Bonsoiree's Shin Thompson and EL Ideas' Phillip Foss sold out their first "Anti-Restaurant Week" dinner, so they planned another one for February 28. But don't try to go to that one— it sold out off their email lists, too. But their success does suggest that next year, maybe more chef collaborations (at full price) will be a counterpoint to the bargain-hunting of Restaurant Week. Meanwhile, in a kind of case of "Nobody goes there any more, it's too crowded," Foss tells us that he's looking to change EL Ideas' reservation system to make dining there more accessible.
EL's lottery system was a necessity at first given the crush of customers wanting to get his very limited seating (16 seats, usually) in the first couple of months after opening. But during the more customarily slow period after the first of the year, he's occasionally found himself with empty seats even as people clamor for reservations at the beginning of each month when the next month opens up. "I feel like there is a sense of futility that people feel like they are never going to get a reservation," Foss says. "This should be the worst of my problems, but the entire experience is really about interaction, and I believe reservation policy should reflect this as well. I want people to feel like they have a chance of getting in when they want."
He says "the lottery has been good to us" but he feels "inundated" when a month opens up by the process of sending out confirmations and processing credit cards. "For the reservations, we are going to go to a grassroots method of answering phones (312-226-8144) and checking emails (email@example.com)."
Foss's goal is to maintain the openness and informality that comes from cooking out in front of his guests in every part of his operation. With Andrew Brochu now departed for Graham Elliot, Foss and his fellow chefs Kevin McMullen and Michael DeStefano introduce their own dishes and wander the room when they can to see how guests are enjoying themselves. Though he's not always happy with the reviews he's gotten (or not gotten from critics who he thinks don't want to visit his industrial south side location), he's happy with the repeat customers who seem to have responded well to the mellow, intimate atmosphere. "The environment and up close and personal aspects of the dining experience, that's what differentiates us from the all the others— and has me believing guests will continue to be willing to make the trek," he says.