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Gathered Dinners At Elizabeth Restaurant Feature The Bounty Of Forest And Field

By Melissa McEwen in Food on Jul 8, 2014 8:30PM

Elizabeth Restaurant (4835 N. Western Ave.) started with Chef Iliana Regan’s intricate underground dinners at her apartment. Her new Gathered series of dinners aims to emulate that supper club environment as well as serve as a testing ground for dishes made with 100 percent local ingredients in a smaller more intimate group dinner setting.

Now that Elizabeth has been open for almost two years and earned a Michelin star, Regan says people are more willing to try unorthodox ingredients. “When I had moss on the menu before our Michelin star, people would look at it funny,” she said. “After the Michelin star, people would just pop it in their mouths.”

Indeed the Gathered menu features local ingredients that most people might not even know you can eat. “With this menu,” Regan said, “I can ask things like ‘will people eat fried maple leaves?’” For me at least, the answer was yes when I attended the second Gathered dinner in early June. They were deliciously crispy with a slight sweetness. Another unusual dish was a salad with a whey ice cream scoop that had tiny sprigs of yarrow—a bitter herb that tasted of the verdant meadows.

The bounty comes from Iliana’s favorite forests as well as her father’s garden in Indiana. “I now have a kitchen that can run well without me. With the kitchen running smoothly, I have more time to go into the woods and garden,” Regan said.

Some of the Gathered dishes are already on the main menu, like the transcendent pasta infused with stinging nettles (don’t worry, it doesn’t sting when it’s cooked) filled with creamy ricotta from Kilgus Farm and pokeweed, and topped with violet leaves and smoked trout roe from Blis. On top was a veil made from gelatin-rich pheasant broth. The menu really expresses the ecology of the region and though it might not contain the kind of imported flashy luxury morsels diners typically expect on a tasting menu, in many ways the plants and animals featured are far more unique and precious.

“We aren’t 100 percent local yet on the main menu,” Regan said. “We are working to make the menu 90 percent rather than 60 percent and 70 percent. We want to be a restaurant focused on local ingredients. We’re also changing the menu more freely, not sticking to one menu - in the summer follow when things like tomatoes are precisely in season. We have some hardcore customers who come in multiple times per season and we’ll be able to give them something different each time.”

The remaining dates for the Gathered series are Tuesday, July 15 and Tuesday, July 29. Tickets are $150 and beverage pairings are an additional $100, and they can be purchased at their website or by calling 773-681-0651.