“Vamos de tapeo” at El Tapeo in Oak Brook

Fine dining does not belong exclusively to downtown Chicago.  On the contrary, there are some amazing restaurants in the suburbs.  El Tapeo is the newest restaurant to open in Oak Brook and should be on your “must try” list soon.  The restaurant is on the 9th floor of Le Méridien Chicago-Oakbrook Center located at 2100 Spring Road in Oak Brook.  El Tapeo’s vibe is sleek, sophisticated, and surprisingly urban.  Unlike similar downtown spots, however, this classy restaurant boasts ample free parking and a more laid-back feeling that will make you comfortable just relaxing and taking your time to enjoy cocktails and/or dinner.

To add to the experience, El Tapeo has just announced the launch of The Sound Factory, a weekly lineup of live entertainment on Friday and Saturday nights from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. The Sound Factory will complement El Tapeo’s high-energy, sleek ambiance.  The event kicked off on Friday, September 5 and continues throughout the month.  September 19 and 20 features Award-winning saxophonist Harlan Jefferson, who has gained national recognition for his unique style and engaging stage presence.  September 26 and 27 offers popular Las Vegas Jazz trio Ghalib Ghallab will enthrall diners with their unique, jazz-rooted blend of musical influences and “feel good” music.  Check out the website for a list of upcoming performances.

The name, El Tapeo, derives from the Spanish term “Vamos de tapeo”, which translates as “Let’s go for tapas.”  The 58-seat restaurant features authentic Spanish cuisine created by culinary artist and Chicago native Chef Franco Diaz (St. Regis Bal Harbour Florida, St. Regis Aspen Colorado, St. Regis Princeville Kauai, The Drake Hotel, Peninsula Hotel Chicago). Located on the 9th floor of the hotel, El Tapeo provides lovely views of Chicago with floor-to-ceiling, wrap around windows.  If you are lucky enough to arrive just before sunset, the sun moves slowly down just behind the bar and the light beams through the brightly colored bottles offering a dazzling display. 

I was recently invited to sample a number of items from Chef Diaz’s inventive menu.  One of his passions is to respect the quality of ingredients, understanding and using the best products available in his dishes.  The menu provides a taste of the uncommon as he infuses the exploration of new cultures into his art.  “My hope is to transform the traditional dining experience,” says Chef Diaz, “I strive to evoke the guest’s senses with my contemporary cuisine.”

During my visit I sampled several signature items and all of them were superb.  Treat yourself and start out with the superior Embutidos y Quesos (Sausage & Cheese).  They have a rotating selection of Spanish cheeses, but the stars of this portion of the menu are the meats.  All of them are superb, but if you are treating yourself then you might want to splurge on the decadent Pata Negra Jamón (acorn-fed, black-footed Ibérico pig). 

Most tapas restaurants have some version of bacon-wrapped dates, but Chef Diaz has elevated this ‘traditional’ offering.  His Dátiles are fried Medjool dates stuffed with almonds and served with a tasty Romesco sauce.  Unlike those at other restaurants I have tried, these were tremendously plump, juicy, and flavorful and the bacon was cooked perfectly without being overdone.  Other standout appetizers were the Croquetas de Marisco (crispy shellfish fritters and piquillo aioli) and the Ensalada Rusa (deviled egg stuffed with olive oil poached tuna salad, potato, peas, and garlic aioli).

On the Mariscos y Carnes (seafood and meat) menu I suggest the Vieiras (seared scallops, cauliflower puree and golden raisin emulsion).  Chef Diaz knows precisely how to cook and season scallops and the combination of the cauliflower and raisin emulsion was genius.  My other favorite entrée was the Cordero (grilled adobo baby lamb loin chops and sherry onions).  This was the best lamb preparation I have had in a very long time.  If you’re in the mood for meat instead of seafood, this is the one to try.

Don’t forget dessert!  The most intriguing item and the one that I would recommend first is the Manchego Cheesecake.  This is a European style cheesecake preparation, deconstructed with graham, raspberry, and mint.  The combinations are amazing, but the use of Manchego cheese is what makes this special.  The extra sharp bite of the sheep’s milk cheese is unique and savory.  I am not normally a dessert eater, but this changed my mind.    

El Tapeo Restaurant is located at Le Méridien Chicago–Oakbrook Center, 2100 Spring Road · Oak Brook, Illinois. Hours for the restaurant are 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. The bar is open from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Saturday. The lounge will feature a diverse lineup of talented artists performing from 6 p.m.-10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.  A reduced food menu will be available beginning at 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

For more information, call (630) 828-2044 or visit the restaurant’s website.


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