Freedom Commons has recently sprung to life near Diehl Rd. and Naperville Rd. and for any of you who don’t often venture up in that direction, it almost has a Brigadoon-esque quality in they way it just seemed to appear from nowhere.
Anyway, last night I had plans to meet an industry colleague for dinner and I suggested the White Chocolate Grill, which is located within the new Freedom Commons center. First of all, as my readers may have observed, I like to try new restaurants right out of the box. Secondly, as soon as I heard their culinary style revolves around oak wood-fire grilled foods, I couldn’t resist.
The name “White Chocoloate Grill” is a bit misleading given the fact there are only a handful of desserts on the menu, though each incorporates white chocolate. One thing I can appreciate right away is the fact the dessert menu is located in the immediate upper left-hand corner of the first page of the menu, typically where you would find starters and appetizers. This serves as a cue to order carefully to preserve precious room for their signature white chocolate indulgences.
As you approach the front revolving door, two things you notice is an outdoor clear fireplace blazing alongside outdoor seating and then the glorious aroma of burning oak wood. Of all the woods which are used in cooking, oak is by far my personal favorite. I grew up on hickory smoked bbq and have dabbled in applewood, pecan wood and even peach wood, but oak has a particularly rich and indulgent earthy aroma which permeates foods with its flavor. Anyone who has spent any amount of time at Disney World, particularly the EPCOT resort area, will find the aroma of oak-fired grilling quite familiar in restaurants ranging from the Flying Fish Cafe on the Disney Boardwalk to the Yachtsman Steakhouse over at the Disney Yacht Club.
To enter the restaurant, you pass through a revolving door which instantly transports you from the suburban/I-88 grind into a darkened world of casual sophistication which you most likely won’t be expecting. I was in for an early dinner around 6:00 pm and given the fact it was still quite sunny out I was completely blind when I walked deeper into the blackened restaurant. Since I was meeting a friend driving out from the city, I knew he would likely be running a few minutes late as city-dwellers tend to struggle in calculating the suburban I-88 corridor traffic times during rush hour. Thus, I asked the hostess for the location of the restroom and she directed me around the immediate corner. When I turned the corner it was so dark I stumbled completely blind feeling my way around in search of the correct door. Don’t get me wrong, the space is absolutely glorious with the rich aroma of new leather booths to accompany the oak wood scents; however, if you come in from the direct sunlight, give your eyes a couple of minutes to adjust. I finally found the proper door for the mens restaurant and burst into repressed laughter as I felt around trying to determine how to the open the door. For those who might be wondering, there is a long slender handle near the right edge of the door and you pull rather than push.
Once I successfully navigated my way back out to the small waiting area, I took my place on the lone leather couch. Once you get further into the restaurant, you realize why there is such a small waiting area with space for only three people to sit down. The bar area is long and spacious with the visually alluring glow of perfectly arranged backlit liquor bottles selected for the color of the glass and contents.
My friend arrived and we were seated at a leather booth/table combo in the bar area. When I initially walked into the restaurant I was reminded of the first time I hit the South Beach dining scene feeling grossly under-dressed. White Chocolate Grill is a place where you want to arrive with a clothing ensemble that might just kick up the trendy notch a bit… especially if you are planning to join the weekend dinner crowd. Nonetheless, as we were ushered to our table, I observed that I was not the only one who was looking as though he was just a bit out-of-place. If you are planning a visit and wondering what to wear, you cannot go wrong dressing in black in this place. If you become an adoring White Chocolate Grill regular, you just might be able to talk them into giving you one of their signature shiny WCG belt buckles.
You might be interested to know that Naperville is only White Chocolate Grill’s third location, joining their Las Vegas and Scottsdale, Arizona installments… which explains the interior design tones. As a side note, I do get a kick out of reading airline magazines these days as there are a number of small upscale chain restaurants which proudly boast their locations in New York, Los Angeles, Miami Beach and Naperville…. yes Naperville.
