A lot has been said about the warm-and-fuzzy vibe—or hygge, to be more on trend—of Elske, the recently opened modern American restaurant in the West Loop. Its owners, husband-and-wife chefs David and Anna Posey, met while working at Blackbird, he on the savory side, she on the sweet. Then there’s its name, which means love in Danish. “My mother’s Danish, my parents met in Denmark and I proposed to Anna in Denmark,” says David.
If that doesn’t move you, perhaps the charming Scandinavian-inspired design of the 55-seat restaurant will. The outdoor courtyard through which you enter, with its roaring fireplace and inviting benches—come warmer weather, it’ll include tables along with an edible garden transforming it into a lush lounge—offers a preview of what you’ll find inside.
On initial glance, the space looks bare, from the pared-down seven-seat bar to the simply adorned wooden tables and chairs. But look closer and you’ll notice the beautiful U-shaped chandeliers in the entryway and the clever small round tables attached to the row of seats in the bar area, a perfect perch for one of General Manager/Beverage Director Kyle Davidson’s interesting cocktails. (We’re partial to the herbaceous Stirred made with scotch, chamomile-infused vermouth and Genepy des Alpes liqueur.) Head to the restrooms and you’ll find wallpaper decorated with Anna’s adorable illustrations of foliage and herbs. “There are little touches here and there that make Elske very much David and me,” says Anna.
Perhaps the best way, though, to experience the couple’s synergy is on the always-evolving plates coming out of the open kitchen, which features a large custom-built wood-burning hearth from which many of your dinner’s ingredients will have emerged. But be warned: Choosing between Elske’s eight-course tasting menu and the 10 a la carte items isn’t easy, as there’s no crossover between the two. The upside? Whichever one you opt for, you won’t be disappointed.
Even if you’re not a tasting-menu fan, try the one here. It’s reasonably priced, well paced and won’t leave you feeling overly full (or not full enough). It’s delicious too, with a harmonious flow from dish to dish that makes it easy to get swept along. There’s a playfulness about many of the plates, including the first course of tea made from lightly smoked vegetables and fruit. Its depth of flavor—courtesy of the vegetables spending three days drying out on the top shelves of that hearth—is surprising in all the right ways.
The slender slice of duck liver tart with its AstroTurf-green top layer (dried parsley powder) combines the offal’s earthy flavor with a comforting creamy texture and a bit of a kick from salted ramps. I found myself taking smaller and smaller bites to make it last longer. Once finished, I found solace in the crispy cube of fried sunchokes topped with a caramelized onion aioli and black truffle shavings.