Eating/Drinking

Chicago’s Most Exciting Restaurant Group Opens a New French Spot

Photo by Brian Willette/Courtesy of Café Cancale

When one door closes, a chic new one swings open. Such is the case at Café Cancale, a stunner from the always amazing One Off Hospitality Group (Blackbird, Avec, the Publican, Big Star), which opened in its former Publican Anker space. Gone are the dark, rustic pub vibes; in its place comes a sunny, French-inspired bastion of seafood and Carrara marble. Here’s everything to know about Wicker Park’s hottest new entry.

Photo by Marcin Cymmer/Courtesy of Café Cancale

The Food
Inspired by the town of Cancale, along the western coast of France (how delightfully specific!), Café Cancale is a nostalgic throwback to a memorable birthday trip for chef Paul Kahan. While there, he presumably swooned over oysters and wine, because both take starring roles on the restaurant’s menu, which is presided over by chef de cuisine AJ Walker. Per its coastal influences, the food skews lighter and brighter than stereotypically rich French fare—look for shareable dishes like yellow chicories with smoked eel and potato crisp; savory clams with boudin blanc, escargots, chickpeas, and ramps; buttered lobster bialy with fromage blanc and poppy seeds; and trout meunière with truffle peach olives, breakfast radish, and brown butter vinaigrette. Round out all that seafood with sweets like a maple and rye kouign-amann and fresh baguettes baked by Greg Wade, fresh off his win for outstanding baker at this year’s James Beard Foundation Awards.

Photo by Marcin Cymmer/Courtesy of Café Cancale

The Drinks
Wine is king at Café Cancale, and with partner-oenophile Eduard Seitan overseeing the list, you can rest assured your taste buds are in good hands. Seitan rocketed to acclaim at Avec, where he famously curates one of Chicago’s most beloved wine programs, so it’s exciting to see him flex more of his creative muscles at this newcomer. With more than 60 bottles of French and coastal wines to savor, including a sparkling, cider, and white option on draft, the grape is sharing top billing alongside the cuisine. In addition to wine, there’s plenty of cocktails, spirits, and beers to choose from, especially drinks emphasizing French spirits and liqueurs native to the Alps. Cognac, Armagnac, Calvados, and absinthe—gang’s all here!

Photo by Brian Willette/Courtesy of Café Cancale

The Space
The most striking juxtaposition between Café Cancale and its publike predecessor is the motif. While the footprint of the angular restaurant is still the same, it’s been thoroughly spiffed up with lots of whites, light blues, and creams, lending a relaxed, beachy, and airy ambience. Marble provides a pleasant sheen to the tile floors and along the Carrara bar top and tables, while plush banquettes add an air of elegance and comfort.

Café Cancale is now open for dinner (lunch and brunch still to come!), Sunday-Thursday, 4–10 p.m.; Friday–Saturday, 4–11 p.m.