Anyway, on to the main event… the food. The straight-forward menu again beings with desserts which are all priced at $7.50… more on the white chocolate banana creme pie to come. Next are the starters consisting of an eclectic array of offerings ranging from chicken tortilla soup to seared ahi tuna. Starter prices range from $6 – $12. Salads, which seem to provide a middle ground between starters and entrees will cost you between $9 – $15. Next, you can tell White Chocolate Grill Naperville is banking on the lunch crowds with a host of sandwiches and burgers which seem natural candidates for a nice sizzling belly-flop on a wood-fired grill. The main event, WCG’s wood-fired specialties, provide a nice range of meat, chicken and unusual fish offerings which peaks your curiosity as to how these sorted suspects would taste all dressed up in their upscale oak wood grilled flavor. The wood-fired specialties run from $16 – $30.
I started with the seared sesame ahi tuna which arrived in a wasabi, ginger and soy dressing atop a bed of chopped cabbage. The tuna had a wondrously dark rich red color to it which speaks quality. The combination of the continually blending flavor of the dressing with the cabbage kept me from putting my chop sticks down even after finishing the last pieces of fish.
For dinner, I had the 12 oz. Balsamic infused Ribeye. If you’ve read my previous restaurant reviews and food commentary, you know how I feel about Ribeye steak. The cut of meat was ample with a nice balance of marbling and great flavor. The steak was drizzled with what appeared to be a balsamic reduction. The steak carried a nice hint of the wood-grilled flavor but I would have liked a big stronger presence. Of course, my strong preference for rare steaks gives the meat very little “face-time” with those glorious blazing embers, thus it’s tough to infuse the oak flavor in such a short time. Overall, it was still quite delicious and, in my mind, a great deal at $24 which includes a side order and a generous side of fresh cut tomatos drizzled in balsamic. I look forward to future trips to sample their other offerings.
For dessert, it was a no-brainer to go for the white chocolate banana cream pie, though our waitress recommended the white chocolate bread pudding and the apple pie. I had high hopes, especially once the plate arrived at the table carrying a personal grahm-cracker crust shell, packed with the banana cream-filling and piled high with whip cream and large thin shavings of… you guessed it… white chocolate. Despite the visual presentation and anticipation, the experience plummeted downhill faster than a bobsled on fresh ice upon the first taste. To my astonishment, the pie literally had no flavor whatsoever. At first, I thought it was just my taste buds and took a drink of water to cleanse my pallete. The second bite was identical to the first and I couldn’t figure for the life of me how something that looked so indulgent could taste almost as bland as water. My conclusion was that someone had to have missed an ingredient or botched the recipe. Even the flavor of the banana slices were masked in the cream filling which had specks suggesting some attempt at incorporating the rich flavor of vanilla bean. Nonetheless, the dessert won’t scare me away from another visit despite the irony given the fact the restaurant is called the White Chocolate Grill.
I found the service very friendly as everyone was really trying hard to make a good first impression almost to the point they seemed a little nervous… but that’s pretty typical with the opening week jitters while everyone is still learning the system and overall “choreography” of service. The effort and desire was definitely there and I believe outstanding service experiences will soon be a buzzworthy standard for WCG.
Two additional side notes worth mentioning, White Chocolate Grill throws an intersting curve in offering Israeli Couscous as a standard side along with the usual suspects of mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli and french fries. Additionally, I couldn’t help but notice that their limited wine list is rather inconsistent with boastful size and design of their bar.
Despite a couple of very minor shortcomings, I strongly recommend getting out and giving the Naperville installment of the White Chocolate Grill a try for it’s unique oak wood-grilled aromas and flavors. Don’t let the name “White Chocolate” throw you as the true draw of this restaurant, in my estimation, is the wood-grilled wonders which have little or nothing to do with confections.
White Chocolate Grill is located at 1803 Freedom Drive just off of Diehl Road near Naperville Road. Their phone number is 630-505-8300. To learn more, drop by their website at www.whitechocolategrill.com . SM