We don’t think this much fuss has ever been made over Dover sole in Chicago. It all started when Grant Achatz reminisced with Time Out Chicago about an “uberclassic” Dover sole dish he had been served table side at La Grenouille in New York. He claimed that there’s “not a place in Chicago where you can find it.” That last bit seemed to offend a few restaurants in Chicago. Representatives from Le Titi De Paris and Restaurant Michael, both of which happen to be in the suburbs, claimed to serve a Dover sole table side, and they wrote Time Out to complain. Achatz later tweeted that it was “Shocking how ppl miss point. If any think that these examples come close 2 La Grenouille they need 2 get out more.” So what’s going on here?
The only Dover sole dish at La Grenouille is “La Sole Grillée, Sauce Moutarde,” which is a grilled Dover sole with a mustard and butter sauce. This is definitely a classic, and is recipe number 1886 in our copy of Escoffier’s The Complete Guide to the Art of Modern Cookery. But La Titi De Paris’s Dover Sole Meuniere is also in the book (number 1895). So what’s the difference?
It turns out that Achatz isn’t the only person to rave about the Dover sole at La Grenouille. Sam Sifton, in a glowing review of the restaurant in the New York Times, spent more than paragraph talking about the dish: “Here, grilled and then sauced with butter, and served with soft, golden mustard sauce, it achieves a kind of transfiguration: France brought to Midtown, a vacation in a bite. It’ll change the color of your mood ring.” Take a look at photographic evidence here.
We think that what Achatz is talking about is not just classic French cuisine, but a very specific kind of high end French restaurant, which Sifton describes as the “traditional haute cuisine that was first brought to New York by Henri Soulé for the World’s Fair in 1939 and which flourished at his Pavillon and other restaurants in the years that followed.” Sifton thinks that La Grenouille is the last of its kind in New York, and while elements of it may be present in some restaurants in Chicago, it isn’t here like it used to be.
All we can say is that we hope Achatz will present his idealized Dover sole at Next, so we can finally decide who does it best.