By Jenny Berg Posted June 19, 2008, 1:23 PM EDT
After an acclaimed stint at Avenues at the Peninsula Hotel, chef Graham Elliot Bowles struck out on his own in early June with the opening of Graham Elliot. The River North restaurant is surrounded by art galleries, furniture shops, and antique stores.
The menu is filled with fresh, seasonal ingredients, but dishes come with whimsical twists that keep them from feeling too formal. Divided into categories of cold, hot, sea, land, and sweet, menu items include spicy buffalo chicken served with celery slaw, blue cheese, and Budweiser bubbles; there's also a Caesar salad with Parmesan-cream-cheese-filled brioche Twinkie croutons, and Spice Krispie Treats (made with marinated strawberries and rhubarb essence) for dessert. Befitting a place that features beer bubbles on the menu, tables are kept linen-free, and servers' uniforms consist of brown tees, Levi's 501 jeans, and Chuck Taylors.
In the front of the restaurant, a copper-topped bar is surrounded by three communal tables. Alongside a window overlooking the galleries of Huron Street, tables made of dark Italian wood are surrounded by brown leather stools, while a higher, copper-topped table seats 10 and can be booked for group dinners.
In the middle of the restaurant, a semiprivate space filled with Italian leather banquettes seats 60. Beyond that, parties of eight can also try the special five-course tasting menu at the elevated chef's table in the corner of the dining room.
Attached to the semiprivate room, a curtained-off wine salon provides seating for 25, and private groups in the salon can elect to dine off three- or five-course tasting menus. A built-in wine wall—the room's centerpiece—holds 700 bottles.
The lighting at Graham Elliot changes seasonally. For the restaurant's summertime opening, golden-yellow light illuminated the dining room; come winter, owners plan to change to a blue-hued scheme. Other seasonally inspired decor includes fruit vignettes that are achieved by placing seasonal fruit in cases backed with slanting mirrors; the reflection holds a cascading image of the fruit.
Available for full buyouts, Graham Elliot can seat 140.