I had no idea what I was signing up for last week when I was texting with friend Jessie Freschl (of Covet Closet and Fresch Style) and told her I was en route to Chicago. She pinged back that I should go to her brother’s restaurant and immediately got to emailing him. Before I boarded the Chicago bound flight (for one night I may add), I was confirmed for the 7 p.m. seating and had completed the required pre-payment for the meal (a first for me).
I uber-ed over to the warehouse space in a largely abandoned industrial-looking dead end and the driver asked if I was sure I had the right address. He insisted he wait for me while I sussed it out. And here the adventure began as I entered the building to find an interior door with a sign reading ‘Get the EL in here!’ This was going to be fun.
Katelynn, who had helped me with my reservation and had inquired about dietary restrictions, welcomed me by name and sat me by the window in a table set for one. There were only five other tables, a full house, and everyone else was already seated and enjoying a libation of their own bringing. BYOB and I hadn’t brought anything. This was definitely the type of fourteen course meal (yep it’s true!) that would be best enjoyed with the perfect wine pairing, but alas it wasn’t to be as I’d forgotten this important note. Chef Phil and team felt awful and offered me anything they might have hanging about including an open bottle of red that my server had in his car. Hugely accommodating and it wasn’t even their fault. I would enjoy these edible creations without interference from alcoholic beverages.
Chef Phil introduced himself to the room and explained that he wanted to turn the idea of fine dining ‘on its head’ and that he encouraged the diners to come to the open kitchen at any time and observe, inquire, chat with the team as well as introduce ourselves to fellow diners. He announced our first dish, uni (sea urchin) with black lava sea salt, shiitake, coconut pudding with wild trout roe, and said they hadn’t been remiss in not providing silverware: he expected us to eat with our fingers and ‘lick the plate.’ Did I say this was going to be fun? Fun and crazy delicious. Not known to be shy, and when given the opportunity to actually lick a plate clean (in a restaurant no less), of course I dutifully obliged and loved every minute. Successive dishes included ajo blanco, described as the precursor to gazpacho, with cuttlefish, garlic and green almond, and cherry radish with basil, shattered olives and white chocolate. Other stand outs were the ‘French fries & frosty’ whose preparation had the kitchen engulfed in white ‘smoke’ and Chef Phil came around with a ladle and cauldron and finished off our dish with the smoky ‘ice cream.’ Not a wallflower, I visited with other tables between courses and the consensus among us was assuredly that this was the most creative food any of us had ever eaten. When I spoke to Chef Phil and confessed that this experience had really shown that I know absolutely zilch about food and commended him for the pure tastes that came across in his food, he offered that he didn’t like to use foods or flavors that would mask any of the other ingredients in the dish. Mission accomplished. Michelin didn’t award EL ideas with a star for nothing.