Though the brothers have extensive experience in restaurants thanks to the family businesses, Obelix, which opens Friday in River North, is the first French restaurant that Oliver and Nicolas Poilevey have built from the ground up.
The two remain operating Le Bouchon in Bucktown, and now they’ve taken over the space formerly belonging to Michelin-starred Entente, one of the pandemic’s first casualties. Entente only occupied the newly constructed space for over a year, so it wasn’t in need of serious upgrades. Ownership did their best to add a little bit more light to the space, adding a customary burgundy banquette that stretches from one side of the restaurant to another.
In some ways, their father, Jean-Claude, would have appreciated his sons’ vision. Jean-Claude and wife Susanne founded two of the city’s most beloved French bistros, La Sardine in the West Loop and Le Bouchon. Obelix retains some of that warm feel of a neighborhood restaurant. Oliver Poilevey says they’ve brought La Sardine’s old bartender, John, with them to the new space. He’s hopeful they can build up a loyal local following.
In other ways, some choices may have caused dear old dad to pause. Take Nicolas Poilevey’s wine selections: father was insistent on a 100 percent French list. Obelix’s offerings will be majority French but with a few American producers.
Then there’s the foie gras taco. Oliver Poilevey experimented with the item at Taqueria Chingón in Logan Square. He takes a “big ass” piece of foie, sears it, and nestles in a fresh blue corn tortilla. He adds a little concord grape jam to balance sweet and savory. It’s almost like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with some macha, peanuts, and chili oil to round out the package.
“It’s really good,” Oliver Poilevey says. “It’s ‘holy shit’ good. It’s going to be the most expensive taco in Chicago.”
It clocks in at $23 on the opening menu. It might best represent what Obelix is all about: mixing French food with the uniquely American experiences of a Chicago resident.
And although Oliver Poilevey says the taco is “pretty fire,” he acknowledges that his father probably wouldn’t have approved of its presence on Obelix’s menu: “He would have giggled,” his son says, then he would respond saying it would have no place on Le Bouchon’s menu.
But that doesn’t mean Obelix will run from traditional cooking. Le Bouchon’s famous French onion soup is on the menu. There’s also a wild boar pate, Obelix is named for a French comic character, and wild boar what he’s known for, Oliver Poilevey explains. He’s working with Nathan Kim (Sixteen, Bellemore, Jeong) as his sous chef.
Another exciting development is a section on the menu devoted to duck. The facility was equipped with three walk-in coolers. The kitchen staff has dedicated one to dry age meats. Poilevey says duck is his favorite animal to cook.
The desserts also won’t be an afterthought. Chicago doesn’t have too many dessert bars where diners can stop by specifically for a sweet non-alcoholic nightcap. Obelix has the makings for that type of establishment. The pastry chef is Antonio Incadella, and his resume includes a long stint at Spiaggia, one of the city’s best Italian restaurants before it closed. Oliver Poilevey has been blown away by the desserts from souffles and fresh ice creams.
Take a look at the space in the photos below. Obelix opens on Friday, May 6.
Obelix, 700 N. Sedgwick Street, opening on Friday, May 6. Reservations via Resy open up Thursday.