The Out-of-Towners—El Tapeo

March 2015 View more

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Why would anyone ever leave Naperville for tapas?

Table0315_El Tapeo-009_800pxWith the stately and venerable Meson Sabika still cranking out the small plates on its Aurora Avenue plantation and the less-assuming, but still commendable, Macarenas Tapas having long since lived down its novelty dance-craze associations to do likewise from a nondescript strip mall just off of the Route 59 warzone, it seems silly to schlep all the way out to Oak Brook for a respectable Spanish-influenced shared meal. But amid the many, many dining options clamoring for shoppers’ leftover pennies in and around Oakbrook Center, El Tapeo rises above its peers and not just because of its location on the ninth floor of the recently renovated and rebranded Le Meridien hotel. In the process, it also makes a persuasive case for at least considering some non-Naperville tapas.

Above It All

Due in part to our decidedly low-rise prairie existence in this part of the world, the views of the surrounding suburban landscape from the restaurant’s elevated perch are actually a bit jarring at first. One initially feels not unlike a deity surveying his vast creation below and probably wondering why he didn’t allow for more parking, given the number of cars circling endlessly on a busy Friday night.

Table0315_El Tapeo-025_800pxInside, whatever cocktail napkin the concept for El Tapeo was conceived upon certainly must have included the word “sleek” among its barely legible scribblings, as it would be hard to come up with another adjective to better describe the physical space. Particularly in the adjacent lounge, the clean lines and low-slung furniture combine to radiate a cooler-than-thou vibe that, thankfully, does not extend to the attitude of the friendly and helpful staff.

Tapas Plus

The menu at El Tapeo is divided into sections for tapas, soups and salads, charcuterie and entrées. However, in reality, the entire collective can be viewed as tapas in spirit, if not price, as even the soups come with an extra spoon for sharing and the main dishes are ideally suited to divvying up among a group. Indeed, this is how we opted to approach our evening duet.

Table0315_El Tapeo-056_800pxWe started with a pair of selections from the official tapas slate, both of which proved to be inspired. First up were the deviled eggs, a trio of the picnic staples loaded with chunky, olive oil-laced tuna salad and peas in place of the standard yolk-mayo-mustard paste. A traditionalist may have squawked at the deviation from the classic form, but there was no denying the success of the effort here. Even better were the fried dates—hefty orbs stuffed with almonds, wrapped in smoky bacon and served with a zesty red pepper spread. Fantastic.

Table0315_El Tapeo-102_800pxLeaving behind nearly a dozen other intriguing tapas options like mussels and bacon-lamb meatballs, we moved on to a shared bowl of the roasted butternut squash bisque complete with a seaworthy croûton raft carrying a delicious cargo of granny smith apples and Serrano ham. We complimented the soup with a spinach salad with poached pears, blue cheese and toasted almonds. We also went similarly splitsy on our entrée selection, three delectable towers comprised of cheesy polenta foundations, mildly spicy braised beef midsections and hefty pan-seared scallop crowns. Having carried the shareable aesthetic through the entire meal, there seemed no reason to diverge from the concept at dessert, where we took turns digging into a brick of manchego cheesecake with raspberry sorbet on one side of the table and molten chocolate cake with pistachio ice cream and bruleed bananas on the other. 

We might not have believed it if we hadn’t tasted it for ourselves, but it’s true. Yes, Virginia, there are tapas options outside of Naperville.

El Tapeo
2100 Spring Road

Oak Brook

Photos by Greg Shapps