Alinea was out of reach and was aiming for a few of the small and truly innovative places in town that were one step above underground supper clubs. The places that I was aiming for were Schwa, Goosefoot, El Ideas, and Elizabeth. Since I made that list, 42 Grams has opened and fits into the same "genre" and Elizabeth is the first of these that I managed to get a reservation for (and dine at). Elizabeth is located in a small storefront in Lincoln Square. There is a small sign on the door, but even with that, I wasn't sure I was going into the right place. After I walked into the entryway and through the curtain hanging in front of the door, I saw that I was in the right place. The space is very small with seating for 24 and the kitchen is in the dining room. So, if you were facing in the right direction, you could see the chefs assembling the dishes. There were 6 tables for two, and 3 tables seating four. The tables and chairs were all mismatched, but the furniture was predominantly wood. The floor was cement painted brown to match the wood and there were many owl figures throughout the room. There was one shelf in the dining room that held many owls and the restaurant's Michelin Star. There is no menu published online for Elizabeth. Going in, I knew that the menu had a significant foraged element to it so I expected to see quite a bit of plant life, but other than that, I was going in more or less blind which I really didn't mind.
Spring Greens and Sweet Breads with Mashed Potatoes. It was a very nice looking dish with the sweet breads placed on the mashed potatoes with a flower petals and leaves next to them and the sauteed greens next to the potatoes. The imagery of the placement invoked flowers although, it was very definitely a savory dish and had little floral flavor. The sweet breads were tender and flavorful, the potatoes were rich and buttery, and the greens were buttery and crisp with a slightly bitter finish.
From the sweetbreads, we proceeded to what was my favorite dish, Duck Stew with Homemade Sourdough. The stew consisted of Baby Turnips and Carrots, Onions, Duck Sausage, and Duck Confit that was presented in a hollowed out Sourdough Bread Bowl. This was savory, rich, and very definitely comfort food. There wasn't a lot of stew broth, but there was enough to moisten the bread which made it easier to eat. The turnips and carrots were small but flavorful, the sausage was tender, and the duck confit was excellent as it always is. This dish was very good and was a lot of fun to eat.
We finished our savory courses with Spring Lamb Belly and Golden Beets served with a berry jam and a sour cream on the side. I was actually a little leery of this because I had had lamb belly elsewhere and the flavor was stronger than I really liked. I shouldn't have worried because, like everything else, it was prepared perfectly. There was a definite lamb flavor to the belly, but it wasn't exceptionally strong. Texturally, it was similar to pork belly that hasn't been cured to bacon. The golden beets were light, sweet, and crisp and tied the belly to the sour cream. The jam reminded me of huckleberry and had a sweet, fruity flavor with a tart finish that went well with the lamb belly.
Our next course was essentially another intermezzo between our savory and sweet courses and again made reference to Chef Iliana's scientific background. We were brought out a barkless tree branch that had five holes drilled in it to mount test tubes. All of the test tubes had liquid in them and they were interspersed between green sprouts and pink flowers. The liquid in which the pink flowers was floating was Kombucha, a fermented tea, and it was what we were to drink. We were also given white and black straws to drink it with but I actually forgot about the straw initially and poured it into my mouth. I did use the straw afterward to recover the flower from the test tube. The drink was sweet, slightly effervescent, and had a very slight tea flavor.
The first of our desserts looked like breakfast. I really don't remember most of what it consisted of, but I do know that it wasn't what it looked like. The dish was called Froot Loops and that was, in a matter of speaking, what was in the bowl. The cereal rings were not colored like Froot Loops, but they did taste good especially with the Cashew Milk that they were served with. They were sweet and crunchy with a slightly tart finish. With the froot loops was served a light and crispy biscuit, some whipped butter, and an egg that wasn't an egg. Texturally, the egg was like a hard fried egg with a hard yolk, but it was perfect. There were no fry marks or imperfections. It did taste good even if it wasn't an egg.
The next dessert was much more identifiable and I actually liked it better than breakfast. It consisted of Juniper, Sunchokes, and Rhubarb. The rhubarb was obvious, being thinly sliced and placed on top, the juniper was presented in a cake, and the sunchoke was formed like a semisoft cheese. The dish was sweet, sour, and bitter with a lot of varied textures and a cream served on the side. It was very good and a joy to eat.
For our final official course, we were presented with a plate of cookies. They were Chocolate and Almond Cookies that were rounded on top and looked like mushroom tops which was significant because they were presented on a plate with mushrooms painted on it. The cookies were sweet and very chocolaty with an almond finish. They had a crisp exterior with a moist interior and were very good.
I called the last course the last official course because after we had paid our bill, we were presented with menus and another cookie. This cookie was wrapped for the possibility of taking it with you, but after everything else was so good, this cookie didn't make it out the door. It was a Peanut Butter and Jam Cookie and like everything else. it was great.
During my dinner here, I noticed several themes that were repeated several times. These were owls, scientific equipment, and mushrooms. There was also the over-arching theme of nature being everywhere, but that was kind of obvious. It was very cool to see how any of these themes would be presented from course to course. I really enjoyed my dinner here and would recommend it to anyone who would like to explore Chicago's high end dining scene. It's amazingly creative, and with one of the most affordable prices for restaurants of this caliber, is a good gateway.