EL Ideas changing fine dining stereotype
August 10, 2012 (CHICAGO) (WLS) -- The cooks plate their elaborately constructed dishes as the guests begin arriving; you'd think this was just another fine-dining operation. But look closely. Everyone is bringing their own bottle, and the dining room only holds 16 people. And by the way, this is Douglas Park, a neighborhood known more for taquerias than fine dining. The business is called EL (as in "elevated") Ideas and it's way under-the-radar.
"What we've been looking to do is to take the pretentiousness out of fine dining. Just essentially to redefine fine dining," said Phillip Foss, the owner/chef of EL ideas.
Foss and his crew push the envelope with their multi-course, $135 tasting menus. But it never feels stifled or boring. It is creativity without the stuffiness, as if you've dropped by your cool cousin's loft apartment.
"As such, we invite everyone back into our kitchen at your leisure to check out what we're doing," he said.
Yes, die-hards - or just the curious - can come back to the kitchen, watch the chefs plate the courses, or even take a stab at it themselves, helping out or just asking questions. Although don't expect to really create, as much as assemble; these cooks, afterall, have pretty extensive experience behind the line.
"A couple of the chefs have more of a modern flare. Myself..I'm probably more rooted in fundamental cuisine, but I do take some liberties as well with modern cuisine," said Foss.
As an example, the first course is called "eggs, coffee, toast," which consists of cafe ole, fennel cream and toasted brioche. Like most courses, it comes with a backstory and some helpful instructions.
"People always talk about how much fun it is to lick your plate. Here you go," he told his guests after the first course.
A second course of "fish tacos" brings lime-avocado puree together with corn mousse, corn chips and halibut, with splotches of purple cabbage juice. On it goes, over 14 courses.. each one as tightly focused as the last. The concept is certainly unique, allowing the chef and owner to focus on the food, rather than the reservation system.
"As we're only doing one seating a night...all the guests arrive at one time. For us, it takes a lot of the guessing game out of the dinner service. There's much less coordination to do," said Foss.
Dinners range from 12 to 15 courses, and typically last about three hours. The dress code is casual, and they're big on social media, encouraging diners to interact on Facebook and Twitter.
2419 W. 14th St.
$135 per person tasting menu
restaurants, steve dolinsky
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