A few weeks ago Rocky and I flew to Chicago again to see what’s cooking(our third trip to the Second City in six months). I had been wanting to visit Chef Phillip Foss and his restaurant EL Ideas for awhile, but until this trip hadn’t been able to work it out. So after a late night closing up shop in Tribeca, two hours of sleep, and an early flight from LGA to ORD, Rocky and I stopped by our hotel a few minutes, then pounded some tortas and churros, stocked up on BYO options and headed off to dinner. Half an hour later as our cab was rolling into a scene from Training Day and our driver was telling us we had the wrong address, we arrived at the restaurant on a dead end of 14th St.
We made our way inside, said hi to Bill the FOH guy, made some offerings to Chef Foss and his kitchen crew, then settled down at our table and started popping our bottles. Before long, Foss addressed the crowd and got the party started.
Ossetra – popcorn / heart of palm / avocado. Belgian ossetra caviar with popcorn flavored Dippin’ Dots, avocado mousse, Hawaiian heart of palm, and sprouting chives. Holy sh*t. The smooth rich avocado with the cold buttery popcorn against the caviar salinity was brilliant. The fibrous crunch of the palm heart was a nice textural contrast. A great start to the meal and a beautiful match with our Champagne(Pierre Gimonnet Special Club 2005).
Radish – salmon / kombu / black garlic. Radish slices with cured salmon, black garlic, cucumber, compressed watermelon, salicornia, and suds from kombu stock. The sweet watermelon, salty fish, fresh cucumber, and oceanic suds were nice compliments to the spicy radish.
Lamb – hummus / tahini / pine nuts. Seared za’atar lamb, hummus, fresh garbanzo, smoked & pickled green garlic, tahini, pine nut, bean leaf, and za’atar toast. Cool stuff. Like a refined, deconstructed gyro.
Pork – cauliflower / cilantro / gooseberry. Marinated pork belly sous vide for 72 hours served with roasted cauliflower with fish sauce, fresh gooseberry, cilantro puree, Cuban oregano, Vietnamese coriander, and crystal lettuce. Ultra dynamic flavor range. I was worried the belly would be too rich but degrees of acid and varying herbaceous notes balanced out exceptionally.
Bread – uni / morels / nasturtium. I think I have this right…bread made with a mix of three starters: morel, gooseberry, and pumpernickel, with sour brown ale and a little whole wheat flour. Accompanied with delightful small morels, decadent uni butter, peppery nasturtium, and pickled wild spring onion. A lot of love on a piece of slate.
Skate – calf heart / turnip / onion. Six years ago in Overland Park, KS I had a skate dish I really liked. Two years later on the UWS I had another skate plate that was superb. Aside from those two events, ray consumption in my life has been a downward spiral of bland, mushy mediocrity. This course however was very nice. The wing was prepared into a roulade with an almost crisp, caramelized skin and served with calf heart, 24 hour sous vide turnip, red mustard greens, mustard seeds, and onion jus. The skate was really nice with 2011 Ostertag Riesling, while the heart combined with the sweet duo of mustard and onion was beautiful with 1996 d’Yquem(a multiple beverage blessing).
Cotton Candy – foie / bergamot / bachelor button. A good acid/sweetness balance with a finish of rich shaved foie. There’s not much more to say about this one. I ate it really, really fast.
Grouse – rapini / angelica / summer truffle. Scotland Grouse roulade with confit leg, angelica, lamb’s quarter puree, rapini, and summer truffle. That was a gamey bird, in the best way. Put together with some great vegetal astringency, leafy bitterness, and dirty earth tones. This plate was covered with raw, masculine, sex appeal.
Beef – beets / verjus / sumac. Shlagel Farms sirloin aged 60 days and sous vide 8 hours served with beet variations, verjus, sumac, and wood sorrel. A really nice piece of beef. Remarkable. The beets teetered on being too sweet but the acidic oxalis brought them back around. A great plate to finish out the savory menu.
Strawberry – rhubarb / lychee / pistachio. Strawberry sorbet and powder, lychee and rhubarb gelee, lemon verbena financier, brown butter pistachio crumble. A nice few bites with a good variety of textures.
Fennel – chocolate / lemon / honey bussel. This dessert was quite a compilation. A mixed plate of fun ideas. Super light and cooly herbaceous fennel ice cream, dark chocolate ganache, dehydrated dark chocolate, compressed blueberries, peanut something, tangy meyer lemon pudding, and a gingerbread honey bussel cookie. I don’t know that it made a lot of sense, but it was kick-ass and we had a lot of fun eating it.
Final Bites – guava / macaroon / sudachi. Guava pate de fruit, maple macaron, sudachi chocolate.
Here’s some wine we brought along for dinner:
And here’s some of the kitchen crew hard at work:
As I mentioned at the top of this post, we had slept very little, and by this point had drank quite a lot(including sharing a post-dinner bottle of Yamazaki single malt with the kitchen). That leads me to this…
Here’s Rocky posing in the kitchen in a banana suit:
Date of visit: June 15, 2013
El Ideas. 2419 West 14th Street. Chicago, IL 312.226.8144 elideas.com