College of DuPage's student-run restaurant a charmer
If, like me, it's been more than a half a decade since you've visited College of DuPage, you'll be amazed by the modern, sprawling campus with new, shiny buildings each dedicated to a different school.
The polished, carpeted and white tablecloth-adorned Waterleaf restaurant is an extension of the building created specially for the college's Culinary and Hospitality Center — a school previously housed in, from what I understand, the basement.
425 Fawell Boulevard, Glen Ellyn (at College of DuPage)
(630) 942-6881, cod.edu/w/waterleaf
Cuisine: French- and Italian-inspired
Setting: Modern, upscale decor with original art and white tablecloths
Entrees: $18 to $39
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sunday and Wednesday to Friday; 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday
The new building is not only a modern, gleaming home to the elegant Waterleaf, it features a cafe and even a six-room hotel, Inn at Water's Edge that delivers room service from the restaurant.
To fulfill the hospitality management aspect of the program, the culinary students run things, both the front of house and in the kitchen Monday to Wednesday. They prep and cook the dishes, serve and clear the food and and manage the 120-seat restaurant.
The other days of the week French-born chef Jean-Louis Clerc takes over and Waterleaf becomes a French- and Italian-inspired concept with plenty of American adaptations (sheer size, to name one) that lend the place a more down-to-earth demeanor.
The patio boasts an enviable water view to the south, with an enclosing stone wall on the north, and nothing but beautiful landscaping the rest of the way. The only setback to enjoying the patio after sunset was the lack of proper lighting that made the food a tad hard to discern.
The single-page, seafood-leaning menu of preludes, soups, salads and entrees mixes heavier, more decadent fare (duck foie gras, pate, agave-glazed pork belly) with lighter options (tuna tartare, scallop and tea-smoked duck salad, herb crusted halibut) for a result that is crowd-pleasing but not banal.
An amuse of a tiny lobster roll is a flirty overture that we followed up with a trio of vegetable brulees — three small jars each devoted to a separate vegetable — broccoli, leek and roasted red pepper — and each covered with, respectively, a dollop of lemon cream, smoked salmon cream and black garlic cream. Without any sort of accompaniment to offset this festival of creaminess, however, the dish felt slightly lacking.
But a risotto du jour, served just in time with the elegant bread service, is a true highlight. Included as a starter, it is a heavenly, creamy creation with chanterelles, punctuated by crisp asparagus and roasted red peppers that brought great textural balance.
Perhaps in truest French fashion was the duck and scallop entree salad. Almost painfully minimalist in presentation it featured a single seared scallop holding court amid curled baby frisee and a cabbage confit, decorated with a three thin slices of a vastly smoky duck breast.
The seared scallop made another appearance — this time crowning the Italian-inspired ravioli: sizable pasta pillows under baby asparagus and juicy bites of chopped rock shrimp enveloped in a light Duglere sauce.
Most indulgent was the agave-glazed pork belly. Not reticent in size or flavor, the sturdy block of meat, dissected by the requisite layer of delectable fat, lay theatrically on a thick, sweet corn pancake that did a yoman's job of absorbing the juiciness.
Among dessert offerings like tarts, cremes brulee and sorbets, a "Floating Island" of a circular, raw meringue rising above an ocean of mango creme anglaise caramel sauce was truly dramatic, made even more so by a zigzagging almond wafer stabbing the soft middle.
A complimentary handful of chocolates and fruit sweets sweetened the deal further, leaving us to think that College of Du Page may now indeed be the "College of Dreams" — a formerly ironic tag that has lost its irony.
• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.
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