Drink of the week:
For lack of options, a bottle of "33" Export lager at Pasteur, 5525 N. Broadway Avenue, on a Wednesday night.
The damage: $5 for a 12-ounce bottle.
Thousands of bars in Chicago, why this one? With upscale Mexican restaurants popping up faster than you can say, "move over Bayless," they may soon outnumber late-night burrito shacks. I've tried to accept the idea of a mole sauce so good it could change my life. And yet, no matter how tasty the fancier fare is, I still prefer my $1.50 quesadilla con queso. Having never tried fine Vietnamese food, I wondered if I would have the same reaction to it, pining for cheap rice noodles throughout my meal. But as anyone who's dined at Pasteur knows, the only pining I've experienced has been after-the-fact for the restaurant's flavorful pho.
How it went down: The one area where Pasteur disappoints is its drink menu. I expected to find exotic cocktails that would make me feel like I was sipping in Saigon. Instead, the menu featured standard fruity martinis and little else. Since I love sampling new beers, I took this as an opportunity to try Vietnam's crisp lager "33" Export. After every few sips, the waiter meticulously refilled my glass with the golden liquid. It smelled hoppy and tasted sweet and slightly bitter. It wasn't particularly memorable, but its lightness paired well with the aromatic broth and tender beef in my pho.
Would I want to become a regular? In most restaurants with prices as high as $18-$25 for entrees, you assume you're paying for ambience. But at Pasteur, the most impressive adornment is the food itself. The chef transforms dishes like Muc Sat, calamari curls coated in a spicy red pepper and garlic sauce, into abstract art accented with vivid vegetable garnishes. Featuring everything from filet and tofu to scallops and eggplant on its menu, Pasteur is a great place to come with a group of friends…or friends who have money and like to share. The only other table in the restaurant that night was a suit-wearing party of 40-year-olds.
Sitting on a woven-backed patio chair in a room with peaceful green walls and five-foot paintings of Vietnamese scenes, I began to forget about the paltry drink menu. After all, Pasteur had shown me that I do appreciate the finer things. I'll be turning up my nose at quesadillas in no time.
Dana Kavan scours the city for drink deals so good you'll offer to buy a round and creative libations that outshine your average on-the-rocks concoctions. Want to give Dana tips on where to rack up a bar tab? Share your finds before her next night out.