The Run Down

You daydream of a far-flung vacation — perhaps to France's lavender fields or a romp through Parisian alleys. But flights are steep, and work keeps you at home. No worries. Chicago offers a cultural escape. Today, you’ll take a trip downtown and to its surrounding neighborhoods to enjoy a bit of French culture through breakfast, a pastry run and a treasure hunt.

1. Brunch @ Venteux Brasserie, Cafe & Oyster Bar

2. Pastry Run @ La Fournette

3. Treasure Hunting @ P.O.S.H.

1. Venteux Brasserie, Cafe & Oyster Bar

To kick off your day galavanting through three Chicago neighborhoods, you’ll start with breakfast in a memorable (and Instagrammable) space. Ventux, which translates to “windy” in French, is a French-inspired cafe, brasserie and oyster bar occupying ground floor space in the Carbide and Carbon building — known for its champagne-bottle-like architecture. The cafe is like no other in Chicago. Multiple 40-foot windows overlook the bustling Michigan Avenue, botanical murals cover the soaring walls, and a sculptural pendant light hands in the dining room as another form of art in and of itself.The cafe is split in two. An informal cafe takes up the front. Customers are working  away on laptops, while another is reading a book at the bar. The back half of the space features a The back of the cafe, cloaked in deep reds and shadowed blacks, feels like a Paris cabaret. Gold accents glint under subdued chandelier light. Plush chairs and secluded tables stand against wood-paneled walls.Not only is the space itself breathtaking, but the food doesn’t disappoint. Menu items include various sandwiches, salads and classic breakfast items such as omelets. For the most French of options, you can’t go wrong with the baguette and jam; the tuna nicoise (a tuna salad the French way, with dijon vinaigrette, egg and mixed greens); or the star of the show: a croque monsieur — a hot sandwich made with ham and cheese (make it a madame by adding a fried egg on top). Portions are sizeable, the flavors shine, and the plating.After you’ve ordered at the counter while simultaneously taking in the gold-speckled antique mirror displaying the menu behind baristas, take a seat at the bar, one of the standalone tables, or a green velvet-covered booth and take in the calm and posh atmosphere. Don’t fill up on pastries here because that’s what the next stop is for.

Things to note:

– Venteux as a cafe is open daily from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Happy hour, featuring half-off oysters and deals on staple menu items from 4-7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, kicks off the brasserie’s operations.

– Daily specials include $1.50 oysters Tuesdays, half-off all bottles of wine Wednesdays and bottomless bubbles Thursdays.


2. La Fournette

After a 15-minute drive north of Venteux or four stops on the Brown Line, you’ll arrive at La Fournette, recognizable by its red-and-white striped awning a few doors down from the intersection of Wells Street and North Avenue.The French are known for many things, and for some, pastries top that list. Luckily for you, Chicago is home to a marvelous French bakery reminiscent of the ones in its parent country. La Fournette is the place to go to find a buttery croissant whose flakey crust is the perfect contrast to the soft interior — the way croissants are perfectly made in France. The bakery originates from Alsace, a region in eastern France, bordering Germany and Switzerland and famous for its Christmas markets, history and white wine. For four generations, the Zimmermann family developed its baking expertise, leading to World Baking Champion Pierre Zimmermann and his wife, Michele, coming to Chicago in 2010 and opening La Fournette.

Inside, La Fournette is subdued and simple, allowing the baked goods to shine. You’ll find a case housing the breaded delicacies on your right as you enter and a few tables for seating to your left.Start at the back of the bakery, where you’ll find a few shelves displaying housemade jams and spreads. Work your way back toward the front, taking in the pastry varieties, from croissants and baguettes to beignets, madeleines and macarons. Another time, when you’re not full from your meal at Venteux, remember the bakery also offers their version of a croque monsieur and also a tuna salad sandwich.

3. P.O.S.H.

A haven for everything beautiful and eclectic, P.O.S.H. will be your final France in Chicago destination for the day. To arrive from La Fournette, drive 10 minutes south to State Street in River North or take the 36 bus to the State & Ontario stop. It’s only fitting that a store carrying as much vintage and hard-to-find-elsewhere merchandise as P.O.S.H. would be located in a historic building. It joins businesses including a cafe, a chocolatier, a frame shop and a champagne bar in the historic Tree Studios building behind the new Bally’s Casino.Colorful window displays flanking both sides of the door, original to the building, will greet you as you walk into P.O.S.H. Owners debuted the boutique in 1997 “with a desire to offer something unique to the consumer that had grown weary of ‘sameness,’” its website reads. “Our small shop was met with a warm reception as the search for pieces that haven’t been mass-produced for coast–to–coast consumption was shared by many.” That translates to a store filled with an ever-changing assortment of European flea market finds, interesting books of the coffee table and cooking variety, and antique silver, much of it sourced from hotels. Despite how beautiful or valuable an item might be, owner Lauren Raouf said everything sold is intended to become part of your routine.

P.O.S.H. is a go-to shop for a gift for a loved one (yourself included), or a Sunday treat to celebrate the weekend or simply to browse. Although the shop isn’t exclusively a French retailer, it carries various French goods, from guidebooks, beauty brands and kitchen linens to jams, honey and fine salts. The store is curated in such a way that the new breathes life into the antique, and the antique refines the new, according to Raouf.

Merchandise changes with each season and holiday, but the constants are the antique silver living in wood hutches on either side of the store. You’ll find beautiful barware across from the cashier in the middle of the store, vintage kitchenware in the back, and a mix of everything else beautifully displayed throughout the rest of the P.O.S.H. space.Why the formatting on the name, you ask? The word associated with elegance started as an acronym, Port Out Starboard Home, to describe the wealthy passengers traveling by steamship between England and India, according to the store’s website: They’d book cabins on the port side of the ship when going out of England and on the starboard side when returning home.