I had such a wonderful meal last night at Elizabeth; this time I had the medium length Deer menu (which consisted of 16 courses). Some of the courses reminded me of my dinner I had at One Sister and there were several courses unlike anything i had had before. One striking difference (for the better) was that some of the courses were much more substantial and heartier than my meal at One Sister and my Owl menu meal during Friend's and Family. About half the courses are 1-2 bites, but half the courses were a nice amount of food and this was definitely a filling meal. Chef Regan mentioned that she has already made some revisions to the Owl menu and that it is heartier as well. At my table were three friends I actually had met about a year ago via Facebook on Next Restaurant's Facebook Page (we all were helping one another score season tickets and ended up forming friendships). Elizabeth has communal tables for eight, and while I did not know the other four people, they all were rather friendly. In some restaurants communal tables can be a negative, but at Elizabeth they really work and actually enhance the experience and the type of ambiance Chef Regan is striving to create. About the only knock on the ambiance is that when all three tables are filled it can be a tad noisy; but certainly is not unbearably loud.
Service was quite good for a brand new restaurant; everybody I encountered was extremely friendly. There were some gaps between courses at times, but that is to be expected for a new restaurant (especially factoring in the complexity and shear number of courses being served); since Elizabeth has such a fun vibe, a leisurely meal is quite enjoyable. The 16 courses took about three hours and forty minutes, but the food was so amazing and the experience so fun that time flew by and it did not seem like an overly lengthy meal by any means. I imagine that within a few months the pace may pick up, but I would have no complaints if this ended up being the norm; I was sorry to see my meal come to an end. You have the choice of complimentary still or sparkling water; glasses were nearly always kept filled, napkins were folded when guests went to the washroom, and all the staff seemed passionate and happy to be there.
Elizabeth has Scott Noorman (formerly of Trio and Graham Elliot) running the wine program. He was very attentive and helpful in discussing the options. There is a wine pairing available; I believe it ended up being $85 for the Deer menu and consisted of eight different wines; the pours were rather generous for a tasting menu - probably a little over a half a glass at a time on average based on my observations; I did not partake in this myself, but the person next to me did the pairings. There is also a nice selection of cocktails (for now there is not a cocktail list, but they will describe the options to you - some of the cocktails are made tableside) as well as a very nice assortment of wines by the glass and by the bottle. The wines are very reasonably priced; most of the wines by the glass run $10 to $14 and many of the bottles are in the $40 to $60 range. I tried three different wines during the course of the evening (Scott helped recommend which ones would be best based on my preferences and the upcoming courses) and all were quite good.
The food was outstanding. Some courses stood out more than others, but not a single dud in the 16 courses and several were phenomenal. In addition to tasting amazing, much of the presentations were beautiful and there were all sorts of exotic ingredients as well as interesting (but successful) flavor combinations and concepts. One of the draw of Elizabeth is how personal the dishes are; Chef Regan grows much of the food, forages for some, does a little hunting and fishing, cures some of the meat in house, makes her own cheese and ice cream, and does lots of pickling. She is so incredibly talented for this being her first restaurant; this is already a top notch dining experience but she is only scratching the surface of her potential. Adding to the experience, Chef Regan comes tableside for the majority of the courses explaining the dish and answering any questions. There was no coffee service last night (something I enjoyed at One Sister where she served some outstanding coffee), but it does appear this is coming soon based on some pictures I noticed Chef Regan post on Twitter and Facebook and I spied some French presses in the back.
In my opinion Elizabeth is already one of Chicago's best and most interesting dining experiences. It is brand new, so if you dine here during the next few months do not expect perfection as I imagine there are still some kinks to work out (though just about everything was pretty smooth last night). One does have to be a bit of adventurous eater as there is a fair amount of exotic ingredients, game meat, and some organ meat on the menu, but Chef Regan is one of those chefs that is able to make foods that normally do not appeal to me taste so good that I lick the plate clean. I had such a fun dinner last night and plan to come back towards the end of the year for the Diamond menu (the longest of her three tasting menus).
Here are some photographs of my meal:
Centerpiece; part of the centerpiece became involved in one the courses.
Huckleberry Pie Amuse Bouche - tasted just like a shot of huckleberry pie and was a great start to the meal.
Round Pancake with goat cheese filling.
Queen Anne's Lace & Carrots (some were from Chef Regan's garden).
Flowers, Eggs & Twigs with Shaved Black Truffle - The "twigs" on the centerpiece were edible (and tasted amazing) and you dipped them into this truffled buttery, egg sauce. So rich, flavorful and delicious.
The edible twigs.
Chef Regan presenting a course tableside; she came tableside for about 12 of the 16 courses.
Chantrelle Pine and Acorns. The mushrooms were foraged.
Teacup for her signature homemade Alice in Wonderland theme tea; the course is titled One Pill Makes you Larger and featured a mushroom tea with coco nibs. I could have consumed an entire pot of this tea! Chef Regan delivers a radio to the table and plays music from Alice and Wonderland as you drink the tea.
Chef Regan serving tea.
Crab Apples, Hazelnuts & Frog Legs.
Woodland Terrarium with edible soil; some will remember this from One Sister where she had the serving piece hanging in her apartment like ornaments.
Savory Cannoli filled with salmon, one with a dill sauce and one with a sour cream sauce.
Deer Bresaola; kind of like deer beef jerky served atop homemade ricotta cheese and a blackberry.
Wild Rice Crispy Treat with little bits of bear meat; interesting combination but ridiculously tasty - I would have loved a whole plate filled with this it was so good.
Duck Egg Czernina - the heart of the menu had a few homeruns in a row. This dish was wildly popular at the table and was my second favorite dish of the night. The duck was cooked perfectly and the duck egg was quite possibly the tastiest egg I have ever consumed.
Deer Tenderloin, Celery Root and Cabbage. This was another extremely popular dish at our table and for me was the best of the 16 courses. The deer tenderloin was cooked perfectly and did not have any gamey taste, but was divine. The cabbage had homemade deer sausage inside that also was exquisite. Cool serving piece as well. This dish I would not mind seeing stay on the menu year round! I found myself craving this all day.
Forest Float palate cleanser with homemade ice cream (sassafras if I recall correctly). Very tasty and nice transition into dessert.
Black Walnuts and Sorghum with the most delicious, creamy caramel sauce I have ever consumed. An outstanding dessert.
Wine Director Scott Noorman and the portable cocktail cart.
Keepsake copy of the Deer menu for September 26, 2012