This year, Erling Jensen The Restaurant will trade its tiny patio for an expanded bar area and fresh, new menu options.
The change will double the size of the bar room and eliminate the patio altogether, which is seen by staff as an unpopular seating choice for restaurant guests.
"No one really goes out there," says chef de cuisine Keith Clinton. "Sometimes if it's really crowded inside, people will, but I wouldn't call it the best patio in town."
- Lorna Field
- Erling Jenson chef de cuisine Keith Clinton (above)
You could say the patio is even kind of dismal: It's small and lacks atmosphere, offering only a view of the parking lot and some commercial real estate nearby. And, to me, this feels like a disservice to the restaurant, which offers some of the best fine dining in the city.
Though he's been with the restaurant for about six years, Clinton has only been chef de cuisine for the past two. However, in that time, he has received a wealth of local and national attention. Recently, Clinton was a guest on the Food Network show Guy's Grocery Games.
"I wanted to see the TV side of it all," Clinton says. "It's extremely fast-paced, and a lot of the things that I thought would be fake and dramatized were not. Like the countdown was very real. When they give you 10 seconds, they really mean it."
Renovations on the restaurant are expected to begin any day now, but they plan to stay open for the duration. The bar area will expand by roughly 100 square feet, several additions will be made to the bar menu, and they may even offer a new tasting menu as well.
"We've got some crazy ideas, like when we expand and [the bar] room gets bigger, we would talk about doing a tasting-only room," Clinton says. "We would do wine tastings and food pairings and stuff like that weekly.
"It happens all the time, and it's something people ask for. It's not on the menu, but people can come and say, 'Can you do something just for us?' and we say, 'Sure, how many courses?' So we thought about offering a tasting menu specifically to this new area," Clinton says, referring to the expanded bar room.
The bar hasn't always been there, but since it was installed it's perhaps the most popular part of the restaurant.
"We used to do all of our service drinks and wine through the server alley," Clinton says. "The bar has done better every year since it's gone up and has always exceeded the expectations we set out for it.
"From a business side alone, the bar is great for us. But I think for the guests who don't necessarily go for such a fine dining experience and have to sit down and go through silverware changes and all that stuff, they can actually come in and just sit down and enjoy something [at the bar]."
The bar offers a more relaxed, intimate environment for those who just want to have a great dining experience without all the stuffiness of a fancy restaurant. The bar also has its own separate menu, but guests can order à-la-carte from the dining room menu, too.
"We come out and shave the truffles for them right here, and people really like that. It's fun for us, too," Clinton says.
Erling Jensen The Restaurant is known for its seasonally changing menus, which is perhaps why the majority of guests are regulars: It's impossible to get sick of eating the same thing over and over when there are always new dishes to choose from.
Likewise, so many people feel a personal connection because the staff go above and beyond to make everyone feel comfortable and welcome. Jensen himself is there most nights and loves to walk around the dining room chatting with and thanking guests.
"We don't take reservations, so it feels kind of exclusive in a way," Clinton says.
Renovations are expected to be complete by the end of spring, but in the meantime, go enjoy some handmade tortellini and say "Hi" to Erling.