East Peoria's Embassy Suites is unquestionably one of the finest hotels in the area. But you don't need to be an overnight guest to enjoy Embassy's restaurant: The Riverside café. Its private dining rooms and elegant-eclectic bar is certainly eye catching any day of the year. But during the warm months, make a B-line out the back door.
It is a scene right out of a Frontgate Catalogue. A finely manicured terrace boarders the Illinois River. Its tantamount to a sweet summer kiss. And in my experience, nourishment taken outdoors creates a more sensational experience on the palate.
"It is just the best view of the river. Barges floating up and down the river. It is a great view. Good food. It is always cold beer," said Jesse Wilder while sipping on a cold one.
"Lots of people forget this is here and it is an attraction to Peoria that you can really enjoy," said Lisa Kappes under the shade of an umbrella.
Reminiscent of a scene from Mackinaw Island's Grand Hotel, the wait staff scurries about as customers get lost in the moment.
"We have brand new equipment. Probably the best in town. Which enables us to do a lot more than some of the other places in town," said Executive Sous Chef Ian Hocker.
There is a distinctively European flair to the Embassy cuisine. Its menu is authored by Florian Wehrli, a classically trained chef from Switzerland. His goal is to create a relationship between the guest and food with distinctive elements.
"Some of the sauces. Some of the meat. The flavor combinations. I think that is what classical cooking is very much about. The combinations between flavors and textures are something that's really important," said Wehrli.
The Embassy's two kitchens cater to the restaurant and the hotels conference center. Florian, who's run restaurants in New York, Las Vegas, and Colorado, tries to fill his grocery list using Central Illinois producers.
"It makes lots of difference tying into the community. Buying locally. Because we can buy in very large quantities and make a difference in peoples lives and also touching a lot of people with food and try and teach them something different to bring a little bit of spice into what they eat everyday," said Wehrli.
On the evening of our patio experience, we started with an appetizer trio; The Illinois Morel Christinni is as native as it gets. The morels are prepared with snow peas, julianne carrots, and port wine cream sauce. Sweet sauce, local wild mushrooms dribbled with a red wine reduction makes for a perfect marriage.
Photographer Alyssa Honert and I also had Smoked Slow-Cooked Rib Tips. They're like a tender barbecue meat Popsicle. Our appetizer rounded out with a smoked salmon spring roll. It is dipped into a bamboo cup holding soy sauce over sun dried relish.
We paired our appetizing with some great foo-foo drinks. Alyssa had a Kaye's Island. It is a mixture of blue curacao, vodka, pineapple and orange juice, sweet and sour mix. It is served under an umbrella.
I had a Jelly Donut. It is a frozen red and white Muscat whine. Low alcohol content lets the wine take on a the cool texture of a frozen margarita. Perfect on the patio.
Alyssa crushed her entrée. That's what you are supposed to do. The Green Tea Rubbed Skirt Steak features grilled veggies and lettuce in a brick dough cup. It comes with a grilled vegetable wrap. The spinach tortilla holding assorted grilled veggies and creamy goat cheese.
I feasted on Rack of Lamb.
"We salt and pepper it. Season it. Sear it. We sear it on each side for a couple minutes just to get a nice brown crust. Then finish it off in the oven. Serves with a whole grain mustard sauce with Portabella mushrooms, and centralized onions," said Hocker.
The lamb is a hearty dish for those not of thin character or waist line. The tender meat cuts like butter at room temperature. Melts in the mouth. Delicious. The lamb sits on a bed of roasted sun choke, a vegetable popular in England during WWII. The sun choke is a starch element I've never encountered in any other local restaurant.
We split dessert. Triple Mouse Cake. White chocolate. Milk chocolate. And dark chocolate presented as one mighty rich finish line. The bill for the meal we experienced: $83.00 plus tip.
The back side of Embassy Suites offers and unparalleled eating experience.
The Riverside Cafe at Embassy Suites is open seven days a week from 11am until 11pm.
100 Conference Dr.
Dining Reservations; 694-0200, extension 2029.