We had dinner with our friends the W**** at one of my favorite restaurants, Inovasi in Lake Bluff. A delightful place in an unlikely spot, as Lake Bluff is not known for fine dining, but that has changed since Inovasi arrived 2 ½ years ago. “Inovasi” means innovation in Indonesian, and it is an apt name for this restaurant.
To give you a flavor for the surroundings, the restaurant is right in the middle of the small town center area of Lake Bluff, east of Sheridan Road off Rt. 176. You walk into the restaurant in it’s bar area, a nice sized room with about 6 or 8 high tops, plus seats at the abstract, almost Jackson Pollock like, bar counter. The bartender is first rate, and the assortment of spirits and craft brews are excellent. The setting areas are divided into 3, a smaller room off the bar, and 2 larger, open spaces comprising the bulk of the restaurant, with window views of the kitchen as you walk to your table. The tables are well spaced, with comfortable chairs and windows fronting East Scranton Avenue. The furthest room has a gas fireplace, and there is a touch of prairie style architecture to the moldings on the ceiling. A picture of Theodore Roosevelt sits above the fireplace, and the menu makes mention of the ideal of conservation and the restaurant’s support of local sustainable organic farms. The wait staff are uniformly knowledgeable and helpful, and the service is impeccable.
The chef, John des Rosiers, has a local background. His career started at Gabriel’s in Highwood, and then to training at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. He then worked at Charlie Trotter’s, and returned to climb the ladder at Gabriel’s to the reach the level of chef de cuisine. He then worked at Bank Lane Bistro in Lake Forest before he opened Inovasi.
This restaurant gives him the stage to create his style of fusion, mixing Asian accents with local ingredients. This is not fusion restricted to one geographic area, but can reflect Spanish influences, low country Carolina cooking, and many others. The menu changes with the seasons, reflecting what is best available. The first time I went to Inovasi, I had rainbow trout served on a piece of cardboard, with a palate of 4 different sauces in a very random and abstract Jackson Pollock painting type of presentation on the shiny side of the cardboard, each of the sauces delicious, and the trout perfectly cooked. The menu here has enough choices to satisfy my vegetarian daughter, and plenty of meat opinions for the carnivores, as well as fish choices.
On our last visit, we started with “Argyle St” flatbread, with pecans “driftless cheese” and wild huckleberries, sprinkled with herb oil. Roasted Brussels sprouts were topped with shallot, a local cheese, and a touch of a truffle mayonnaise. A circle of “El Piconero” goat cheese was mated with a small pillow of polenta and a tomato fondant. Perfectly fried and lightly breaded calamari was spiced with Spanish chorizo and hints of marcona almonds. These plates are small portions, designed to be starters, but were enough to share.
For entrées, I had the “fish swimming yesterday” which in my case turned out to be striped sea bass on a bed of julienned carrots with macadamia nuts, with a Japanese citrus marinade. D*** had the “carnivore addition” which was a delightful preparation of pork shoulder with anson mills farro verde, huckleberry vinaigrette, and fennel tops marinated in a variety of spices and presented in a round timbale about 2 ½ inches high. My wife had dry aged beef sirloin served aside dollops of spicy chocolate (a take on molé) and cheese croutons. J*** had organic roasted chicken breast on antebellum grits.
Chef des Rosiers constructs the plates elegantly. The thing to keep in mind is that the “main” plates are still on a small portion concept, but the costs reflect the quality of the ingredients used. To give a comparison, the “fish swimming yesterday” is apt, as the piece of fish is sourced from small family operation fishing boats. The striped sea bass I had was hand caught the day before in Rhode Island. It is on the menu for $22.00. Local Walleyed Pike on vinegared cabbage served with a cashew romesco is $14.00. There is a Kentucky grilled squab on the menu that I am going to try next time. Add a little extra trust in Chef des Rosiers, and let him pick a tasting menu of 5 courses, that can be tailored around individual’s food allergies/aversions.
I love burger night, every Tuesday. Here is what is on the current Tuesday burgers menu:
[ Q 7 R a n c h Bur g e r s ] A slew of special items using natural, free range, grass fed sustainable beef from Q7 Ranch in Marengo, IL. All served on soft brioche rolls
[ c h a r g r i l l e d ]
[ the chicago italian Burger ] – gardinaire, grilled onion, celery salt, mozzarella cheese 12
[ Dave’s ] – artisan Wisconsin cheddar, emmentaler cheese, horseradish crème frâiche, raw local sweet onion 11
[ The Hobo ] – made with whatever we have laying around, a real, ever changing garbage burger, fit for any train ride! 13
[ Elkin’s ] – Q7 slow cooked brisket, lettuce, organic raw milk cheddar, fried onions, thai chile mayo 11
[Abby’s ] – crispy cheese curds, toasted garlic brioche, white truffle aioli 12
[ o l d f a s h i o n e d , g r i d d l e d & s e a r e d ]
[ Kallie’s ] – thin burger patty, loads of homemade bacon, d’ affinois cheese, crème frâiche, mixed greens 12
[ the Double Skinny ] – two thin patties, onion, pickle, organic cheddar, mayo-mustard sauce 11
[Homemade Veggie Burger, re-defined]- made from a blend of mushrooms, farro verde, herbs, onion, baby carrots, & served with smoked gouda, truffle aioli & organic greens 12
Okay, they are not the cheapest burgers in town, but they are all very well executed and worthwhile!
I think Inovasi is an important addition to Chicago’s dining experience, and I want it to continue to thrive. I will be back again next month, ready to see what new tastes await.