Though we’ve long been intrigued by Iliana Regan’s unique personal vision for Elizabeth, we will admit to not being immune to the concern that Anthony Todd phrases as “Foraged ingredients sound fey and precious — will I actually get a meal here?” There’s also concern about whether Regan, skilled underground dinner chef that she is, is up to running a whole restaurant, given relatively little professional kitchen experience. But Todd reports from its third night of service that “Elizabeth is one of the best things to happen in Chicago’s dining scene since I’ve been eating here.”
Instead of being yet another pointless way for chefs to brag about their food, foraged components make this restaurant stand out. Why? Regan doesn’t need to come up with ever more tortured, not-really-ironic presentations of standard ingredients (“let’s puree it, then powder it, then rehydrate the powder and form it into a perfect approximation of its former self”) to shock the jaded diner. Here, the ingredients themselves are enough to make your eyes go wide.
When was the last time you tasted Queen Anne’s lace gel? Yeah, that would be never. Pine juice? Acorns? Fermented crab apples? Pickled rose petals? Carrot tops? The list goes on, but surprisingly none of these ingredients ever shocked the palate. They just nudged it gently out of its familiar sleepiness.
The intimacy of the small space creates a warm, communal atmosphere that Todd suggests is more like a party than the usual dining experience:
It has a similar feeling to El Ideas, a sense that you are part of something special — rather than a snobby, pretentious atmosphere. It creates a sense of possibility, adventure and excitement. Regan wants to tell you about her food and your dining companions want to talk about it. No one cares about your tie.
Read it and check out his photos. [Chicagoist]