E+O, a spiffy and spacious restaurant that opened three months ago in Mount Prospect's Randhurst Village mall, has something for everyone, which is the good news and bad news.
The good news is that E+O (earth and ocean) is perhaps the ideal mall-restaurant concept: It's big enough (182 indoor seats, plus a 50-seat patio) to handle a lot of people at once and able to keep up with those prime-time customer surges. The executive chef, partner Rodelio Aglibot (the self-titled "Food Buddha" and the opening chef at Sunda), has enough culinary cred to pull in the foodies. The food is approachable and sporadically imaginative, the space is adaptable to bite-and-bolt eaters as well as three-course diners, and the price points aren't going to frighten anyone.
The bad news is that the menu is so large, embracing nearly two dozen small plates and bites, more than a dozen entrees, pastas, pizzas, a raw bar and a sushi bar (did I mention the half-dozen salads?), one wonders how the kitchen can execute so many dishes consistently well. The answer, based on my visits: It can't.
While there are some dishes that absolutely sing — the perfectly lovely half-pound crab cake with a lemon-aioli base and a bright avocado topping comes to mind — there are head-shaking miscues one associates with a kitchen trying to do too much.
Our waitress touted the ricotta-spinach dumplings one night, but she couldn't have been thinking about the gummy mess that arrived at our table, so texturally awful that the addition of pine nuts and currants didn't help a bit. The menu offers kurobuta pork loin, but when you overcook the protein as thoroughly as my sample had been, sourcing doesn't matter much, and the "cream corn grits" beneath the pork had the texture of polenta. Scallops over sunchoke puree are so heavily smoked that they will test even a smoke-lover's limits.
So, avoid this joint at all costs, right? Not necessarily. There is wheat among the chaff, if you know where to look.
Besides the aforementioned crab cake, there are jumbo prawns, given a sort of motoyaki treatment with a topping of broiled miso-egg emulsion with a turmeric accent; served over fried rice, the prawns are definitely a keeper. I very much like the bone-marrow tacos, a nifty little assemble-yourself presentation in which a split, marrow-filled bone is topped with pieces of carne asada, alongside four small flour tortillas (the dish actually could use a couple more) and some lively tomato jam. Roast duck and daikon hash, with frisee greens and a slow-poached egg, is a nice take on salade lyonnaise, with added sweet and salty notes.
On the raw end of things, the sushi bar offerings are all pluses, offering whimsically named signature rolls such as It's Like That and And That's The Way It Is (both Run DMC references, both very good), and the California roll contains actual snow crab, not that loathsome surimi. The hamachi and escolar roll, combined with avocado, wasabi aioli and just a touch of lime, is worth your attention as well. Lamb tartare is almost there; it's appealing enough, topped with a quail egg and served with crisp-fried chickpeas — definitely a fresh update of the steak tartare standby — but the meat needs a little more seasoning to be a star.
Desserts aren't bad, particularly the red velvet molten-chocolate cake, a cute mashup of two classic desserts.
The dining room design represents a concerted effort to inject urban cool into a suburban mall environment. There are concrete floors and cool hanging lights in the bar area; in the adjacent dining room, the earth and ocean themes are realized with plank wood floors, bare-wood tables and hanging light fixtures that look like oversize woven baskets, while the wall treatments range from gleaming white brick to painted walls that progress from Caribbean teal to deep-sea blue. It's very noisy no matter where one sits, but that is very much the intended energy level.
Service is a major plus, calm and mostly efficient amid the chaos of 200-plus customers (pretty much a given on weekends), resolutely friendly and extremely well-versed on the massive menu. The noise and crowds are pretty much absent at lunch, when the sunlit dining room is probably at its best, and weekend brunch would be a smart time to visit as well.
It's possible to have a very nice dinner at E+O, and it's possible to have a wretched one, and it seems to depend largely on the kitchen's focus at the time. E+O needs to decide what dishes it does well and stick to them. As it stands, the multitudinous menu items represent an unruly herd in need of thinning.
125 Randhurst Drive, Mount Prospect; 847-398-3636; eofoodanddrink.com
Tribune rating: One star
Open: Dinner Monday-Sunday, lunch Monday-Friday, brunch Saturday-Sunday
Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V
Reservations: Strongly recommended weekends
Other: Wheelchair accessible; complimentary valet parking
Four Stars: Outstanding
Three Stars: Excellent
Two Stars: Very good
One Star: Good
No stars: Unsatisfactory
Reviews are based on no fewer than two visits. The reviewer makes every effort to remain anonymous. Meals are paid for by the Tribune.