I would like to nominate Lake Bluff's Inovasi for a 2012 GNR. Coming up on its third anniversary, I believe Inovasi belongs in the company of the other great restaurants on the LTHForum GNR list.
Inovasi has become my regular "go-to" restaurant, and I am there at least once every three weeks. For a while, my daughter and I were making Monday nights daddy-daughter night in the Inovasi bar; her with her go-to handmade pasta on the kids menu, me trying out whatever new whim was coming out of Chef DesRosiers' kitchen.
What I like about Inovasi the most is the contrast. The restaurant itself is a model of consistency. The staff has hardly turned over since the restaurant opened -- management, servers, even busboys are all the same smiling faces. The service is consistently good - menu explanations, water on the table right away, new cutlery between courses, never much waiting around. The bar and wine list are surprisingly consistent -- you won't find mass-market products, there's no bottle of Absolut Vodka behind the counter. Somehow they seem to find the interesting, small batch, local, craft, or just well-made products. Chef continues to try to convince me that there will be a California wine I like, some days he is right.
Yet the menu is almost never the same twice. One week when I ate there twice, there were two dishes that changed in the course of that week. Not in major ways -- a new sauce, a different grain -- but enough to keep things interesting. Some diners are confounded by this variability -- the "fish swimming yesterday" pisses off a lot of people because the waitstaff can't/won't tell you what it is in advance -- but I love the surprise of learning to eat new foods, new preparations, or sharing that experience with others.
The tasting menu at $50-ish a person is the best bargain in fine dining anywhere. You get four or five courses worth, about half (or more depending on the number of people at the table) of the items on the current menu are guaranteed to show up. It is a great way to experience the depth of the ktichen for sure.
Not every dish I've eaten at Inovasi was wonderful. I think part of the jedi mind trick that Chef John plays on me is that I won't ding him personally for those failures. The creativity is worth experimenting. Maybe those popcorn shoots back in July were one of the weirdest things I've ever eaten, but I tried them, when they were seasonal, and they rotated off the menu (as everything does there eventually). Stinging nettles? I had to go look those up, but they were delicious. Cheese curd tacos - who would have thought to create such a thing? I still talk about the wonderful contrasting tastes and temperatures in that dish, along with the char-grilled tortillas and chile sauce. And when I mentioned that dish to a visiting friend several months later, and the waitress (Elkin) overheard us, suddenly the tacos were on our table 15 minutes later. Months after they had dropped off the menu.
What I really think makes Inovasi GNR-worthy is that they do actually make dining in the restaurant a personal experience. One of the first times we ate there as a family, two dishes came to the table we had not ordered. I actually sent the runners away because I was sure they weren't ours. Elkin came by a few minutes later and explained that John had sent them out as an experiment. One was a seared foie gras over polenta with snails and a cherry-based sauce. Ooh, that was trouble as neither my wife nor I really liked foie gras. But we knew we needed to eat it since the chef had sent it out, off menu at that.... and we loved it. My wife is now known as "the Frisco", since that is the drink on their cocktail menu that she usually orders. My daughter knows Chef by name and he teases her about her limited palate. But this personalized service is not just for regulars, we have heard great stories from first-time visitors as well.
There are other restaurants doing modern American food really well. There are other restaurants sourcing from small producers. There are other restaurants with charismatic chefs. But in the Northern Suburbs, there are few other restaurants in the same class and with the same consistently high standards. For all these reasons, I nominate Inovasi.
Forum thread:http://lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?f= ... it=inovasi
Ronnie Suburban's Favorites of 2011 said
"John Des Rosiers' casual-fine dining enclave in Lake Bluff is so off the radar, I fear that a lot of LTHers are missing something truly special by not checking it out. The 3 meals I had there in 2011 were delicious and memorable."http://lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?f= ... si#p400371
28 Center Avenue
Lake Bluff, IL 60044
Open Monday to Saturday evenings