33 West New York St., Aurora, IL 60506
Phone: (630) 375-0426
Wed-Thu: 5pm-11pm (kitchen closes 9pm)
Fri-Sat: 5pm-2am (kitchen closes 10pm)
CHICAGO TRIBUNE REVIEW
Charming service and cuisine oozes from this small Aurora strip mall space
By Phil Vettel, Tribune restaurant critic
June 9, 2008
3 stars (out of 4)
As befits the chef/owner of a restaurant open only two days a week and offering a single, five-course prix-fixe menu, Amaury Rosado has a certain my-way approach to running things, though he sounds more like a consumer advocate than a hard-edged businessman.
“I don’t believe in ninja service,” Rosado says, in his Chicago-accented, perpetually excited voice. “They come up to the table and disappear so quick you don’t even know who was there. I’d rather go up and talk to you, make sure you’re comfortable.
“And it really gets me when a waiter tells me, ‘The chef doesn’t do that,’ “he adds. “He’s a chef, right? I tell my customers they’re the king. If they request something, I try to do it.”
Rest assured, then, that at Chef Amaury’s Epicurean Affair, requests are honored (customers aren’t even bound to the five-course menu), and service is so charmingly chummy that by meal’s end, you’ll likely be on a first-name basis with most of the staff.
This will include Chef Amaury himself, a real local-boy-makes-good story—born and raised in Humboldt Park, and a graduate of Roberto Clemente High School, University of Illinois at Chicago and the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago, in that order. It is Chef Amaury who greets each table with an explanation of the day’s five-course menu, and a few you’re-the-king options.
You’ll also meet his wife, Trisha, a director at Sara Lee Corp. by day but queen of the front room on weekend nights; and her sister, Kelley McFarland, a Ph.D. anthropologist who teaches at Northeastern Illinois University when she’s not assisting her sis.
That’s not a very large serving staff, but it’s not a large dining room. I counted 26 chairs on my visits, and Rosado paces his reservations judiciously. When you arrive at Chef Amaury’s, your table is always ready.
The trick is finding it; the restaurant sits just west of the Naperville-Aurora border, in a strip mall that shares space with a Ponderosa steakhouse. It’s an odd location for a fine-dining restaurant, but Chef Amaury’s began its life eight years ago as a sandwich shop. Rosado started fine dining as a once-a-week dinner club in no-frills surroundings. Now there is a very pretty dining room, with oak floors, sponge-finish burgundy and gold walls and linen-draped tables topped with fresh roses. Service is up to two dinners and a lunch weekly. Rosado says he’d dearly love to add two more nights to the mix, but so far, the demand isn’t there.
Once the sisters take your order—they seem positively delighted when you order the five-course menu, though at a mere $60, nearly everybody does—the parade of Rosado’s unfussy, contemporary American food will begin. It starts generally with a salad or light appetizer—a duck-confit-topped tart with mixed greens one night, a salad of mild local arugula with Point Reyes blue cheese and blackberry vinaigrette another. Then soup, generally with a protein bonus: My English pea soup, rich with cream, contained a large sea scallop, and a delicious organic asparagus soup contained a bounty of crabmeat lurking under its vivid-green surface.
My fish courses included a delicious piece of black cod, surrounded by a Spring harvest—asparagus flan, sauteed fiddlehead ferns and snap peas, and a complex sauce of ramps (wild leeks) and bourbon. I was less fond of the fish in a follow-up visit; a poached halibut alongside a piquillo polenta cake and surrounded by orange-mustard and lobster-coconut sauces was a rare instance of Rosado overcomplicating a dish, nearly burying the halibut under dueling sauces.
The meat course is nearly always beef; one night it was a grilled Wagyu sirloin with sauteed morel mushrooms; another visit found me tucking into “Beef Ellington,” a non-traditional beef Wellington crowned, not surrounded, by golden pastry. The Wagyu was butter-soft and delicious, but the flawless filet of the “Ellington” was upstaged by its co-star—the insanely good mashed potatoes with truffled goat cheese.
The option to all that beef might be a trio of pork—roasted loin, crispy skin and braised shoulder, with pigeon-pea risotto and mofongo (garlicky mashed plantains), the latter a nod to Rosado’s Puerto-Rican heritage.
There are always two or three desserts; the featured sweet will be something creative, such as a limoncello torte layered with sweet lime mousse and rosemary-olive-oil ice cream, or a deconstructed banana split that matches caramelized bananas slices with mango, pineapple and strawberry sorbets. The fallback options are the dark chocolate cake, oozy as always, and a creme brulee or two (the white chocolate and cherry version is a killer).
Once a BYO operation, Chef Amaury’s now boasts a wine list notable for its remarkably low markup. There are plenty of interesting bottles priced under $40, and the premium bottles are gently priced as well. A hundred bucks (actually $110) sounds like a lot to pay for a bottle, and it is, but when it’s a 2005 Plumpjack cabernet that retails for at least $80 (when you can find it), that’s a restaurant that is treating its customers like royalty. That’s Amaury.
It’s good to be the king.
Originally published June 5, 2008 by Chicago Tribune.