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Elizabeth -- Outstanding restaurant
After running an underground restaurant out of her Lincoln Square home for two years, forager-cum-chef Iliana Regan went legit with this narrow storefront space, where she invites guests to pay upfront (reservations are sold via Alinea and Next's online ticketing system), sit with strangers (at one of three eight-seat communal tables), and submit to one of three prix fixe, chef-designed menus (Owl, Deer or Diamond), which vary in price, number of courses and specific dishes. That's a lot of unknowns, but so far diners have been buying into the concept. Why? Perhaps it's Regan's thoughtful but never overwrought cooking style, her inventive ingredient combinations, impeccable sourcing that emboldens her to offer raccoon prosciutto, or whimsical touches like playing Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" while dispensing porcelain espresso cups of maitake-mushroom tea. It certainly helps that Regan and company serve these dinners with liberal helpings of charm and fascinating back stories. Here's to the most intriguing restaurant of 2012.
Elizabeth, 4835 N. Western, Chicago; 773-681-0651
— Phil Vettel