Waterleaf a hidden gem that’s worth seeking out
By Thomas Witom January 4, 2012 4:06PM
The duck foie gras boasts honey and raspberry vinegar and is served with a tiny mache salad and honey-roasted apple slices on a brioche toast. | Richard A. Chapman ~ Sun-Times
★ ★ ★
425 Fawell Blvd., Glen Ellyn
Hours: Dinner: Monday, Thursday, Friday, 5-9 p.m.; Saturday, 5-9 p.m.; Sunday, 4:30-8:30 p.m. Lunch: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Sunday brunch: 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Prices: Appetizers, $8-$15; entrees, $18-$34; desserts, $6-$8. Sunday brunch, $32.50 adults, $16.25 children.
Try: Duck foie gras, seared scallops salad, snapper with smoked eggplant puree and filet mignon. The floating island dessert is a winner.
Tips: Reservations accepted. Seasonal patio. Park close to the Culinary & Hospitality Center on the northeast corner of the College of DuPage campus. Waterleaf is in the building that houses the six-room Inn at Water’s Edge.
In a bite: Waterleaf Restaurant has set the bar high and delivers high quality fare creatively prepared. The service is top-notch and the price-value equation is in balance.
KEY: ★★★★ Extraordinary; ★★★ Excellent;
★★ Very Good; ★ Good;
Zero stars: Poor
A shakedown period is inevitable with new restaurants, and diners usually must make allowances as the kitchen tweaks its menu and management smooths out the rough spots in service.
But that’s not part of the drill at the well-tuned Waterleaf Restaurant, a classy newcomer in Glen Ellyn. The 150-seat restaurant, housed in the new Culinary and Hospitality Center of the College of DuPage, has enjoyed smooth sailing since its October 2011 debut.
If there’s an issue, it’s finding this off-the-beaten-path establishment on the northeast corner of the campus, kitty-corner from the McAninch Arts Center. But it won’t be long before this culinary treasure catches the eye of serious food lovers.
Heading the professionally staffed kitchen is Executive Chef Jean-Louis Clerc, who brings with him more than 16 years’ experience in the United States, Europe and the Caribbean. His creative contemporary menu reveals French and Italian influences.
Dinner entrees range in price from $18 to $34, and there’s an impressive three-course prix fixe pre-theater dinner offered from 5-6 p.m. for $29. There’s full bar service, including a deep wine cellar stocked with more than 160 domestic and international vintages: $8-$13 by the glass and starting at $32 by the bottle with most in the $50-$80 range. Let the house manager be your guide.
Three varieties of rolls — French, nine grain and ciabatta — came to the table oven-warm during a recent dinner, as did an amuse-bouche: a tasty nibble that paired pineapple chutney with duck meat. Between courses came a mandarin sorbet palate cleanser.
The duck foie gras appetizer was a luxurious treat, prepared with honey and raspberry vinegar and served with a tiny mache salad and honey-roasted apple slices on a brioche toast. I also can recommend the seared scallops salad encountered on an earlier visit. Three delicious diver scallops came with horseradish cream and lemon vinaigrette and were accompanied by mixed baby greens, asparagus tips and julienned red and yellow beets.
Waterleaf performs admirably with fish and meat. Snapper was perfectly cooked with not a bone in sight; the dish was complemented by a smoked eggplant puree. A tender steak, an 8-ounce filet mignon, was teamed with glazed artichokes and haricots vert in a peppery butter sauce and Yukon Gold mashed potatoes.
Starting in December a few seasonal items join the lineup, including roasted pumpkin soup; a duck terrine; pan-seared sea bream with caramelized celery root fennel Jasmine rice pilaf and tomato and saffron sauce; and pork tenderloin medallions with Moroccan couscous and sweet curry sauce.
Among the dessert offerings, Waterleaf does a fine interpretation of a seldom-seen classic. Floating Island, served in a tall pedestal glass one could mistake for a fish bowl, consists of soft meringue topped with caramel sauce and swimming in a sea of fresh vanilla creme anglaise. Also noteworthy is the bourbon raisin bread pudding with a dollop of white chocolate ice cream.
Waterleaf’s ambience is plush. The main dining room has an understated decor and dramatic floor-to-ceiling windows. Its walls display a collection of black-and-white lithographs by renowned American artist Richard Serra.
The regular Waterleaf dinner, lunch and brunch menus are available every Monday and Thursday through Sunday. However, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays students in the College of DuPage Culinary Program take over the Waterleaf space and provide their own brand of cooking and dinner service.
Thomas Witom is a local free-lance writer.