***** (5 stars)
Unlike other fine dining restaurants, the goal of EL Ideas is to create an environment resembling a dinner party with friends. But instead of crowding strangers together at a communal table, EL Ideas provides conventional seating and achieves its goal through a casual approach that encourages guests to wander into the kitchen. This works really well, allowing the extroverts to gather by the prep table and converse, while the introverts and lovers can have a private experience at their own seats.
The meal gets off to an eclectic start from the first course, which was wagyu beef served with a sauce but no utensils, and the instruction not to use your fingers. Once you’ve licked your meal off your plate it’s hard to be stuffy.
The environment is spacious and trendy, the music an eclectic mix that isn’t too loud, and the chefs and servers are all welcoming and conversational.
The only aspect of EL Ideas I can’t be wholly enthusiastic about is the food. We had twelve courses, and almost every single course contained at least one really wonderful ingredient. But almost every single course included many other ingredients that rarely seemed to combine to create a result greater than the individual parts. In this respect it reminded me of 42 Grams, where a tremendous amount of work had obviously gone into the dozens of exotic components and preparations, but didn’t quite justify the end result.
The exception was “French Fries and Ice Cream,” a truly stunning course that I would rank with some of the greatest molecular gastronomy ever produced at Moto. An old-fashioned malt shop glass was filled with a frozen concoction resembling a vanilla shake, with a liquid nitrogen frozen cap. When we plunged our spoons into the top, a geyser of vapor erupted, caused by the hot potato soup in the bottom. The combination of hot and cold, soft and crunchy, sweet and salty was absolutely sublime. And yes, it tasted like a vanilla shake with french fries in it. This one course was worth the price of admission.
EL Ideas is BYOB, with individual ice buckets at each table. I suggest bringing a Blanc de Noir Champagne, which will match nearly all the food. If you want a second bottle, a lighter red would work best, such as a Burgundy.
2419 W 14th St
Chicago, IL 60608