Chicago is home to many pricey temples of fine dining (Alinea, Oriole, Grace, et al), but chefs Anna and David Posey wanted to create an alternative to the overly formal, often dauntingly expensive prix fixe experience. “We both like very fancy things, but we like going about them casually,” Mr. Posey said. The result is Elske, which opened in December in the restaurant-rich West Loop, offering a relatively affordable tasting menu ($85) and à la carte options that nimbly blend Midwestern and Nordic sensibilities.
Elske means love in Danish, a nod to both Mr. Posey’s Danish mother and the fact that the couple got engaged in Copenhagen. “Our travels in Denmark have really influenced us,” Mr. Posey said. “We like that clean, simple aesthetic.” The dining room — all crisp lines, minimalist décor and soft lighting — is anchored by a wide open kitchen on one side and a small patio with a working fireplace on the other. Combined with the friendly service, it creates the impression that you’re eating in a supremely tasteful Scandinavian friend’s weekend home.
Both Poseys worked their way up the ladder at Paul Kahan’s beloved restaurants before striking out on their own — David as chef de cuisine at Blackbird (for which he received two consecutive James Beard Award Rising Star nominations), Anna as pastry chef at The Publican. Their dishes at Elske are colorful and cleanly composed, featuring vaguely earthy ingredients (smoked fruits, crispy grains, homemade vinegars), many of which come from nearby farms and the restaurant’s patio-side herb garden.
Although the à la carte menu offers flexibility, the tasting menu is arguably a better way to see the full range of the Poseys’ imaginations. In the peak of summer, it began with a deeply savory, agar-gelled “tea” made of smoked fruit and vegetable trimmings, flush with edible flowers and fresh herbs as garnish. Precisely cut triangles of duck liver tart on a buckwheat pastry crust, dusted with forest-green dried ramp powder, is one of the few dishes to have earned a (for now) permanent place on the menu; a chilled zucchini and buttermilk cream soup, poured tableside into a shallow bowl containing braised pistachios, plump blueberries and ribbons of raw zucchini, was a more ephemeral seasonal offering.
Ms. Posey’s desserts — a finger-friendly fennel-mint confectionary (inspired by Denmark’s cherished salted licorice), and a cloud of creamy citrus custard floating in a sea of tart berry granita and verjus, topped with tiny marigold blossoms, deserve special mention.
So do the drinks, overseen by Kyle Davidson, another Kahan veteran. There are cocktails, wine and beer, and a wine pairing for the tasting menu for $45, but most intriguing to our table was the $25 nonalcoholic pairing, which included sparkling grape juice laced with yeast and star anise in lieu of Champagne; beet juice infused with fermented cranberry and dried mushrooms to replicate a tannic red wine. It’s the sort of playful touch that keeps Elske feeling both fine and fun.