Expectations tend to color how we perceive experiences. Will Ferrell movies for me are a good example: I find my enjoyment of his movies is inversely proportional to how much I expect to like it. Excited for Talladega Nights: blah. Ambivalent about Step Brothers: HIlarious!
Of course, this is very true for dining. I’m often scared to return to a restaurant that I tried a few years ago and loved. So much of the experience comes not just from the food, but also the ambiance, the company, and the diner’s past experiences. I think people tend to remember places more by the whole experience than a pure objective critique of the food. It could be the first time I had (and loved) sweetbreads (and realized there was nothing “sweet” or “bread” about them) or a fantastic wait staff. On the return visit if it doesn’t live up to my romanticized memory, I leave somewhat disappointed.
How does this all relate to Elizabeth Restaurant? My last One Sister dinner was one of the best meals I’ve ever had (Re: Spring Menu). Obviously I was quite excited to see what Chef Iliana Regan would do with a full kitchen and a staff to work with, but as our reservation drew near, it struck me that there was a chance the menu wouldn’t live up to my high expectations (Re: Mind Blowing). After all, it is a pretty ambitious project: three 10-20 course tasting menus with no overlapping dishes and they were only a few weeks into service.
I had the pleasure of eating the Diamond menu, the longest menu of the three offered. From start to finish, the magical presence of Mother Nature mixed with creativity peppered with molecular techniques kept my mouth happy and my taste buds jumping for joy with anticipation for the next course.
Chef Regan, once again, succeeded in crafting many courses that were truly mind-blowing. A few standout courses:
- –Foraged matsutake mushrooms and juniper powder on top of cinnamon custard. The textures and flavors were unlike anything I had experienced before — anywhere.
- –Loup de mer with apple cider gelee and sunchoke puree. I used my finger to get every bit of this dish.
- –Hamachi with fermented leek and fish sauce caramel. This dish packs a giant flavor punch. Plate licking good.
Service is a highlight I rarely discuss, but the staff does a great job of welcoming and pampering you from beginning to end. It’s fine dining service in a casual environment. Wine pairings are also not to be missed. Scott Noorman has a passion for wine and it shows.
I’m happy to say that the transition from One Sister, Inc. to Elizabeth Restaurant seems flawless for Chef Regan. Again, I was a huge fan of the underground dinners she once held in her home and the food hasn’t let down at her newest “home” in Lincoln Square. Dishes on each menu change all the time — below were the courses served the night I went. Next month I am going to the Deer menu so I’ll be sure to post my experience of that menu as well. Looking forward to it more than words can say!
Collaboratively written and photographed with Nicholas A. Hruza
- Review: Elizabeth (chicagoist.com)
Related articles: Tickets for Elizabeth restaurant now on sale (chicagoreader.com)