Celebrating its second anniversary, Waterleaf restaurant is a dream come to fruition for College of DuPage. "What we've been able to do, in two short years, is to establish Waterleaf as a stellar example of modern fine dining," says Jean-Pierre Leroux, general manager. "It is truly a wonderful restaurant. I am proud it has become not only a favored dining spot for food lovers in our area, but also an example of how excellent a restaurant can be when given proper attention and a focus on detail throughout."
Waterleaf is the brainchild of COD president Dr. Robert L. Breuder and Leroux, the longtime owner-operator of the celebrated Barrington Country Bistro in Barrington, Illinois. While some may question why a community college would build such a modern restaurant, the answer is apparent for those who know Dr. Breuder and College of DuPage. "We wanted to set the stage for our students, their parents, guests and the community," Dr. Breuder says. "Having a professionally run, modern restaurant on campus is a bold statement. We want Waterleaf to reflect today's fine dining style, which is more casual and relaxed in tone, but still high in quality. We are serious about our academic programs and strive to convey that in every aspect of our campus life."
Waterleaf's mission is to be an inspiration to the culinary students in the College's growing Culinary and Hospitality Management program. Unlike other culinary schools, however, Waterleaf is run by professional chefs with opportunities for student engagement. The Waterleaf team includes executive chef Nadia Tilkian, whose professional experience includes stints at Barrington Country Bistro and the highly regarded Maijean, which she owned in Clarendon Hills. Leroux's résumé includes a stellar career in some of the finest restaurants and hotels in Europe and the United States.
"We are committed to offering our guests the most hospitable and delicious dining adventure possible," Leroux says. "Waterleaf continues to evolve. Not willing to rest on our laurels, we are mindful of the need to set even higher standards while remaining in step with the desires of our guests." Since its opening in 2011, Waterleaf has received a three-star review by Crain's Chicago Business and a Readers' Choice Award for Best Restaurant for Dinner from Glancer Magazine. Waterleaf also is recognized for its stellar wine list, receiving Wine Spectator's coveted Award of Excellence for 2012 and 2013. This award, given annually to restaurants in the United States and 65 countries worldwide, acknowledges that Waterleaf's wine program is consistent with its dining concept, style and price point. Waterleaf is also a recipient of the Diner's Choice Awards for Best Ambience, Best Overall, Best Service, Fit for Foodies and Special Occasion on OpenTable.com, where it maintains a 4.8/5.0 rating.
Overlooking a scenic lake, the restaurant's floor-to-ceiling windows and outdoor seating area provide a naturally beautiful ambiance. "We've been blessed with a wonderful location and a mission to be one of the Chicago area's best contemporary restaurants," says Leroux. "Waterleaf strives to be sophisticated yet relaxed. We think of it as modern fine dining, where the focus is on great food and service offered with a down-to-earth, informal vibe - the way people like to eat today."
With comfortable seating and a natural color scheme, this "hidden gem's" warm atmosphere lends itself to dinnertime respites, business lunches and everything in between. Waterleaf's semi-private room is perfect for social occasions or business events. Outside the main dining room, the patio features outdoor seating and propane heaters to keep guests warm and comfortable in the autumn and early spring.
Executive chef Nadia Tilkian, who joined the staff in February, has recently introduced new menus for this fall, keeping with the more casual dining mood of today's guests. These offerings embody modern contemporary American cuisine at its finest.
Tilkian astutely combines her beloved French technique with modern American food sensibility, offering guests rich flavors and textures from around the globe. She is passionate about using top quality, locally sourced ingredients. "Those familiar with my cooking style understand my love of country French cuisine. While I do incorporate those ideas into the Waterleaf menu, here I am focused more on American cuisine and the many ways American chefs are bringing great ideas from many food cultures into their dishes," Tilkian says. "As a role model for culinary students, Waterleaf has a responsibility to showcase culinary ideas that expand students' creativity while giving them an appreciation for great technique."
"We're not trying to be kitschy or avant garde about our menu," Tilkian adds. "We're simply offering guests the opportunity to enjoy well prepared and handsomely presented dishes in an accessible, relaxed manner. We think we've succeeded in making it easy to have a very comfortable experience at Waterleaf. We try to be surprising in an understated way by offering guests a high level of culinary creativity accompanied with excellent service. We give our guests very pleasant, eye opening experiences that keep them coming back."
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