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May 28, 2012 11:38 AM

Schwa or El Ideas?

Full Disclosure:

I travel once every few months to Chicago for vacation. I can only pick 1 restaurant per trip.

I have been to Schwa.
I have not been to El Ideas.

I had an AMAZING time at Schwa. I want to try El Ideas but its really hard to talk myself out of going back to Schwa again.

Schwa went above and beyond to satisfy us…both entertainment and cuisine (7 courses more then they said they would bring out).

Is El Ideas a "filling" and "satisfying" and "entertaining" experience?

For those of you who have been to both…

Which did you enjoy more? (and) Wouldn't you say they are fairly comparable?

Thanks. (and I love ideas for new places if there are any others in the same type of concept category)

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  1. I would absolutely go to El Ideas. Here's my reasoning:

    1) As the Beard nominations attest, Carlson is in top form and even reluctant foodies in Chicago are starting to acknowledge that Schwa has gotten some of its pre-hiatus swagger back. My suggestion that you try El Ideas is in no way a dig at Schwa. If you were asking for advice on which to pick if you could only go to one, I'd tell you to go to Schwa.

    2) The fact that you had a good experience at Schwa (although, how could you not?) indicates that you are open to chefs that push the envelope conceptually. Schwa tends to be a little more avant garde in its food than El Ideas, but Chef Foss isn't shy about trying adventurous flavor, ingredient, preparation and presentation combinations and bringing smiles and excitement to his diners' faces. You will have a great meal and at least a few dishes that will make you think in new ways about food.

    3) Where El Ideas really shines is that it has taken the entire concept of a restaurant and redefined it. If you liked how informal Schwa was with Carlson serving tables and diners welcome to walk through the kitchen, El Ideas will rip your skull open. El Ideas is not a "restaurant", it is not an "underground restaurant", it is not a "dinner party at your friend's home" (unless your friend happens to be a leading edge chef) - it is something completely new. Go to El Ideas for the experience.

    Now for some unsolicited advice: Since you come to Chicago so frequently, and enjoy fine dining BYOs, I'd also strongly encourage you to try two other "fine dining" BYOs at the top of my Chicago restaurant list: Goosefoot and Bonsoiree. I ate at Goosefoot for the first time two weeks ago and was blown away. Less adventurous than Schwa or El Ideas, but unbelievable in delivery of culinary delights. Chris Nugent is killing it. Bonsoiree occupies some middle ground in this grouping and deserves a spot. It is excellent. Finally, if you're looking for a great, mid-priced BYO, try Ruxbin on one of your visits. It's just down the road from Schwa and will not disappoint.

    1 Reply
    1. re: jordanshields

      awesome reply. thanks. this is gonna be a rough call.

      goosefoot was on my radar but not as much as you make it seem it should be. i am going to put that in the hat for the next go around.

    2. in the past five months i've eaten at schwa twice and el ideas once. if it comes down solely to food, i would take schwa no question. for experience, i also prefer schwa but i also love rap music and have become quite friendly with michael and some of the crew.

      i did not love el ideas as much as others. i'm reluctant to comment on the food as i was somewhat under the weather, but even the overall "experience" seemed more like something my parents would love in an "underground BYOB" than i would (i'm also 26 and act younger, so that plays into things). schwa is much more entertaining, and if i had to quantify value - which is highly personal - i'd go with schwa.

      but that's not to say you'll have a bad time at El Ideas. it is definitely a unique experience, but i wouldn't describe it as unforgettable (as i will with schwa).

      1 Reply
      1. re: keefgr

        seems like you had a similar experience to me at Schwa.

        and it seems like El Ideas feels like i thought it would… it accomplishes its goal (being an awesome BYO with a very creative menu that changes often).

        I think I might have to exhaust my welcome at Schwa before giving El Ideas a shot. Goosefoot is now in my thoughts for my next trip to Chicago. I am gonna have to start doing some research.

      2. I think EL has taken a big step up in the last couple of months as Foss has more fully committed himself to the venture. To my mind, he is at the top of his game right now and his food can give Schwa's a run for the money.

        2 Replies
        1. re: camusman

          the food at both spots looks great.

          some of the El Ideas dishes i have seen in my opinion are cleaner and stronger as far as presentation and plating goes (have not tasted yet…but read plenty of fantastic reviews on flavor).

          that why it is a tough choice…but i think in the end Schwa was a blast. no one describes El Ideas that way. i think thats why I'm gonna pick Schwa… gotta reserve soon.

          1. re: FoodHasTheRightToMe

            I have been to El, but not Schwa; El was a special dining experience, but to use your words, it was not a a blast-- and it was not as memorable as other meals I've had at similar venues, eg Bonsoiree.

        2. The original comment has been removed
          1. Another reason to try El Ideas, given that my above comments didn't seem to sway you - Kevin McMullen just made Eater's 'final 50' list of "Young Guns".

            I'd worried about him last time I dined at El Ideas as he was cutting Iberico ham (I think, might have been a different fancy and delicious ham) paper thin on a meat slicer that was well overdue for sharpening, if not outright replacement. He's a rock star and represents another great thing about El Ideas - Chef Foss is a generous collaborator who gives similar free reign to young chefs (like Kevin and formerly Michael DeStefano) as he does/did to 'senior' chefs (like Andrew Brochu).

            I highly recommend getting in while Kevin has all of his fingers! He's a star!

          2. Last night I had dinner at El Ideas. I had heard enough great things to know that it would be worth trying. I was hesitant because on a previous trip to Chicago I had an awesome time dining at Schwa. I was not sure if I wanted to risk a sure thing for something that could potentially be very regrettable. I am truly grateful that Chef Foss took the time to respond to this post.

            I might have missed out on an amazing experience otherwise.

            el ideas was a blast. I can honestly say that.

            the food was beautiful. more beautiful then schwa and equally delicious. the staff at el ideas love what they do. bill was really smooth and funny.

            before I go off on how wonderful everything was in detail...
            I don't mean for this to be a review of El Ideas. this is just me confirming that this place is worth your time. the great reviews do not exaggerate.

            go to el ideas AND go to schwa. if you HAVE choose only one... flip a coin and feel lucky if you even get a reservation.

            thank you again Chef, Bill, and the rest of your awesome staff.

            2 Replies
            1. re: FoodHasTheRightToMe

              Looking back on the thread, I see you went against your inclinations and gambled against what seemed like a sure thing.
              Great when you roll the dice like that and come up with 7.
              Well done.

              1. re: camusman

                El Ideas was one of the best meals and best overall dining experiences I had this year. And, yeah, it was absolutely a blast. Three chefs cooking their hearts out, riffing on each other, and seemingly having the time of their life, in a wide open kitchen, with a delightfully eccentric soundtrack, and constant interaction between the chefs and diners, and among the diners as well. Plus, some of the most memorable dishes I ate all year - a compelling balance of technique, innovation, and inspiration, but always with a focus on flavor. If I could afford to, I'd eat at El Ideas once a month - and keep trying other spots of course.