El Tapeo brings classic flavors of Spain to Oak Brook

The aromas and flavors of the Iberian Peninsula are wafting into Oak Brook with the newest addition to its dining scene. El Tapeo Spanish restaurant opens Aug. 8 in Oakbrook Center at Illinois’ only Le Méridien hotel.

The theme is traditional Spanish tapas, the small plate appetizers that range from the simple olives and cheese, to an elaborate preparation of squid in its own ink, and are meant to accompany a glass of wine or a chilled beer.

The name derives from the Spanish, “vamos de tapeo,” meaning “Let’s go for tapas,” according to general manager Simon Fricker of Elmhurst. A classically French-trained chef, Fricker travelled throughout Spain doing research on the theme. “You go to any bar and the first thing they do is start giving you tapas.”

The approach at El Tapeo is equally as interactive but with low-key, yet still elegant setting.

“People do not want to put on a tie anymore to go out dining,” cited Fricker as the reason for the more relaxed approach. Of course, when you’re situated inside the posh Le Méridien brand, that neighborhood pub becomes more chic, more upscale and, consequently, more expensive.

“I feel you can serve Michelin Star dining levels in a casual approach,” insisted Fricker. To that end, he enlisted seasoned chef, Franco Diaz, a veteran of St. Regis and the Peninsula hotels, to carry out his vision. Diaz took to the theme like a fish to water.

His dátiles, the staple Spanish tapa of fried Medjool dates stuffed with almonds and wrapped in bacon ($8), are spot on delicious.

“We try to do a little bit from all the different regions — from north, south, Catalonia,” emphasized Diaz, noting that there is a dearth of traditional Spanish restaurants in the suburbs.

Charcuterie plates feature traditional finger foods such as cheeses or cured meats like creamy Manchego, savory chorizo, Ibérico ham and fuet (a Catalan sausage) ($14-$35).

Offering a taste of Galicia, the mejillones al vapor proffer large Mediterranean mussels steamed in Estrella Damm beer, a pilsner brewed in Barcelona, Spain, with spicy chorizo and cilantro butter ($18).

Vieiras, tender seared, jumbo sushi-grade base scallops layered over a delicate cauliflower purée and topped with a sweet, golden raisin emulsion ($22) offer a richer dish and balanced finish.

And no self-respecting traditional Spanish restaurant can be without the quintessential rice and seafood dish, paella. At El Tapeo, the luxurious Paella de Langosta is prepared on a lobster base, with al dente-cooked bomba rice, generous chunks of Maine lobster throughout, mussels and spicy chorizo ($48).

As for pairing vintages, El Tapeo boasted some 130 at the launch with a view towards expansion. Heavy emphasis placed on Spanish classics such as Rioja, Priorat and Albariño; but the wine list also features vintages from France, Italy and Napa ($12-$20 glass/$40-$300 bottle).

“Le Méridien is still a very prestigious address to dine however we want to remain very approachable to the local customers. We are here for them,” said Fricker.

El Tapeo

Le Méridien Chicago, Oakbrook Center, 2100 Spring Road, Oakbrook

6-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 6-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; bar hours: 4 p.m.-1 a.m. Mondays-Saturdays (630) 828-2033 or see: eltapeorestaurant.com

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