EL Ideas

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I just had an amazing meal at EL Ideas, a restaurant that is a cross between Sunday Dinner and Next.  Located in a back alley near Chicago’s Tri Taylor neighborhood, all of the restaurant’s 16 patrons are treated to a view of the kitchen during dinner and are encouraged by the owner, Phillip Foss, to observe and even help cook and plate.  I met Foss when he was operating the his Meatyballs food truck near the Aon center and got chased away by the cops.  He managed to sell us some sandwiches before driving away.  As good as the sandwiches were, the restaurant is far superior.

Our meal consisted of a 14 course dinner that lasted about 2.5 hours.  With 12 savories and 2 desserts, it seemed that each dish kept getting better and better–“no, this is my favorite dish of the night.”  The highlights were grouper served with carrot and kimchi, diced ham drizzled with cheese, foie gras with meyer lemon, and a cream soup with sweetbreads and lobster.  Not only was everything flavorful, but all of the combinations of flavors just worked.

I say a cross between Sunday Dinner and Next because the limited seating requires purchasing a “ticket” and you feel like you are eating at someone’s dinner party.  It is BYOB so bring plenty to drink.  I am definitely going back.


Children, please!

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Having missed out on the initial sales of Next Restaurant’s third menu, Childhood, I spotted a Facebook post that they were releasing additional tickets.  Most of the times available were around 6 p.m. or 9 p.m., and it reminded me of the Cubs single game sales day on the Internet, with the website unable to keep up with demand and seats going really quickly.

Unlike the previous Paris 1906 or Thailand menus, there was no country associated with the cuisine–well, maybe 1980s American.  The theme was a menu that evoked memories of one’s childhood.  Certainly not everyone’s childhood, but coincidentally the menu was something I was able to relate to.

I will run through the 10 course menu, which was matched, optionally, with alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.  It began with a neatly wrapped present.  All kids like getting presents.  This one contained a take on peanut butter and jelly–a ball of peanut butter with jelly inside and fried with a tempura batter.  A creamy chicken noodle soup followed (the noodles themselves were made from chicken extruded into a noodle).  Then there was fish and chips on a plate decorated with a child-like design.  The mac and cheese was well done, with different kinds of macaroni.

The most interesting to the senses was called a “walk in the woods” according to the waiter.  It consisted of a hollowed-out birch log upon which hot stones and juniper branches were placed.  On top of the log was a piece of glass that had various wild mushrooms spread about.  The smell of the juniper wafted about as you ate.  Alinea has/had a similar dish where a huge bowl of juniper branches had a hot stone nestled in the middle that contained a small morsel of meat.  I love mushrooms, and this was the tastiest of the dishes to me.

The last of the savory dishes was a deconstructed cheeseburger, which had a piece of short rib and cheese, served with the bun of a burger ground up into a spread.  I’m a fan of braised short ribs, so this was my second favorite dish.  If you ate the meat with the bread paste, it does taste like a cheeseburger.

The most innovative presentation goes to the lunchbox.  Everyone got a different circa 1980s lunchbox, complete with Thermos.  Mine had some port.  The desserts were a homemade fruit rollup, and an oreo cookie, served in a ziploc baggie.  A handwritten note from mom was a nice touch.  After that was a couple of doughnut holes served with an electric metal beater that had a foie gras frosting dripping from it so you could lick from it just like when you were a kid.  The last was a campfire made from sweet potatoes and served with marshmallows so you could make S’mores.

Some would differ, but the food didn’t match up to the Paris menu.  It was a great dining experience–which is all part of what makes a good meal.  The presentations were as creative and playful as one might find at Moto, and inspired interesting conversation.   Its just that the food itself wasn’t as memorable.  Oh, well.  Hope I get tickets to elBulli!

Next (Paris 1906)



I was fortunate to be invited to a dinner featuring the inaugural menu of Grant Achatz’s new Next restaurant.

He was my friend’s client so we were comped, but we didn’t know until the end.

My favorite dishes were the fillet of sole with a crawfish mousse, and, of course, the roasted pressed duck.  The Chinese do duck well (e.g. Sun Wah Bbq), but this was so flavorful.

It is a great concept and I also appreciate the business model:  sell (out) tickets in advance, and keep the same menu for three months so you don’t waste any food.