I have been following Elizabeth, a relatively new restaurant, since it opened in 2012. The concept of the restaurant intrigued me with its communal seating and three complex menus named Owl, Deer and Diamond. These menus had different lengths, themes and were priced differently using the same ticket system as Alinea. Chef Regan took less than a year to make changes to Elizabeth, notably revamping the seating from communal tables, which had caused distress between several customers, to tables of 2 and 4 seats. She also merged the three menus to focus on one single 20-course menu (Tickets now range from $65 to $175 depending on the day and time you choose to dine.) All these changes and her recently earned Michelin star encouraged my husband and I to go check it out – and boy are we glad we did!
Elizabeth is a clear reflection of Iliana Regan’s vision. This self–described ‘forager, farmer and dreamer’ is originally from Northwest Indiana and grew up in a small farm where her mother would can food in the summers and her father would butcher animals.
She’s had a captivating trajectory from staging at restaurants such as Leopold, Moto and Schwa, to running an underground supper club at her apartment with which she made her base clientele. Eventually she became the proud owner and chef of a one Michelin starred restaurant – Elizabeth (named after her sister).
What makes her unique is the fact that she forages ingredients for her meals. She is a self-taught chef that inspires herself and her customers with land, nature and life that she reflects through her food. How does she find the time to forage while she’s running a Michelin star restaurant? I’m not sure but she certainly does a great job.
Ambiance & Décor
Our cab stopped in the middle of nowhere on Lincoln Avenue where we found an unmarked door with no signs that looked like a vacant space – we had reached Elizabeth. Once we stepped in, the vibe changed completely. You enter a well-lit room, still relatively small but spacious. On one end you have an open kitchen in which all the talented chefs are hard at work and surprisingly quiet. On the other end there are tables of 2 and 4 people scattered around the room.
The crisp white walls, rustic wooden tables and mix and match dining chairs took me to a comfort zone that reminded me of my childhood. I remember back in Spain, I would go to my friends’ grandparents’ farmhouses in the ‘pueblo’ (woods) where they would prepare us a home cooked rabbit that they had hunted a few hours before with mushrooms they had found in the woods – that night Elizabeth took me back there. The decorative owls and dried herbal arrangements just added that whimsical touch that Chef Regan is known for.
A Sensory Journey – Food & Experience
Chef Regan has been tagged as a modernist chef and you can see why from her use of gels, powders and manipulation of food. A lot of thought is put into each dish that is aesthetically impressive playing with all your senses-a play on color, texture, form, smell and taste. Most importantly each dish has a clear association to nature.
Her courses have a very Midwestern influence. The Midwest has some of the richest farming land in the world and showcases hearty dishes that make use of locally grown food.The menu revolves around the Farms, Woods and Water and is divided into three sections ‘snacks’ transitioning to ‘Elizabeth Staples’ and ending with ‘Fork and Knife from the Farms, Woods, and Waters.’
We began with the Chilled pea and mint gel preparation– a bouquet so delicate and refreshing that was a perfect palate opener to the rest of the meal.
Next up was my favorite dish of the night- the Terrarium of where the Ramps are. The concept was very clever. We were presented with a terrarium (for those who don’t know what a terrarium like me that night – it’s a transparent globe container in which plants are grown) with ‘soil’ that was actually malted barley with fungi. The ramp was an ideal representation of the beginning of spring. This dish had very bold earthy flavors that I really enjoyed.
Another winner of the night was the Fried Woodland Mushroom. It was a clever play on Fried Chicken Gizzards but using woodland mushrooms that tasted just as meaty and the Panko crust was a perfect crunch. This was accompanied with a delicious Hen of the Woods Mushroom Consommé served in a quaint espresso cup.
The Shrimp Noodles, a popular Elizabeth Staple, was an ingenious dish. It was a pleasantly sweet flavored noodle (made of shrimps) highlighted by crispy kale and Parmesan. I was initially surprised as I was expecting the shrimp on the noodle rather than in noodle form! The dish worked very well as it delivered the right amount of seafood flavor that would work with the Parmesan.
Iliana Regan is well known for creative use of flowers (both edible and non) in her food and presentation. One such use that most people look forward to is the Flower Course – and ours didn’t disappoint. Beautifully decorated flowers adorned the Fava Bean Soup giving the impression of enjoying the soup in a spring garden. The fiddleheads added a perfect crunch to the soup.
The desserts were more playful than tasty in my opinion. One of them was a clever play on breakfast. Fruit loops (made of scallop, porcini and strawberries) accompanied with cashew milk and a sunny side up egg (too sweet for my taste). It certainly brought a ‘cheery’ end to the meal!
Another popular dessert of the night was the Young Juniper, Sunchoke and Rhubarb. The flavors went very well together with the sweet and sour taste of the rhubarb and the crunch of the sunchoke.
Chef Regan’s story is a fairytale; a self-taught farm girl that now owns a one Michelin starred restaurant. Her success comes from her quirkly style and her focus on local, sustainable and foraged ingredients. She calls her approach ‘the new gatherer cuisine’ and you can appreciate her ideology and her passion through her food. I certainly recommend a visit to Elizabeth for a unique dining experience focusing largely on local ingredients put together in strikingly beautiful and whimsical dishes.
For more information on tickets for Elizabeth, check out their website www.elizabeth-restaurant.com