El Tapeo Review - Spanish Tapas Ups the Game in Oak Brook

There is nothing better than sharing a meal with a friend.  And when I say sharing, I mean trying each delectable selection from a mouth-watering menu.  This week I had a lovely meal with a companion at a new restaurant in western suburbs: El Tapeo, located on the ninth floor of the new Le Meridien Hotel in Oak Brook, Illinois. The restaurant features tapas style small plates along with larger entrees in a setting that evokes an image of sixties chrome and leather sophistication.  From tasty starters and drinks to dessert, Chef Franco Diaz delighted our senses and tickled our curiosity for other items on the varied menu.

Backlit Sophistication

The Le Meridien Hotel and El Tapeo is located on the east side of Oak Brook Center.  We were able to park in a nearby parking structure, but there is also valet parking, which I recommend on a busy weekend evening.  The sleek lobby got us in the mood as we took the elevator to the ninth floor, where the intimate El Tapeo bar and restaurant beckoned.  The long bar features backlit rows of premium liquors and champagnes, along with several seating areas for casual drinkers.  There is a very reasonable happy hour menu provided if a light snack and beverage is your style.

El Tapeo Bar

We were seated at a table for two next to the window.  It was nearly dark, but we could imagine enjoying a lovely view and earlier in the summer.  A quick peek at other diners immediately made me hungry when I spotted bacon-wrapped dates, one of my all-time favorites.  When I couldn’t decide between two different fancy cocktails, our friendly waiter helped me to select one that suited my purpose (I wanted something tasty to sip slowly).  I went with the delicious Latin Manhattan, which includes Bulleit Rye.  My companion had a nice Spanish Red featuring Garnacha & Cariñena grapes from Nito.

Dining Room at El Tapeo

Of the tapas we tried, the bacon-wrapped dates (uniquely stuffed with almonds) and served with a red pepper sauce were extra delicious.  We also enjoyed the sautéed garlic shrimp.  The other choices of seafood fritters and mussels were tasty, but didn’t stand out like the first two selections.  Next up, we had a cheese and meat board, with a delicious acorn-fed ham and several selections of cheeses.  The manchego cheese was pungently superb.   I saved the house-brined olives to continue eating as our entrée course arrived.  And both my companion and I were wowed by the whole grain mustard.  We slathered it on our accompanying grilled toasts. 

Croquetas de Marisco

Along with the cheese and meat, we were served a bowl of Sopa de Calabasa, which is a roasted butternut squash bisque adorned with a floating crouton and topped with granny smith apples, serrano ham, and mahon cheese.  The creamy soup and crunchy accompaniment was so flavorful and bought to mind the autumn’s bounty. 

Cheese and meat board

We were getting a little food buzz when the entrees arrived.  We enjoyed the Paella de Langosta, a lobster paella.  What’s not to like, right?  Big huge chunks of lobster lay atop the yummy bomba rice base, along with a generous helping of mussels and tangy smoked sausage.  Our favorite, though, was the Carne Asada, which featured wagyu skirt steak, arugula, manchego, and piquillo pepper.  The flavor of that high-end beef was unforgettable.   The brussels sprouts and fingerling potatoes sides rounded out the entrées quite nicely.

Paella de Langosta

Of course we could not leave without sampling dessert.  We had good coffee (a simple thing, but good coffee is one of my requirements in a restaurant).  We also tried pineapple fritters and Crema Catalana, which is a creamy custard.  While fried dough is right up my alley, I especially enjoyed the Crema Catalana.   The chef added a little piece of orange and blackberry with a tiny snip of thyme that brought the flavors together and left me wanting more.

Our waiter was excellent.  He was pleasant and knowledgeable, and knew when to check in with us and when to let us enjoy the food.  The other staff members were friendly and helpful.   The ambience was nice, though I think it might get quite loud on the weekends, especially if there is live entertainment.  I definitely would enjoy coming just for tapas and the happy hour specials.

Chef Diaz has a winner here.   He has used his experiences at many well-known restaurants such as the restaurants at the Drake and Peninsula Hotels in Chicago and shows his clear love for Spanish flavors and high quality ingredients to the delight of his patrons.  I hope that food lovers will take the time to seek out this restaurant.  I appreciate that there is a unique dining choice in a location where there many chain selections.  

El Tapeo is located at 2100 Spring Road · Le Méridien Chicago – Oakbrook Center · Oak Brook, IL.  The phone number is (630) 828-2044.  Information about the restaurant and the hours of operation can be found here.

Photographs Courtesy of Jim Kruger.

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