Sometimes a dinner out is just that -- a meal grabbed away from home for the sake of not dirtying dishes.
And sometimes a dinner out becomes more than that. Sometimes you hit on a place where the exceptional cuisine, attentive service, vibrant atmosphere and inventive cocktails intersect to create an experience like no other. That place is e+o Food and Drink.
e+o Food and Drink125 Randhurst Village Drive, Mount Prospect
(847) 398-3636, eofoodanddrink.com
Cuisine: Wholesome, globally infused, seasonally driven
Setting: Dark wood + soft colors + funky lights = urban vibe
Entrees: $12 to $29
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday
E+o, or Earth + Ocean, is the child of chef Rodelio Aglibot, from the acclaimed Sunda in Chicago (Lady Gaga was just spotted there!) and partners Aeron Lancero and Paul Lee. The restaurant opened in Mount Prospect's Randhurst Village earlier this year.
Aglibot, who grew up in Hawaii, is commonly referred to as "the Food Buddha" not only for his respect for ingredients and balanced approached to crafting recipes, but also for his roundish belly and infectious smile. Don't be surprised if you spot him out of the kitchen talking with diners and keeping an eye on service.
Ingredients pulled from the earth and the ocean share top billing on the menu that is both eclectic (linguine in sweet corn cream) and accessible (rib-eye with braised mushrooms).
Should you want to nibble with friends over cocktails -- the perky Strawberry Sling, perhaps (don't be intimidated by the chipotle vodka, it's really a lovely drink) -- try the platter of homemade sausages (the chorizo stands out), an oven-fired pizza with caramelized onions or the crispy Brussels sprout and kale salad, dressed table side no less with sweet, chile-kissed vinaigrette. Items from the snacks, small plates, salads and oven portions of the menu can work as shareable appetizers or light meals.
Or, snag one of the few seats at the sushi bar and try the well-crafted "it's like that" roll, chef Aglibot's take on the traditional spicy tuna roll served with sesame sauce and frizzled onion.
So while it's not a Sunda clone, some of chef Aglibot's menu favorites made the commute to the suburbs and have been warmly received in their new home. Case in point, the sea bass that I ordered on a recent Friday night.
Aglibot takes particular pride in this dish, telling how he first conceptualized it while in culinary school in San Francisco 20 years ago. The fish mingles with a blend of Malay spices and is served atop a bed of curried cauliflower and potato purée. The lightly smokey spices work well with the mild, well-cooked fish, creating a dish that just might make a seafood lover out of the naysayers in the audience. Roasted tomatoes bring a pop of color to the plate.
The pork shank entree borrows from Aglibot's Filipino heritage. Crispy pasta is a traditional dish, and here he serves the fried and ultra tender meat with a garlicky chicken pate sauce. The bone practically fell out of the meat and there was not a drop of the rich sauce left on my husband's plate.
The menu holds other tempting fare such as roasted, Moroccan-spiced chicken with tabbouleh, pork loin with creamed corn grits and gnocchi with a bechamel and pesto.
Satisfaction achieved, we eyed the dessert menu only to be surprised by the pork belly brought to us -- complements of the chef -- by the manager apologizing that the shank portion was smaller than they'd like it to be.
Well, who were we to turn down the pleasantly unctuous, adobo-sauced dish (it caught my eye the moment I spied it on the menu). So we said thank you, repeated that the pasta was quite ample and proceeded to nearly lick the plate clean.
And then we moved onto dessert.
The dessert selection is small compared to the rest of the menu, but no less impressive. The kitchen puts forth a red velvet version of gooey lava cake that despite its cocoa richness we packed into our full bellies.
On a separate visit a gaggle of media cohorts I was among went nuts for glazed carrot-pineapple cake bites that will ruin you for bake sale cake balls from here on out.
The beverage program focuses on craft beers, specialty cocktails and a nice selection of wine by the glass ranging from $7 to $14. My only quibble with service is that our server wasn't knowledgeable about the wine list. I didn't expect her to be a sommelier, but I hoped that she'd at least be able to suggest a pairing to our entrees.
E+o has been attracting a steady crowd to its sleek, yet casually warm space since opening (the night we dined the room was filled up quickly after 7) and already they're seeing repeat customers, especially those dinner patrons coming back for lunch and brunch. The bar makes a nice spot to grab a pre- or post-movie bite (the restaurant is steps away from a theater) and try more of the specialty cocktails. Private space also is available.
Once the weather warms a patio will nearly double the seating, so you'll be able to mix a little fresh air with your earth and ocean. And that can only add up to an unparalleled dining experience.
• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. Additional information for this review was gathered during a media dinner after the original visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.