Culinary luminaries lend their light to fine dining at Waterleaf in Glen Ellyn; COD campus home to French connection

Glen Ellyn, Ill.

Airy glass partitions lend an ethereal touch to Waterleaf Restaurant, awash in natural light from a wall of windows, and appearing to float above its lakeside perch on the campus of College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn. Don’t confuse the elegantly appointed restaurant with student-run counterparts in the new Culinary & Hospitality Center. Two French-born restaurant professionals, including Executive Chef Jean-Louis Clerc with three-star Michelin credentials, lead Waterleaf’s veteran staff for a daily fine dining experience.

Only on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings are the restaurant’s reins turned over to advanced culinary students. Guided by faculty, they prepare dinner on select dates for the public’s long-standing fans of the International and Classical French cuisine courses, explains Catherine Leveille, academic laboratory supervisor.

The restaurant’s General Manager Jean-Pierre Leroux says he’s proud of the uniqueness of Waterleaf, which opened in October, along with a boutique hotel. He notes Clerc was one of 12 chef candidates, the decision falling to a cooking demo.

“We love his food,” Leroux says of Clerc. “He’s very talented, (coming from) a three-star Michelin restaurant in France … All day long, we discuss food and what we’d love to see. (We have) a fabulous pastry department.”

He says the secret to success boils down to enthusiasm and innovation, so that we “never fall into complacency — we have raised the bar pretty high.”

Sunday brunch is part of the mix at Waterleaf, whose campus location spurs synergies, including pre-theater dinners tied to entertainment at the nearby McAninch Arts Center. And Clerc notes that COD horticulture students will provide his kitchen with organic herbs, greens and other ingredients. While his cooking has a French core, he says he brings a wide range of flavors and different influences from America, Italy and other countries.

Asia gets a nod in a specially priced five-course dinner to complement a production of “Madama Butterfly” at the MAC on Friday and Saturday, Jan. 27 and 28, taking the place of the regular pre-theater dinner.

“Flavors follow the seasons,” says Clerc, who this week unveiled new menus.

Restaurant Manager Aaron Heitmann is knowledgeable about finds in the adjoining wine room, where half the 160 selections are from France, and demi bottles abound.

“The dining room changes from day to night,” Heitmann says of the romantic atmosphere. “At night, we have this glow.”

Recently lunching were Laurie Loresch of Elmhurst, and Carri Loresch of Wheaton, who praised the food’s presentation.

“It’s very pretty,” Laurie says of the space. “The staff is very attentive, and the (food) delicious.”

Details on special dinner
The school provides the following details on the “Madama Butterfly” dinner:

Waterleaf invites patrons of the New Philharmonic’s “Madama Butterfly” performance at the McAninch Arts Center to enjoy an exclusive, five-course pre-theater dinner Friday and Saturday, Jan. 27 and 28. (Other patrons also may request it, notes the general manager.)

The cost is $50 per person ($65 per person with wine pairings. Complete menu and wine pairings are detailed below. The regular $29 Pre-Theater Dinner will not be available on those dates.

The menu will be available from 5 to 8:30 p.m. both evenings. Tax and gratuity are not included.

Menu:

Madama Butterfly Prix Fixe Menu
Prologue
Mango Ginger Curry Soup (served with Fried Shallots)
2010 Jules Taylor Pinot Gris, Marlborough, New Zealand

First Act
Pan Seared Striped Bass (Adzuki Bean Cassoulet, Herb Coulis)
2009 Saintsbury Chardonnay Carneros

Intermezzo
Yuzu & Saké Sorbet

Second Act
“Cio Cio San” Grilled Filet Mignon (Sweet Slaw, Jasmine Rice & BBQ Sauce)
2008 Vina Cobos Felino Merlot, Mendoza, Argentina

Epilogue
Caramel Pecan Cake (served with Five Spice Ice Cream & Poached Tangerine Slices)
2009 Durban Muscat Beaume de Venise

Waterleaf schedule

Lunch:
Monday through Saturday
$22 per person for three-course prix fixe lunch menu ($32 per person with wine pairing)

Dinner:
Monday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday
$45 per person for three-course prix fixe dinner menu ($65 per person with wine pairing)

Special Pre-Theater Dinner:
Monday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday: 5 to 6 p.m. to make curtain; Sunday: 4:30 to 6 p.m.
$32 per person

Brunch:
Sunday: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
$32.50 adults, $16.25 children; in addition to meal, includes Champagne Mimosa, Kir Royale, Bloody Mary and basket of freshly baked pastries