now, and main courses didn't even faze us: a raft of sole, its delicacy bolstered by creamy avocado slices and shrimp in a butter sauce; a newfangled steak with green peppercorns, not the cream-and-wine-sauced version we first tasted at Calluaud's on Fairmont, but with a red-wine glaze over the meat which emphasized its juices. It was too much food, but so much fun to eat.

Desserts were in keeping with Addison style: The lily was gilded whenever possible. Chocolate mousse or creme brulee, crepes Normande or cheesecake, all were given a circus garnish of kiwis and strawberries, cream and berries, a riot of exotic color with no rhyme or reason except exhibition.

Addison Cafe, 5290 Belt Line at Montfort, 991-8824. Open for lunch Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; for dinner Monday-Thursday, 5:30-10:30 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 5:30-11 p.m.; Sunday, 5:30-9:30 p.m.

Addison Cafe:
Le Ragout d'Escargots Forestiere $7.50
Le Filet de Sole Maison $17.25
Entrecote de Quatre Poivre $19.95


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