The new West Loop spot from husband and wife David and Anna Posey (he of Blackbird, she of the Publican) has a name that comes from the Danish word for “love”—a nod to David’s heritage and the fact that the couple got engaged in Copenhagen. The food, however, is not Danish; the menu was made with simple fare and seasonal ingredients in mind. You can choose from a prix fixe menu (eight courses) or à la carte options; on our visit it seemed that groups were taking the latter route while couples opted for the tasting menu. Elske is a perfect intro to fine dining, with reliable and approachable dishes that will school diners new to coursed meals on what to expect—with complicated ingredients that are still complex in flavor, but without overly meticulous plating.
We were hooked from the first dish. Two bowls—one filled with smoked fruits and vegetables like radishes topped with dill, the other an herbal tea of the same fruits and vegetables—contrast the bright crunch of the plants with the warm beverage, their flavors blending seamlessly together. The initial combinations (with options for wine or non-alcoholic beverages) were a sparkling Spanish white from the Canary Islands and a white grape juice carbonated with yeast and star anise. My date and I shared both, and after the first sip of the “juice pairing,” as our servers called it, we were taken aback. It’s bubbly and dry—it could have passed as wine. I’d never thought about how closely dry drinks could mimic their boozy counterparts.
Hits come dish after dish, and the juice pairings continue to surprise and delight. They were easily the most talked about part of our meal, even a seemingly unassuming fresh apple juice with whey and juniper next to a stunner—a tender umami duck liver tart with buckwheat pie shell. The only thing Elske’s tasting menu lacks is the over-the-top “wow factor” you’d grow accustomed to from visiting the very best of Chicago’s top fine dining establishments.
Both dates and smaller groups will find Elske’s atmosphere charming, from the whimsical side entrance with a fireplace to the warm glow of the lights and the tall ceilings. Sit facing inward and you’ll see the bustle from the open kitchen, with chefs manning their stations before bringing your order directly to you. Your server will bring you drinks and check on you consistently, but having dishes come directly from the kitchen gives the place a certain approachability. Asking about ingredients is seamless and simple, as the chefs are happy to tell you exactly how each dish is made.
Elske is amiable, which makes it the perfect contender for a fine dining novice’s first tasting meal. The dishes are inventive and full of flavor while remaining approachable (both confit sea bass and wagyu flatiron are presented in ways that don’t veer too far from what you’d expect to see on a fine dining menu). The space is cozier than most fine dining establishments, with closer tables and a loud atmosphere—you won’t see many people whispering or talking in hushed tones over their meals; ardent, open conversation is welcome here. Fine dining vets will also enjoy this spot—the dishes are interesting and the price range is approachable for those craving a tasting menu that won’t break the bank (the prix fixe is $80 per person, plus the optional $45 wine pairing and $25 non-alcoholic pairing). The name encapsulates Elske as a restaurant: love, completely delightful and enchanting.
Atmosphere: The warm and cozy space is rather small so a reservation is recommended. The space feels casual, but most of the other diners were dressed smartly on our visit.
What to eat: Highlights of the tasting menu include the tea and vegetables, duck liver tart and confit bass.
What to drink: If you go for the pairings, tack on the non-alcoholic even if you want to drink—it’s more interesting than you’d assume. The wine option is also lovely, but you can make selections by the glass as well.
Where to sit: Four-tops line the windows, while larger groups are seated at a row of moveable two-tops down the center of the restaurant. To get a good view of the kitchen, you’ll want a table in the center of the restaurant.