Friendly prices at Cafe des Architectes

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Frankly, Cafe des Architectes, that civilized Gold Coast dining oasis in the Sofitel Chicago Water Tower, has always been secretly affordable, particularly at lunch and weekend brunch. But during Chicago Restaurant Week, when a three-course lunch is $22 and the three-course dinner is $44, dining here is especially attractive.

The restaurant is elegant in a minimalist way, bursts of black and red on the tables and chairs and black-and-white photographs of architecturally significant Chicago buildings so high on the wall you might not notice them. The south wall, a sea of glass, floods the dining room with natural light even on the cloudiest days.

First to the table is a bread basket (an endangered species in restaurants these days), served with extra-rich butter and a quenelle of olivada spread. It's tempting to devour the entire thing, but forbearance is rewarded.

Lunch-menu highlights include an indulgently rich squash soup, set amid soft butternut-squash cubes and a bias-cut egg roll filled with duck confit; and a beautifully composed salad of baby arugula with La Quercia prosciutto and persimmons. A spiced-lime vinaigrette dresses the greens, under which lurks a square of toasted brioche topped with avocado mousse.

Seared arctic char, laid over roasted Brussels sprouts and parsnip puree and sprinkled with fried parsnip strips, is as elegant a collection of winter ingredients as I've seen in a while. Ditto for the truffled risotto, inlaid with bite-size pieces of broccoli, purple cauliflower and zucchini.

Dessert is a trio of small treats by pastry chef Patrick Fahy, a finalist for the James Beard Foundation's Outstanding Pastry Chef last year. On the plate are a gold-flecked slice of coffee-cream opera cake, a bright-pink violet macaron and a Paris-Brest, a choux-pastry cookie filled with praline cream.

Cafe des Architectes, 20 E. Chestnut St., 312-324-4063.

Restaurant Week continues through Sunday. To view restaurants and make reservations, go to eatitupchicago.com.

pvettel@tribune.com Twitter @PhilVettel

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