An ‘Underground’ Dining Experience

Foie gras ice cream cones

Foie gras ice cream cones.

A couple of nights a week, Iliana Regan drapes her condo dining room in white, lights candles, and cranks up a special play list on her ipod — all to create a restaurant-like canvas for the 14-course dinner she’s got brewing in her kitchen.  She then welcomes anywhere from six to ten people into her home for dinner, often a mix of friends and strangers, and pulls off a unique dining experience designed to test and showcase her culinary talents and to get her one step closer to the day when she opens her own restaurant.

Intrigued by the concept of the “underground” supper clubs and dinners popping up throughout the city, Tammy and I found ourselves at Regan’s on Sunday a few weeks ago, chatting with four of her friends from the restaurant industry and sipping champagne while waiting for our first course.

Ilana Regan

In the kitchen with Ilana Regan.

At a glance, Regan’s kitchen looks like one you might find in any Chicago home — except for its military sense of organization perhaps — and then you notice the extra freezer in the pantry, the fancy puree chilling in the fridge, and the Alinea-like gadgetry laying ready on the counter for plating. This is no ordinary kitchen, and the food coming out of it is anything but typical either. You’ll feast on things like scallop and galangal with ginger, citrus, pine and lavander; a foie gras ice cream cone with passion fruit and broccoli; and smoked duck with brussel sprouts, beer, and fermented bean pasta, just to name a few. For dessert you might have a chocolate everlasting gobstopper (with accompanying Willie Wonka music in the background of course), and a dream-cicle shot. Whatever happens to be on Regan’s menu, you’re in for a culinary adventure!

Scallop and Galangal

Scallop and galangal.

But is it a good adventure? I’d say so. Regan has some serious talent. And dining in her home is a fun and unforgettable experience for serious food lovers because you don’t know what you’re going to get when you walk in the door. Not to mention that I throughly enjoyed the chance to meet and talk with fellow foodies in such an intimate setting.

But there’s no doubt that Regan’s food and its “style” is a work in progress. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and we certainly saw the direct influences of people like Schwa’s Michael Carlson and the gang at Alinea in Regan’s work.  I look forward to seeing her evolve a bit more, so that ultimately she relies less on those influences and develops her own voice.

Ice Cream Sandwich

Ice cream sandwiches.

The cost of dinner is very affordable for what you get. It’s a suggested cash donation of $90 per person plus gratuity. Dinner is also a BYOB, and you’ll get a list of suggested wine pairings, along with details about discounts available on the wine, the timing and location of dinner, etc. when you RSVP. Regan will also accommodate dietary restrictions.

All in all, I look forward to dining with Regan again. She was a pleasure to meet and coordinate with, and I really admire her approach to getting her name and work out there. When she finally does open her own place, I’ll be in line.

For more information about Regan’s underground dinners and other culinary outings, visit One Sister Inc.