Maude’s Liquor Bar: Too Much is Never Enough

In my imagination, centuries of French culinary tradition can be essentially boiled down to two things:  winter and summer.   There’s the Mediterranean fare that features Salad Nicoise and herbes de provence; and then there’s the butter and cream fare that I think of as being winter French food.  (I can hear the Francophiles having convulsions right now, btw).

Maude’s Liquor Bar is indisputably winter food.  Chicago-winter food.  Fat people in Chicago winter food (hello, bears).  Unfortunately, my first time at Maude’s on a hot summer evening.  I say unfortunately because while the food and the entire experience were good-when I got up from the table I felt like a humid day, with a film of butter.   It was just too heavy and rich for hot weather. I vowed to try it again (when it was cold) and I’m really happy I came back (and that it’s chunky, cable-knit sweater weather).

There’s something about Maude’s Liquor Bar that feels exquisitely and consistently thoughtful and meticulous.  Much of the enjoyment here is in the details, and how effortless the ensemble comes together.

First, the décor is absolutely perfect:  downstairs has white tiled walls, diffuse, yellow lighting, with unassuming, but thoughtful details everywhere you look.

With a name that includes the words “Liquor” and “Bar” (two of my favorites), you’ll be happy to know that the drink menu does not disappoint.  The simple menu is divided into three categories: sparkling (I had the St. Germain Fizz, delicious, light, herbal); Stirred and Smash (presumably named for the crushed ice and not their effect), which are high-balls featuring a variety of liquors mixed in surprisingly complex ways that achieved the desired result (we tried the vodka and smokey violet).

Despite the name, the real star here is the food.   Everything on the menu is designed to be sampled and shared (a trend I’m beginning to find somewhat tiresome, to be frank, as it goes against my nature).

The classic lyonnaise salad which is one of the most decadent salads I’ve ever had (and that’s saying something).  An intriguing combination of crisp raw greens in a light vinaigrette with a warm egg (yolk dripping) and two healthy pieces of deliciously flavorful (paprika?) smoked pork belly.

The chicken liver mouse was serviced with generous buttered and grilled bread and served with a house-made shallot/red wine jelly/mystery food that had the waiter scampering back to the kitchen to tell us what it was.

The steak tartar actually defies my ability to describe exactly why it was so delicious- rich, fresh, both creamy and bright, with buttery bread as a perfect balance. We also had a pork loin and gnocchi special, which brought with it rich, dark & deep flavors- the weight of a wine reduction, an earthy flavor and strong contract to the tartar.

All in all, the service was excellent and the prices felt – reasonable (for an at least somewhat special occasion), the drinks were a revelation and the food was mouth-wateringly good.

Its just too rich and decadent to be everyday food.   Full disclosure, they do apparently have excellent steamed mussels (no doubt prepared in some form of butter) and a wide, fresh selection of raw oysters which could have lightened the load, as it were, but hey-too much is never enough.

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