SOUTHPORT CORRIDOR — When the kids are away, the adults will play.
That's the idea behind Ella Elli, which opens March 7 at 1349 W. Cornelia Ave. on the Southport Corridor.
"We embrace families — they're kind of the lifeblood of our neighborhood restaurant group," co-owner Doug Dunlay said. "But in this area, there aren't a ton of outlets for people to go get something a little more elevated."
The latest restaurant from 4 Star Restaurant Group offers dishes rooted in Mediterranean cuisine, with Italian, Moroccan, French and Spanish influences in an elegant, upscale setting, Dunlay said. There's also a California twist, adding a modern style and bright, garden-centric flavor.
Located next to the more kid friendly Crosby's Kitchen (also a 4 Star spot), Ella Elli offers a bounty of pastas, seafoods, toasts and vegetable dishes. Its 74-seat venue, formerly a dentist's office, now effuses serenity, with cool gray and cream walls and a crackling fireplace.
CHECK OUT THE RESTAURANT'S FULL MENU BELOW
"We feel like this is just going to be a great experience for a mom and dad having a date night, groups or couples who want to get together," Dunlay said, although children are still allowed at the restaurant.
The menu, created by Matt Eversman and Nolan Narut, ranges from a pizza topped with roasted oysters, mushrooms and goat cheese to a lamb scottadito dish with spiced yogurt and harissa, a North African hot chili pepper paste.
Lamb scottadito ($27) is served with parsley oil, herbed yogurt and harissa hot chili pepper paste at Ella Elli. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]
Ella Elli steak tartare ($12) is topped with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and served with pumpernickle toast. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]
To start off, Ella Elli has a variety of toasts, topped with toothsome items like steak tartare ($12), creamy thyme-seasoned mushrooms ($7) and the ever-popular avocado and slow poached egg, sprinkled with a housemade everything bagel-like seasoning ($8).
Vegetables get their chance in the spotlight with dishes like the salt-roasted carrots with Moroccan spices, harissa hot pepper paste and pickled celery ($8). A crispy grain salad ($10) is served atop a generous smear of goat cheese and garnished with pickled and raw radishes and alfalfa sprouts.
The crispy grain salad at Ella Elli ($10) is spread over goat cheese and served with pickled and raw radish slivers, endive and sprouts. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]
Ella Elli's roasted fennel bulbs ($8) are garnished with fennel fronds, grapefruit wedges and an orange reduction. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]
Black truffle shavings and white truffle oil top the ricotta gnocchi ($14), served under a mound of king trumpet, oyster and beech mushrooms. And as its name suggests, the lamb scottadito ($27) is meant to be so irresistible that diners will burn their fingers grabbing it, rather than wait for it to cool.
Wood-oven octopus ($15) with crispy potatoes and salsa verde is among the more eclectic offerings. Other dishes include the mint chili rigatoni with roasted cauliflower ($12) and a peppery burger au poivre with St. André triple cream and watercress ($14).
Six cocktails, each $12, play off classic drinks like an old fashioned or gimlet. For the gimlet, Ella Elli adds Fiorente Elderflower — a floral liqueur with notes of lemon and honey — and housemade lime cordial to Death's Door Gin.
Ella Elli's Foxglove cocktail ($12) is made with Bison Grass vodka, orchard cherry syrup, blood orange liqueur and lime. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]
One of three desserts at Ella Elli, the Greek yogurt with wild honey is topped with seasonal fruits, which currently include kiwi berries, plums, tangerines, wild berries and chopped pistachios. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]
Three desserts include espresso chocolate cream puff profiteroles ($9) and Greek yogurt with seasonal fruits ($8).
Ella Elli is, at its roots, a restaurant dedicated to casual elegance, where customers can grab a cocktail by the fire or enjoy a lengthy meal with friends, Dunlay said.
Velvety crimson sofas and arm chair form a lounge area near the fireplace, while mirrored alcove booths and a large maple and walnut bar offer a variety of dining options.
Luxury accents make for a cozy dining experience at Ella Elli. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]
Family photos from the restaurant group owners adorn the walls and are stored with vintage books on shelves next to the fireplace.
A brick exterior and French-style windows transform what was once a plain stucco facade with reddish-brown accents.
The restaurant will be open from 5-11 p.m. weekdays and until midnight Saturdays and Sundays.
Ella Elli is the 10th eatery under 4 Star Restaurant Group, which remains locally owned and still smaller than groups like Lettuce Entertain You, which has 60 restaurants and was founded in 1971. Other larger groups include Girl & The Goat's Boka Restaurant Group and Au Cheval's Hog Salt.
In addition to Tuco & Blondie, Frasca and Crosby's Kitchen in Lakeview, its holdings include Dunlays on Clark, Dunlays on the Square, D.O.C. Wine Bar, Smoke Daddy, Remington's and The Windsor.
Next year, the group will also open a second Smoke Daddy BBQ in Hotel Zachary near Wrigley Field.
After that, though, "I think we're going to pump the breaks a little," Dunlay said with a laugh. "Get back into the business of really operating restaurants instead of just opening them."
Check out Ella Elli's full menu below: