It’s been a long time since I’ve lugged my camera to a restaurant to take pictures of my meal. But I was so excited that we managed to score reservations at EL ideas that I dusted her off and toted her along (also, I’d heard they were camera friendly).
Reservations are rough to get because there are only 14 chairs at EL. Not tables, chairs. When you make your reservations (and pre-pay by the way) you are emailed instructions.
- Don’t be late. Dinner service starts promptly for all guests, if you show up late, you get whatever course is currently being served.
- No dress code
- BYOB. No corkage fee. They send you pairing suggestions such as a sparkling wine for the first few courses, a medium bodied white for most of the rest. We also chose to bring several beers and a bottle of 12-year Calvados from France.
- They’re off the beaten path and cabs don’t come by so if you let them know you’ll need it, they will rent a towncar to drive you home.
- Food allergies/dietary preferences can not be catered too.
People were nervous about being late I believe so most everyone arrived 10-15 minutes early. You are greeted by the sole front-of-house staff, Bill. Among other things, he is in charge of the music (think really fun 80s cover songs, tv theme songs, remixed hits), the chalkboard drawings, and chilling/serving your beverage of choice. Bill is awesome.
The playlist running off the laptop, the Aqua Teen Hunger Force chalkboard drawing that Bill spent 4 hours on, and the BYOB table – somehow he kept straight who brought what
You are seated in a small dining room overlooking the kitchen and invited to come into the kitchen to watch, take pictures, even help plate and serve!
Everyone at EL is so friendly and warm. You feel as if you are being welcomed into the home of a friend for the most amazing dinner party of your life.
plating everything bagel
The food is so beautiful and
delicious. After everyone receives their plate (which happens very quickly as all three of the chefs are serving and there are only 14 people to serve anyway) the chef who created the dish comes out to explain their inspiration and the ingredients.
crab sunchokes/grapefruit/pink pepper
chicken salad gherkin/celery/mayo
everything bagel gravlox/cream cheese/cucumber
bay scallop cauliflower/leeks/perigord truffle
The camera refused to focus on one of the most beautiful and delicious dishes. The photo on the right shows what my plate looked like when I finished it though.
I just love the look of the Buddha’s Hand
Mise en place
Beginning to plate the foie and the black bass
black bass salsify/onion/aged sherry
foie gras kohlrabi/buddha’s hand/verjus
snail grenobloise/celery root/chard
plating is an artwork at EL ideas
pata negra brussels sprouts/butternut squash/anise hyssop
plating the pork course
pork cornbread/hot sauce/mustard greens
carmelizing the marshmallows for the final course
veal & lobster parsnip/cabbage/apple
citrus meyer lemon/tangerine/passion fruit
Phil makes the french press coffee while Adam enjoys some in the kitchen along with a truffle
s’mores chocolate/marshmallow/graham cracker
At this point I had planned to list my favorite courses. But I realized I’d put nearly the entire menu in that category so it won’t be much use. I will say the single course that didn’t work for us was the pata negra. The ham was fantasic, but it was paired with root beer flavors of which I’m not a huge fan.
If you’re spending nearly $200 a person (with tax/tip) on dinner you expect the food to be this good. What you don’t normally get at other fine dining restaurants in Chicago is the warmth, the fun, the laughs, and the overall experience that EL ideas provides. Reservations are tough to get, and will only get harder the more people hear about this place. The menu is constantly evolving, to the point where if we went back next month there will not be a single course we’ll recognize. Sure is going to make it hard to stay away from this gem for long!