On my first visit to Fauntleroy, the three tiers of hors d’oeuvres holding five bite-size creations – chicken liver éclair, escargot in a fried, battered shell, buttered radishes, gougère pastries and chorizo-stuffed olives ($2-$3 each; $9 per person for all five) – is the first order to arrive. The presentation charms, and each bite is meant to whet the appetite in the manner of an amuse bouche.
“Just pop each one in your mouth,” says the server. Promptly ignoring her instructions, I bite into the olive, sending juice and chorizo spurting, in movie scene perfection, across the table onto my friend’s crisply pressed dress shirt. The server, glancing over from another table, howls along with us. A thumping Led Zeppelin song, from the restaurant’s playlist of 1970s rock, drowns out our laughter.
Buttoned-up, Fauntleroy is not. Just like at this reinvented French place’s unconventional older brother, the Chinese joint DanDan, diners should readjust their culinary expectations. “The Dans” (owners Dan Jacobs and Dan Van Rite), along with Fauntleroy chef de cuisine Blair Herridge, don’t embrace tradition in its strict sense.
In a competitive dining scene, it is crucial to find a niche. But does Fauntleroy’s offbeat take – in a space mixing deco elegance and bed-head 1970s rock star chic – work? I think it’s getting there. Just like at DanDan, it’s better not to get hung up on labels.
316 N. Milwaukee St., 414-269-9908
HOURS: Lunch Tues-Fri, Dinner Tues-Sat
PRICES: Dinner entrées $18-$30
SERVICE: Knowledgeable, friendly, laid-back
RESERVATIONS: Recommended, especially weekends
Many of the better plates remain, such as French onion soup made with a deceivingly meaty vegetarian broth ($8); Lyonnaise salad of nest-like frisee tossed with crisp-salty pork belly, crouton and a soft egg ($12); a mousse-like foie gras torchon served with toasted house brioche; and the tail- and skin-on grilled trout Veronique ($24). Under the browned layer of skin is a delectably oily, tender fillet in a bath of buttery cream sauce. It’s finished with sweet green grapes, chewy puffed wild rice and nutty Japanese beech mushrooms.
I ordered steak frites ($26) on two occasions because the crusty, chargrilled flavor was unusual for a hanger steak, which Fauntleroy’s is. The Dans were inspired by a restaurant in South Beach, Florida, which infuses its hanger steak with “a flavor you can’t quite figure out,” Jacobs says. That describes this steak, which wasn’t as dry on the second visit and better matched the full-bodied peppercorn cream sauce.
Bread service is a “thing” here, and it’s worth the carb investment. The basket of eggy brioche, crusty baguette and beer rye stands tall alone or with whipped butter.
Pastry chef Jaceleen Latin-Kasper spins tradition with her opera torte ($12) – hazelnut dacquoise meets coffee mousse and lemon curd. But you may never remember it once you have her “Strawberry” ($9), a deconstructed berry bomb of moussy sherbet, meringue, pickled fruit and crunch. It’s sensational.
Big brother DanDan takes a similar, boho approach and has proceeded to get better and better. I suspect the same to happen here. Vive La French…ish.