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Review Thu Sep 11 2014

¡Vamos de tapeo! Tapas in the Suburbs

dsc_2587.jpgOakbrook Center doesn't exactly conjure up images of glitzy city life or classy fine dining, but El Tapeo (originating from the Spanish term "Vamos de tapeo") recently opened in hotel Le Méridien, and I was eager to eat anywhere but the Cheesecake Factory.

Executed by Chef Franco Diaz (The Drake Hotel, Peninsula Hotel Chicago), the restaurant's menu consists of mostly tapas, sprinkled with a few larger entrees that can also be easily shared. My party and I began with the Selección de Embutidos (selection of shaved ibérico, serrano, chorizo, and fuet), followed by Carne Asada (waygu skirt steak, arugula, manchego and piquillo pepper), and Cordero (grilled adobo lamb loin shops). Our vegetable tapas included patatas bravas and setas (wild mushrooms). We finished with a roasted pineapple empanada and a dense chocolate tart topped with chocolate croquants.

rsz_dsc_2585.jpgDespite its lack of city appeal, the restaurant bangs out Downtown-quality dishes. Though often served in more casual environment, tapas are delicate, refined dishes, so it's very easy for a heavy-handed chef to overcook a protein or not include enough sauce. All my dishes were executed well, especially the perfectly-charred lamb chops--slightly pink, plump with juice, topped with sherry-laced onions that toned down the meat's gaminess. Though my waygu skirt steak was pre-sliced, it was still flavorful and married well with the tangy tomato sauce. The ketchup-coated patatas bravas weren't necessarily my favorite interpretation of the dish, but the delicious enoki mushrooms were sautéed in a generous bath of olive oil, topped with queso de La Sarena, which is pure sheep milk curdled with a coagulant derived from artichoke pistils. My pineapple empanada reminded me of an apple pie, the soft crust splintering into buttery shards, that satisfying aroma of warm caramelized fruit.

dsc_2590.jpgLike any good restaurant, El Tapeo invests in high-quality ingredients because the base of a spectacular dish always begins with great components. For instance--as an olive oil snob, I knew the minute I dipped my crusty bread in that dish with golden oil that this was the real shit. Earthy, light yet viscous, velvety. The execution was held to a similar standard--for the most part, every sauce, garnish, and drizzle made sense. Of course, I'm not sure if Oakbrook suburbanites would appreciate that subtle sophistication of El Tapeo, but eating there is surely one way to find out.

El Tapeo
Le Méridien Chicago-9th Floor
2100 Spring Road Oak Brook, IL
(630) 828-2044

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
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About Drive-Thru

Drive-Thru is the food and drink section of Gapers Block, covering the city's vibrant dining, drinking and cooking scene. More...
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Editor: Robyn Nisi, rn@gapersblock.com
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