There’s something revolutionary happening in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago: really good food.
Sure, it’s to be found in a brand-spanking new shopping “village” at the corner of Rand and Elmhurst Roads in Mount Prospect, but make no mistake: Earth + Ocean, also known as e+o, is worth a visit.
Even if the food wasn’t tasty and inventive, which it decidedly is, I’d come back for the décor alone. This is a beautifully done interior, from the “living wall” in the front seating area to the extra-groovy, space-age light fixtures, the sea-inspired blue glow of the large booths inset into the wall, and the floor-to-ceiling windows. I was especially enamored of the extended trestle tables divided into separate groupings of 2, 4, or 6 by moving the long, low planters stuffed with succulents and tropical flowers. They certainly understand how to set the mood.
And who are “they,” exactly? Paul Lee, a veteran of many upscale Chinese restaurants, and Aeron Lancero, who’s opened hotels and restaurants throughout Asia, have paired with Chef Rodelio Aglibot (aka “The Food Buddha”), the opening chef for both L.A.’s trendy Koi Restaurant and Chicago’s Sunda. This is a group of industry professionals, and they’ve hit the ground running here with their “lifestyle-inspired” restaurant.
Have a Beverage
They’re paying as much attention to the beverage program as they are the food. Try the Ginger Breeze ($10), a bracing muddle of Bombay Sapphire and mint with fresh ruby red grapefruit juice and ginger liqueur, or perhaps the Mule ($10), which they’ve switched up with Maker’s Mark bourbon, Barrit’s ginger beer, St. Germaine and a healthy squeeze of fresh lime juice. We were also pleasantly surprised by the not-too-sweet Lychee Debonair ($9), a refreshing blend of lychee, Bacardi coconut rum, triple sec, lime juice and tonic.
The menu is interesting and very deep, with categories ranging from snacks and small plates to sushi, raw bar, Asian-inspired grill, pizza and pasta. Clearly the chef is globally inspired, with a real commitment to organic and handcrafted products. But with such a wide-ranging menu, it’s nearly impossible to execute each dish perfectly. Not surprisingly, a few dishes fell short of the mark.
The creamy Melted Maui Onions ($7) had a pleasant flavor but lacked texture. I would’ve preferred them served with crispy wonton skins or crostini for contrast. The other appetizers more than made up for it, though.
Last year’s ubiquitous Brussels sprout and/or kale dish is given new life here, where the Crispy Brussels Sprouts and Kale ($10) are tossed with minced shrimp, crunchy shallots, red peppers and sweet chili vinaigrette in a Vietnamese-influenced, textural wonder.
Algibot doesn’t simply sear his Sea Scallops ($15)—he smokes them, and pairs them with sunchoke puree, fried capers and pickled tomato. Another stale dish made fresh.
Even a Hamachi “Me Some” signature maki roll ($15) is distinctive, the super fresh-tasting hamachi rolled with avocado, cucumber, lime zest, aioli and crushed wasabi peas for a little kick.
Perhaps our favorite dish of the night was the Roasted Duck and Daikon Hash ($12, pictured top right), tossed with frisee and crispy onions, served with a barely poached egg on top, which of course we immediately broke open and used it as the richest and most perfect dressing. The word “yum” doesn’t do it justice.
We ordered several of the “Signature Dishes,” including the Ginger-Honey Braised Shortrib “Pot Roast” ($22), served atop an Asian rice porridge that sorely lacked for seasoning. The same issue marred the Malay-Style Seabass ($32, pictured right), although the fish was otherwise cooked perfectly and plated with cauliflower-potato puree and roasted tomato. And I hate to say it, but the tasty Jumbo Prawns ($25) with torched Japanese egg sauce far outshone the boring shiitake fried rice beneath. Happily, these are easily correctible situations.
Culinary Twists and Turns
We fared better with the remarkably juicy Kurobata Pork Loin ($18) marinated al pastor, with charred shisito peppers and creamy corn grits; Asia meets the American South on a plate. We also loved their take on Cacio e Pepe, here billed as Linguini with Sweet Corn Cream ($12). The addition of Pecorino cheese and lots of freshly cracked pepper made the connection to the iconic Italian dish.
The food presentation throughout the meal was often stunning—especially on the beautiful artisan ceramic plates—although truthfully, I could’ve done with a few less strewn flower petals.
As for dessert, I’d skip the meh Chocolate Rice Pudding ($7) and aim squarely for the delectable, surprisingly light Carrot-Pineapple Cake ($8), frosted with a dollop of cream cheese “glaze” and gilded with roasted pineapple compote and brandied cherries. Now that’s a fusion dish we can all get behind.
3.5 out of 5 stars (B+)
e + o Food and Drink
125 Randhurst Village Dr./Randhurst Village Mall