Classic Tables: Kiki's Bistro

Twenty years of incomparable cassoulet

Georges ”Kiki” Cuisance has been nurturing Chicago's Francophilia–first at Maxim's, then Bordeaux, and now at Kiki's Bistro–since he arrived from Paris in 1963.

And with the past year's spate of closings–Old Town Brasserie, Brasserie Jo, Café Matou–we're more thankful than ever for his 20-year-old River North bistro.

On a recent cold evening, we sipped bubbles and spread flawlessly silky foie gras pâté ($10) on toasted brioche while perusing the menu, then dove into warm, wintry classics.

The bubbling ceramic crock of onion soup ($7.50) is one of the city's best. White wine-herb sauce covering a plate of frogs' legs ($9.50) is richly aromatic, worthy of serving–and eating–with a spoon.

Toulouse-style cassoulet ($25) comes crowned by herbed breadcrumbs. Beneath lies pork sausage, duck confit, hunks of lamb and white beans, braised to fork-tender perfection. The pommes purée, which accompanies herb-rubbed poulet roti ($19) and sweet braised red cabbage–shows potatoes at their silkiest. Salty and addictive frites–cooked pommes pailles (shoestring)-style–are the opposite: crisp and crunchy.

Sticking with these classics is a fail-safe way to craft a night. But if a question arises, ask the white-haired and energetic Kiki, who, more evenings than not, is there to walk you to your table.

Kiki's Bistro, 900 N. Franklin St.; 312-335-5454 or kikisbistro.com