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posted: 5/20/2014 5:30 AM

Chef Nadia Tilkian makes Glen Ellyn's Waterleaf shimmer

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  • Halibut with chorizo sauce, corn chowder and braised baby leeks is a standout on Waterleaf's menu.

       Halibut with chorizo sauce, corn chowder and braised baby leeks is a standout on Waterleaf's menu.
    Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

  • Waterleaf's unique global menu includes braised rabbit gnocchi, a dish not to be missed.

       Waterleaf's unique global menu includes braised rabbit gnocchi, a dish not to be missed.
    Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

  • Celebrated chef Nadia Tilkian oversees the kitchen at Waterleaf, an upscale restaurant located on the campus of College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn.

       Celebrated chef Nadia Tilkian oversees the kitchen at Waterleaf, an upscale restaurant located on the campus of College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn.
    Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

  • The dining room at Waterleaf overlooks a pond on the campus of College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn.

       The dining room at Waterleaf overlooks a pond on the campus of College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn.
    Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

  • Waterleaf in Glen Ellyn has been recognized for its outstanding wine list by Wine Spectator magazine.

       Waterleaf in Glen Ellyn has been recognized for its outstanding wine list by Wine Spectator magazine.
    Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

  • Waterleaf at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn is open Wednesday through Sunday.

       Waterleaf at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn is open Wednesday through Sunday.
    Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

 
By Jennifer Olvera
Daily Herald Correspondent

Tucked within the massive College of DuPage campus in the gleaming Culinary & Hospitality Center, steps from the student kitchen, is an upscale, approachable gem of a restaurant: Waterleaf. Adding to its appeal -- and cred -- Nadia Tilkian of erstwhile Maijean Bistro is in the kitchen, overseeing what is, from start to finish, sublime fare.

The prairie-style setting is sedate and sophisticated, though not fussy. And while the restaurant does host student-run dinners on Mondays and Tuesdays, the spot proves an impressive, professionally run find, one with a celebrated wine list to match.

We began with the braised rabbit gnocchi, which sits in jus with mushrooms and shards of grana padano cheese; on a chilly spring night, it managed to be both light and rib-sticking at once. The pitch-perfect chicken liver mousse with toast points and sweet-savory cherry-balsamic compote was a solid choice, too.

Other starters include cold, poached shrimp with tomatoes, radishes, carrots and cilantro in chile-lime broth; mussels steeped in white wine; and a cheese platter with kumquat chutney and Marcona almonds.

On the soup front, there's French onion as well as a seasonal selection. Salads continue the restaurant's fresh, farm-to-table theme, with options that include a fava bean and English pea mélange with hazelnuts and chervil vinaigrette.

Tilkian has a way with seafood, so don't pass it by, especially if the lovely halibut -- teamed with nubs of chorizo in sweet corn chowder -- is on offer. Of course, the fig-basil-stuffed duck breast with springlike pea purée is every bit as delicious, its sweetness tempered by tangy balsamic gastrique. Alternately, there's seafood stew with a garlicky, Pernod-spiked broth; filet finished with bone marrow butter and peppercorn sauce alongside a potato tart; and spice-rubbed pork tenderloin, coupled with white bean chili, chicharrónes and maple-agave syrup.

Desserts are beauties so save some room. We were pleased with both the rich, walnut-studded chocolate cake with chocolate sauce and the playful take on PB&J, peanut butter mousse offset by grape gelée with a chocolate brownie.

Lunch is an equally civilized affair, with starters like ratatouille with a poached egg and toast points, a fattoush salad with sumac vinaigrette and a classic croque madame sandwich, served alongside frites. Also consider brunch, which offers up the likes of chicken leg confit with biscuits and chicken sausage gravy.

The Wine Spectator-awarded, global-leaning wine list is long on appeal, with a decent number of midpriced finds.

Throughout our meal service was appropriately polished and informed, a fact that only cemented the fact that Waterleaf is a destination-worthy dining experience, one that easily debunks misconceptions about the caliber of "suburban dining."

Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.

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