Tuesday, November 15, 2011 – Saturday, November 19, 2011
EL IDEAS: CREATIVITY OFF THE GRID
Chef Rôtisseur/owner Phillip Foss, a dedicated Chaîne member, and his partner Chef Andrew Brochu, with Sous Chef Michael Destefano generously welcomed the Chicago Bailliage five November nights in a row to their unique restaurant EL Ideas, launched in an unlikely out-of-the-way neighborhood down a dead-end street just west of Pilsen. A dozen diners gathered each evening around the single table to indulge in a 14-course banquet matched with wines from our own cellar plus additional offerings brought by the guests. The spacious open kitchen made for lively interaction with the chefs, who took turns announcing and describing each course as it was served. Chief adornment on the wall was an oversized blackboard with an epic food flow chart described as “a loose plan of attack.”
On the night I dined at El, Jane Tracy introduced Chef Foss and then Vice-Chargée de Presse Nadia Gould, our hostess for the evening. I recalled previous sedate and elegant dinners with Chef Foss at Lockwood. Tonight would be different. Chef Foss described his innovative solution to the Asian carp overpopulation problem in the Great Lakes—-he cooked many of them, renaming the dish “Shanghai bass” and selling them in healthy quantities. Thus he set the tone for our adventure in underground dining where everyone leaves inhibitions at home and celebrates thinking outside the box. Nadia proposed a most appropriate toast: “To people who have creative solutions.”
The meal began with a spoon containing one delicious bite of lobster in consommé with fruit and crème fraîche. Next, seared foie gras with calvados chestnut cream and apple was “lick your plate” great. A creation of soft scrambled eggs with uni flan, wild arctic char roe, yuzu, ponzo, chives, lobster eggs, sea urchin, and sautéed chanterelles was followed by a Provençal fish soup with a crouton for dipping, an homage to the time Chef Foss spent living outside Nice. Butter-poached monkfish with artichoke hearts, crosnes, chervil and brandade was followed by a terrific course of charred, crispy broccoli with flash-fried kale chips and cauliflower, its cheddar curds and edible flowers and dabs of curry pudding adding touches of yellow to the artist’s palate. Next came trout with lentil sauce, toasted pumpernickel, horseradish sour cream, dill and pomegranate. At this half-way point in the feast, I mused on the many tiny elements that fused into perfection on the beautifully-arranged plates and bowls.
The spanner crab dish evoked Italy, adorned with gnocchi (“hills of pleasure”), eggplant Bolognese and frizzled eggplant dusted with oregano. The involtini course was comprised of a duck rillette wrapped in turnip, with yellow beet, black and yellow mustard, microkohlrabi leaves and pickled kohlrabi in a kohlrabi broth. One of the most memorable dishes of the night was the crispy sweetbread with crisp pancetta and sweet potato. The next dish was served on a striking rectangular slab of black stone—-banana with bacon, black garlic sauce, peanut and spaghetti squash. The beef combination of perfectly-cooked ribeye on top and braised beef shank below flavored with marrow and garnished with garlic parsley and matchstick potatoes was a huge favorite at our table. The next dish was most unusual—-branches were arrayed on large plates. A bowl of Rooibos tea custard with squash pudding topped with pear and pistachio crumbs was placed atop this. Tea was then poured over the dry ice hidden under the great bed of branches (foraged from the side of the nearby train tracks), erupting in a fragrant mist like a miniature Vesuvius. The final dessert was a riff on coffee and cigarettes—-Maker’s Mark ice cream with pecan streusel, coffee and tobacco pudding. We reveled in the delight and originality of El and the enormous skill with which complex ideas become culinary pleasures under the sure hand of Chef Rôtisseur Phillip Foss and his gifted team.
Chicago Magazine’s October issue ranked EL as the second hottest spot in the city after NEXT (see “The Hot List, 10 Places Everyone’s Talking About and Dining At . . .” at p.48). EL offers an evening of intrigue, mystique and exclusivity. It is a micro-restaurant at a very unlikely fine dining location, offers no pre- published menu and accepts ten diners a night through on-line reservation only. The delicate, cutting edge cuisine of Chicago Chaîne member, Chef Rôtisseur Phillip Foss, beckons. A beguiling evening is planned, offering a multi course culinary menu paired with our cellar wines.
Five exclusive nights have been set aside for the Chicago Chaîne. A table for 10 each evening will resemble a private dinner party. Join us for an unconventional and original evening at this latest Chicago hot spot and enjoy together the fun of Chaîne membership as we embark on another culinary adventure.
Reservation: Please state the day and date you prefer to attend with 2nd and 3rd choices. See Reservation Form. Priority will be given to members. Guests will be limited to spouse/significant other. If you want to bring a guest we will be creating a guest waiting list and will draw from it if we do not fill it up with members. We will try to accommodate your first choice but there are no guarantees. We need the flexibility to group people together and to aim for five consecutive winning evenings. You will be immediately advised of a waitlist situation.
Venue: EL is located on the edge of Pilsen. It is on the ground floor of a 3-storey red brick building on the quiet stretch of 14th Street off Western Avenue. Except for the street number, the building is unmarked. We will arrange for the Chaîne logo to be clearly visible from outside.
Transportation: You should pre-arrange your transportation, particularly your return trip from EL. You may try a new black car service called UBER (www.uber.com) which has recently come to Chicago. You are able to install an App on your smart phone and call a car when ready to leave. Alternatively, we can pre-arrange a town car for your return trip. Drinking and driving is discouraged and there is very limited parking space.