The thing about family and close friends is that you never have a boring moment. And if eating without shame is your thing, then those family members and close friends know what really appeals to your palate and they make outstanding recommendations accordingly. Friday afternoon before work and a great friend and I were going back and forth about what restaurant would be worthy of sampling after the clock struck 5:00. The one we wanted to try had reservations available for Saturday, so we made reservations for Saturday. In the meantime, we went to Green Zebra in West Town to indulge their vegetarian menu.
Saturday came and after a long day of anticipation, we arrived at EL Ideas in University Village. At 2419 W. 14th Street in an area that looks anything but inviting, is a welcoming restaurant where, as mentioned in the subject, art meets contemporary cuisine. There are countless restaurants in Chicago where presentation trumps taste and several restaurants where presentation and taste are absolutely top. El Ideas falls into the latter because while everything put in front of your looks like fine art, it is all fine dining that makes going to W. 14th Street quite okay.
The menu is fixed, which means you don’t have a bill of fare placed in front of you so that you can pontificate what you want to eat. The seating area is small, so those who love going to restaurants with a large party of friends may have to rethink trying to pile in comfortably. Also, because the atmosphere promotes a dinner party concept and the kitchen is in visual range, you get to engage the chefs and see what they’re preparing for your taste buds. But just to give you an idea of what we had, below is a highlight of the menu items that we had for our gastro-feast.
|Caviar||Blueberry. Moonshine. Banana.||You have to eat this by licking the plate. You actually have no choice since no eating utensils are given.|
|Watermelon||Feta. Eggplant. Basil. Mint||This was a “you can’t go wrong” course. Unless you drop watermelon on the floor, it is hard to mess up any dish having it as an ingredient. Case in point with this refreshing taster.|
|Nunavut Char||Cantaloupe. Fennel. Chili.||I love the silky texture of cooked Atlantic char, but having it in tartar form gives the cooked version a run for its money.|
|Mussels||Beer. Garlic. Tomato. Birch.||After you pour the beer sauce over the mussels, those who don’t like beer may reconsider.|
|Sturgeon||Summer squash. Green tomato. Tarragon.||With the texture of extremely tender chicken, this course made sturgeon that much more of a favourite fresh fish choice for me.|
|Raviolo||Morel. Plum. Lobster.||Having fallen in love with a lobster consomme at my favourite French restaurant in the Chicago area, this was heaven in a deep bowl.|
|French Fries & Ice Cream||Potato. Leek. Vanilla ice cream.||This is pure genius, as the dish remains hot and cold at the same time.|
|Fonduta||Black truffle. Bellota. Bread.||Because we requested no pork in our course, we had extra truffles as a substitute. Notice I didn’t mention anything about us complaining, for it would be a crime to moan about extra truffles.|
|Bison||Bok choy. Rutabaga. Bleu cheese.||Although pork is a no-no in my diet, we had forgotten that there could be other meat choices on the menu. The bison, cooked medium rare, didn’t stand a chance once the plate reached the table.|
|Foie Gras.||Raspberry. Star anise. Huckleberry.||This course of raspberry foam over huckleberry had a wow factor that I cannot register on a 1 to 10 scale. No scale could accommodate my rating.|
|Peach||Oatmeal. Elderflower. Lychee.||I love peaches. But combine peaches and lychee sorbet, and then put it over oatmeal, you have a truth serum.|
|Chocolate||Cherry. Mahlab.||Chocolate brownie, chocolate block, raspberry, and vanilla ice cream made with the help of liquid nitrogen, chemistry comes to the kitchen and everyone is happy.|
As you can see, it is better to go on an empty stomach. The portions may be small, and most of them are not as small as they are at some like restaurants, but thirteen courses tend to amount to a lot of food. If the dining experience that my friend and I had is any indication of how El Ideas operates, then you can expect to be at the restaurant for almost, if not more than, three hours. To devour such incredibly delicious food in less than two hours is suspicious — that is, the diner is running from something or someone.
One thing to note is that EL Ideas is a BYOB affair. Not to sound like a snob, but if beer is your thing, a backyard barbecue may be a more fitting venue. However, if you have a refined palate for vegetarian dishes, seafood, and choice meats, a bottle of red wine, white wine, or both would be highly recommended. The price may be steep for some, but the food is outstanding and the service is top-notch. Having been to restaurants in Chicago like Alinea, Moto, and Schwa, I must say that EL Ideas has found a comfortable slot in my Top 5 High End Contemporary Dining restaurant listings. Next time I will take a bottle of wine. No, I will take two.