EL Ideas, helmed by chef/owner Phillip Foss, is a Michelin-star BYOB fine dining restaurant in the somewhat industrial neighborhood of Douglas Park, west of downtown Chicago. Their stated mission is “to make fine dining cuisine and service approachable and fun instead of pretentious and stuffy.” Did they succeed?
Oh yes, in so many ways, starting with the first course which was presented without silverware. Stern instructions from the chef required us to lick the plates; any hold-outs would be escorted from the restaurant. Talk about an icebreaker! This set the right tone for the evening – fun, surprise, laughter and embrace of the unexpected. The food was good too – in this case, a squiggle on the plate of chicken liver mousse with caviar, ghost pepper and rhubarb.
After that we were off to the races with 12 more tiny, imaginative courses. The Wagyu pierogi and gnudi with rabbit and artichoke were special favorites. Click the photos to enlarge them and read the captions.
My reason for writing about it is not to review or promote the restaurant – although I do think it’s worth your consideration for a special occasion meal. Our experience there caused me to think about how to liven up my own dinner parties, adding a dash of fun and surprise. Sometimes it’s as simple as mixing up the soundtrack – high energy instead of smooth background music. Or getting creative with unusual serving pieces and mismatched dishes.
But I think it’s the participatory thing that matters most. People like to be part of the action, having a contribution to make, actively doing something. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to be served too, but when I think of the most fun parties I’ve been to, either as host or guest, they’re often the ones where we get hands-on either with a shared activity (cooking together, pumpkin carving, Wine Olympics) or by assigning tasks to guests (bartender, kitchen helper) or – my favorite – eating messy food with your hands (barbecued ribs, corn on the cob, crab boil with the little mallets).
While I will not ask my guests to lick the plates, I certainly won’t object if they do it voluntarily – I might even take it as a compliment. And although I take my ‘job’ as home chef and party host seriously, I don’t want to ever forget that parties and shared meals are about fun and togetherness – laughter and surprises and special moments are what it’s all about.
Thank you to Chef Foss and EL Ideas for the reminder that a sense of humor is the very best dinner companion you can hope to have!