Refueled: Wilmette’s Fuel Thrills at Dinner

Always a go-to for brunch on the North Shore, Fuel can now cater to a later crowd.

Owner Tim Lenon has hired a dynamic team of three new chefs—Logan Jackson, Steve Paul and Steve Ross—to share their vision for delicious farm-to-table eats.

Yes, they’ve revamped the breakfast (I’m already dreaming of their Soy Milk Pancakes with Bacon Powder Sugar, chocolate chips and a side of Black Pepper Pineapple Jam … scrumptious!) and lunch menus (Moroccan Chicken Sandwich with chopped dates, charred eggplant yogurt, tomato, cucumber and spinach in a pita? Lobster Club? I am so there). But it’s the dinner that’s got everyone buzzing.

If the weather cooperates, sit out on the patio. Yes, it overlooks the Wilmette Metra parking lot, but it’s still a lovely setting. And though we brought our own wine (corkage is $14 a bottle), Fuel now has a wine and beer license with some interesting options. So what’s better than a glass of cool white Sancerre, good company, and dinner outside? Not much.

We started out with a few appetizers, many of which beg to be shared. The Charcuterie Plate ($11) was a stunner, with assorted cured meats brought in from Salume Beddu in St. Louis, cornichons, house-made flatbread and whole grain mustard. The fennel sausage was especially fantastic.

The Arugula Salad ($6.50) with Lemon Drop Vinaigrette and shaved Grana Padano is light and refreshing, the perfect foil to the fatty (but amazing) charcuterie. A smear of pureed Kalamata olives paints the plate and adds a bit of salt.

Loved the presentation of the Duck Confit Spring Roll ($15), rice paper wrapped around tender duck, crisp carrots, pickled ramps, cilantro, cucumber and rice noodles, accompanied by a house-made kimchee and pickled cucumber. Why am I eating anything else, ever?

I’d also recommend the Trio of Crostinis, because the toppings are so different than the standard bruschetta of chopped tomatoes and basil. How about raisins soaked in Kalamata olive juice, at once sweet and salty? Or a Brown Butter Spread that made me think naughty thoughts? Slather that on the crunchy crostini, garnish with a dusting of smoked pink peppercorns, and dream on.

The East Coast Mussels were already gone by the time we ordered dinner, but we didn’t mind since it meant we could focus on the Thai Bouillabaisse ($25), a special that evening that I hope you’ll soon find on the regular menu. Green curry, lobster broth, shrimp, scallops, mussels and crayfish compete for your attention in a wonderful way.

The only disappointment (meaning I didn’t LOVE it, like I did most everything else) were the Scallops ($19) in a lobster/saffron broth, with small chunks of parsnip, chives, and a garnish of crispy corn. The scallops themselves were cooked perfectly, but the dish left something to be desired … namely more forward flavor.

Mushroom Risotto ($14) was a vegetarian delight, and though it was a tad too al dente, it had great umami flavor from the combination of porcini broth, miso, funky black garlic, wild mushrooms and freshly shelled English peas.

If Mary had a little lamb, it would gladly sacrifice itself for the Braised Lamb Shoulder Ragout ($17), a dish that upended my expectations. The lamb “ragout” itself wasn’t very saucy, but meltingly tender, and formed atop a mesa of Israeli couscous scented with harissa and striped with a puree of piquillo peppers and dotted with Marcona almonds. All I can say is wow.

Coffee, dark roasted and full-bodied, was served in properly large coffee cups and allowed room to breathe (and for copious amounts of cream). Desserts were few in number but mighty in taste.

We were informed that the Nutella Cheesecake ($7) was “deconstructed” with all elements present but more or less separate. It was pleasingly salty. But ah, the Vanilla Pot au Crème ($7) was a thing of beauty, decorated with blueberry compote, a drizzle of 25-year-old aged Balsamic vinegar, and a shard of “ginger glass.” So smooth. Feel free to take a pass on the cupcakes; they were strangely textured and heavy (actually, they were a lunch dessert, but we saw another table order them and one thing led to another).

Having re-Fueled, we headed off into the warm night, fat and decidedly happy. This one’s a winner, and once they get a little better handle on service, watch out!

4 out of 5 stars

Fuel
1222 Washington Court
Wilmette

Lead photo: Duck Confit Spring Roll