The Hip Factor

July 2024 View more

By Phil Vettel

Coa marks Drake Oak Brook’s first new restaurant in a half-century

Inside Coa
Coa, 2301 York Rd., Oak Brook

A lot of words can be used to describe the Drake Hotel Oak Brook. Historic. Stately. Luxurious. Iconic (and I hate “iconic”). A word that has never come to my mind for it: Hip.

But that’s starting to change with the late-March opening of Coa (2301 York Rd.), a gorgeous pan-Latin restaurant that might just turn the Drake Oak Brook into a cool destination. Hotel owners Tely and Jim Nagle took a bold leap into the current century with the hotel’s first new restaurant addition in 50 years.

I call Coa “pan-Latin” for lack of a better label, but essentially Coa is a mash-up of Mexican and Spanish cuisine, a blend that suits Tely Nagle just fine. “Tely Nagle is from Durango, but a lot of her roots are in the Iberian peninsula, and tapas are some of her favorite dishes,” says general manager Gary Goralski. “[The Nagles] really wanted to create something that would make you forget where you were. They meticulously chose everything, with pieces very thoughtfully curated from Mexico and Europe.”

Tequila flight
Tequila flight

The decor is low-lit and sexy; the bar, sitting dead center in the dining room, is inlaid with colorful, hand-painted tiles from Guadalajara. Black tiles cover the support columns, tying them to the rest of the decor. Low-wattage overhead lights give the ceiling a soft indirect glow, highlighting the birch wood trim. A massive screen in one corner of the dining room displays an array of live-video feeds, music, and nature footage worthy of National Geographic. The dining room opens up, via glass doors, to the outdoor patio, a sun-drenched space that should be a preferred seating option for the next few months.

The menu itself is overseen by executive chef Ezequiel Dominguez, a 20-year restaurant veteran who, along with other stops, logged some time at Cafe Iberico, one of Chicago’s finest tapas restaurants. His menu has been described as a “fusion” of Spanish and Mexican cuisine, but that’s not really the case; chef Dominguez’s Spanish and Mexican dishes sit side by side, but they are true to themselves and their respective traditions.

Mexican appetizers, for example, are tried and true—guacamole, queso fundido, lobster empanadas that would feel at home in any beachfront resort—highlighted by the refreshing ceviche Coa, served with tortilla chips (my version featured bay scallops as the protein, but this will change seasonally).

Tortilla Española
Tortilla Española

The tapas selection is similarly traditional, including pan con tomate, patatas bravas, croquetas, and gambas al ajillo. I recommend the tortilla española, a quiche-like dish presented prettily with a tangle of sweet peppers and an orchid garnish. Octopus is a good choice, whether a la parrilla (grilled, with sliced potatoes, arugula, and garlic vinaigrette) or a la plancha (flattop grill, with sweet peppers and fries).

Popular entrées include the skirt steak tampiqueña, and the chef’s specialty is the Chilean sea bass tres agaves, grilled and served over mango-watermelon relish and corn purée.

But don’t overlook the paellas, offered in vegetarian, seafood, and mixed versions (the “mixta” includes chorizo and chicken along with clams, shrimp, mussels, and more over saffron rice). One order will feed two at least.

Sea bass tres agaves
Sea bass tres agaves

If you’ve never quite understood the difference between crema catalana and flan al caramelo, good news: Both are on Coa’s dessert list, so you can learn the difference firsthand (one is more liquid and has a bruléed caramel crust, and that’s all I’m going to say).

The lunch menu has some intriguing offerings, including a charred-pear salad, a mixed-grill taco, and a beef-and-chorizo cheeseburger.

Paella mixta
Paella mixta

The beverage program is strong, overseen by Brandon Brantley, whose zeal for interesting wines is infectious. Wendy Mendoza presides over a well-sourced list of 40 tequilas and 20 mezcals, the breadth of which is reflected in the restaurant’s name; a coa is a tool (kind of a cross between a hoe and a machete) used by farmers to harvest agave, the plant from which tequila and mezcal is distilled.

Coa was less than two months old when I visited, so I expect several menu changes as Dominguez and his audience get to know one another; I’d love, for instance, to see the chef experiment with Basque-style pintxos. Already, Coa has expanded into brunch service on weekends, and a weekday happy hour with drink specials and modestly priced nibbles. Combine that with a kitchen that stays open past 10 p.m., and you’ve got a restaurant that checks an impressive number of boxes.


Photos: The Drake Oak Brook, Autograph Collection