Refined Intervention

At Margeaux Brasserie, Executive Chef Greg Biggers takes French brasserie fare from traditional to truly sensorial—without sacrificing an ounce of comfort.

By Elise Hofer Shaw

Photos by Neil Burger

March 22, 2019 2:22 PM

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“Taking the traditional idea of a brasserie and making it more fun, making the menu more conducive to Gold Coast diners while embracing some of the Chicago elements that our clientele love, that was the biggest test I’ve been given—and what I ran with,” says chef Greg Biggers, who has been at the Margeaux Brasserie kitchen’s helm since November. “And what it ended up being is me trying to find a way to take these fine dining techniques that I’ve honed over the years and channel them into food that’s both elegantly simplistic and fun.” The result? French brasserie food that’s just enough of a departure from the expected chicken with mashed potatoes and standard bouillabaisse to be interesting (and sinfully tasty) without losing the comfort and cool factors that make a neighborhood brasserie just that. Here are three of the signature dishes at Margeaux Brasserie that Biggers slaved over until he got ’em just right.

MAINE LOBSTER GNOCCHI (starter)

Biggers knew he wanted to have gnocchi on the menu—“Because what’s more comforting than that?”—so he tasked himself with taking a traditionally potato-based dish and making it lighter and more Parisian. First, he swapped out the heavy potatoes and instead opted for pâte à choux (a French pastry that bakes up into airy, tender puffs) with flour, eggs and herbs. Then, inspiration struck. “All of the brasseries in France that I’ve visited tend to have a Middle Eastern undertone of flavors that’s crept in from the food trucks,” says Biggers. “I wanted to put that in my gnocchi without being out of scope.” Thus, he got to work on a vadouvan (a velvety French curry cream sauce) to blanket the gnocchi before adding in meaty hunks of Maine lobster. But it was a lone copper pot hanging in the Margeaux Brasserie kitchen that inspired this dish’s impressive presentation. It is served tableside in a petit copper pot sans its sauce, then the sauce is poured through a wafer-thin tuileet voilà! Maine lobster gnocchi à la Biggers. 

SALMON WELLINGTON (entree)

“I kept wracking my brain for a signature entree that would be perfect for our modern brasserie concept that’s not super expensive like a $64 dover sole, for example,” says Biggers. “I had to ask myself, ‘What do people know and like?’ The answer I kept coming back to was salmon.” But how exactly to prepare it was still up in the air until a trip to Las Vegas to work at Bardot Brasserie, the Michael Mina sister restaurant that Margeaux Brasserie is based off of. “Bardot does this kick-ass beef wellington. It’s for two and it’s huge and so amazingly well done. That’s how I got the idea to do a salmon wellington.” But pulling it off proved to be a bigger challenge than Biggers had bargained for. He admits to testing out about 50 different versions of the dish before he finally got it right. Le résultat? A single-portion-size cut of salmon that’s basted with spinach-and-artichoke duxelles (a minced mixture including onions and herbs that’s sautéed in butter and reduced to a paste) that’s popped into a buttery puff pastry—inspired in part by The Bocuse Restaurant’s famous salmon en croute—and baked off before being served with a decadent dill béarnaise sauce. 

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Chef Biggers’ salmon wellington

BOUILLABAISSE SOUP (starter)

Bouillabaisse is no stranger to the brasserie menu. In fact, it’s on pretty much every brasserie menu on the planet. So Biggers knew he wanted to represent with a version of the hearty Provençal fish stew—but with a twist, natch. “People come to a brasserie and they want steak frites, bouillabaisse and French onion soup. Who am I to deny them that? But doing a big-ass bouillabaisse isn’t what we do.” Step one to Biggers-ifying a bouillabaisse? Scaling the portion down to a small crock. Step two: Searing the best proteins out there—lobster, mussels, prawns and crab—into a stew that gets its kick from white wine, saffron, tomato, garlic and paprika. Step three: Biggers-style presentation. Instead of the traditional slice of toast slathered with a saffron-spiked rouille, Biggers thought outside of the box, opting for a skewer of oversize brioche croutons soaked in fumet custard (a fish stock custard) and piped full of his special rouille. Bon appétit, Chicago!

Margeaux Brasserie, 11 E. Walton St. at the Waldorf Astoria Chicago, 312.625.1324. michaelmina.net

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The bouillabaisse soup at Margeaux Brasserie