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Mystery Diner

Mystery Diner: Tapas reach lofty heights at El Tapeo in Oak Brook

OAK BROOK – El Tapeo restaurant at Le Méridien transports patrons to an unusual suburban destination. Given that the hotel chain originally was established by Air France, the Oak Brook location serendipitously preserves a fly-away theme with a lofty glass perch on the ninth floor including glimpses of the Chicago skyline and long views of woods and water next to Oakbrook Center.

And while the hotel, which is about to turn 2, is tres chic in aesthetic, it skipped French gastronomy to embrace Spain's tour de force tapas for an array of small plate temptations and entrees that include a classic seafood paella.

In the mood for a change of scenery and perspective, my dining companion and I stepped off the elevator to find a sleekly contemporary floating aerie accented with splashes of color. We were led to a window-side seat looking east just as we'd requested when we made our reservation.

When it comes to tapas, we never resist opening with one of our favorites, and so we began our leisurely meal with the medjool dates stuffed with buttery Spanish marcona almonds and wrapped in cherrywood-smoked bacon. It's a luscious combination of sweet and savory, here served fried instead of baked and with a spicier kick to the creamy red pepper sauce that accompanied it.

Next up were hearty meatballs combining ground lamb and bacon in an aromatic sherry tomato sauce full of fresh flavor.

We then chose to switch it up with a poached pear salad, a knockout with succulent baby spinach, Cabrales blue cheese from Spain, slivered almonds and blushing pears poached in Rioja wine with a touch of cinnamon. Mild radishes sliced paper thin to the point of translucency crowned the salad as part of the artful presentation.

The next tapa on the spring seasonal menu was the Tortilla Española, a fluffy Spanish omelet that appeared in a skillet, and was accented with local goat cheese, spring peas, bacon, caramelized onion, romesco and creme fraiche.

Our dessert was almost too pretty to eat – but somehow we managed. We had ordered the vanilla Catalonian-style brulée custard, accompanied by garnishes of palate-pleasing bright orange confit, blackberries and thyme. Sublime.

Specialty cocktails and sangria are signature offerings at the bar, and we noted sangria carafes at neighboring tables which quickly filled around 6 p.m. on a recent Saturday. Small groups were plentiful, all the better to share a wide range of tapas.

The menu also highlights pairings of sausage, ham and cheeses, with a specialty Iberian ham sliced tableside for added culinary drama. The entrees feature such offerings as prawns, lamb chops and wagyu skirt steak. El Tapeo provides an expansive gluten-free menu, and will serve a Mother’s Day brunch buffet from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 8.

When we first entered the hotel, we noticed a fire pit aglow on the patio of the lobby cafe, and decided to end the night next to the fire with a creamy Italian cappuccino. From top to bottom, we enjoyed our getaway to El Tapeo.

The Mystery Diner is a newsroom employee at Suburban Life Media. The diner's identity is not revealed to the restaurant staff before or during the meal. Only positive dining experiences will result in published reviews. To see earlier reviews, visit shawurl.com/2129.

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