Chicago is a city noted for many things and among those are some of the best restaurants in the world. Foodies have an endless array of opportunities in the city, but what many people fail to remember is that the suburbs of Chicago also contain some spectacular dining options. This weekend I had the pleasure to experience one of the newest restaurants in the Western suburbs. Here is my advice, “Run, do not walk, and make a reservation now for Waterleaf in Glen Ellyn!”
Waterleaf is a new 150-seat restaurant overlooking the lake next to the Macinich Arts Center on the campus of the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, IL. The restaurant is contained in the new 60,000 square foot Culinary & Hospitality Center at the college, the first LEED-certified Culinary & Hospitality center in the country! Tuesdays & Wednesday, the culinary arts program presents special culinary dinners, served in the restaurant.
The rest of the week, however, the restaurant is professionally staffed and open to the general public. The superb cuisine has been crafted by Executive Chef Jean-Louis Clerc. According to the Waterleaf website, “Executive Chef Jean-Louis Clerc specializes in French and international fine-dining cuisine. He has more than 16 years of professional cooking and kitchen management experience in the United States, Europe and the Caribbean. Trained by some of the best chefs in the world, Jean-Louis brings his remarkable talents to College of DuPage for the benefit of Waterleaf patrons.”
Waterleaf is situated on the shores of a lovely lake with a water feature. There is a back patio with a fire pit, a beautiful setting for those days with pleasant weather. The dining room, although not huge, feels spacious due to the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the water and the abundance of natural light. The decor is simple, elegant and understated producing that perfect sense of style without ostentation. As a solo diner I have rarely been treated better. If anything, the service was overly-solicitous largely because the restaurant was not busy. Believe me, that lack of business will change as word gets out about this venue. All of this aside, the best reason to visit is not for the ambiance, but for the superb food.
Their lunch menu, brunch menu and dinner menu are all available on the website. I visited on a Saturday for lunch. There is an ala carte lunch menu which will change monthly, but on my visit they also had a special prix fixe menu priced at a phenomenally reasonable $19. Their wine list is modest, but extremely eclectic and interesting. On the advice of my server I ordered a glass of 2009 Clos de la Coutale, a Malbec/Merlot blend from southwest France. This proved to be a perfect accompaniment to the amazing meal which followed.
As I was waiting for the first course, the chef sent out an amuse bouche of tart fruit drizzled with honey and a crispy salami chip. It was both simple and elegant, which became the trademark for the rest of the meal. All of the food was prepared with great finesse in such a way that all of the individual elements were clear and separate, but managed to blend together perfectly. Nothing was tremendously complex on first bite, but the flavors melded as the meal progressed.
For the starter, I chose the soup of the day which was a beautifully-presented blend with one half celery soup and the other half celery root soup, drizzled with walnut oil and fresh dill. On first taste, I thought it was a bit bland but after a few moments the flavors seemed to blossom and it became a great, subtle starter to the meal. My entree was a pan-seared whitefish served on a bed of jasmine rice pilaf with sides of yellow teardrop tomatoes and broccoli rabe with a lemongrass gastrique. Again, subtle individual flavors but perfectly paired with each other – sweet, savory, bitter and salty all in balanced combination.
Perhaps the most amazing part of the meal, however, was the dessert course. I chose the “floating island” which was billed as “Fluffy Meringue served with a Fresh Vanilla Crème Anglaise and topped with Caramel.” I was totally unprepared for the gigantic portion served in a huge glass. On the advice of both the chef and the server, I paired the dessert with a glass of Warres Porto 20 year old Tawny – a nice complement to the sweet creaminess of the Crème Anglaise. Just when I thought we were done, the chef sent out a final gift – a small plate with a few pettifours including a dark chocolate truffle and a tiny pistachio biscotti. Needless to say, I left the table fully-satisfied. Want to hear one of most stunning parts of the story? Even with wine and port, the entire meal was only $40! That alone makes the commute a worthwhile investment of time and energy.
Waterleaf has varying hours due to the use of the space by the culinary arts students. Check their website for specific hours of operation. Waterleaf is easily-accessible from the city and is located about 25 miles from downtown Chicago near I-88 and I-355. You can follow Waterleaf on Facebook or visit the Waterleaf website. Make a reservation today. Believe me, the trip will be well worth it!
Tommy Hensel – Table For One Please