The dazzling ambiance and comforting menu at Element are the brainchild of executive chef Nils Tarantik, who has made a name for himself as the chef behind Duval’s and partner in the newly-minted PBnT. Tarantik, with a bandana wrapped tightly around his head, is a chef of the people, more concerned with making good food than impressing with his technical prowess. “We wanted to take comfort food and turn it into foodie food,” says Tarantik. “Real salt of the Earth stuff.” The result of the seemingly incongruent blend of décor and food strikes a balance for the elusive dining experience that high-end restauranteurs strive for.

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The pasta selection pays homage to Tarantik’s early experiences in Italian restaurants throughout the Northeast and highlights his ethos of simplicity. The pinnacle of the pasta pyramid is the lump crab ravioli, a creamy spread of succulent crabmeat wrapped in fresh pasta dough. To break up the texture and color, the dish is strewn with crunchy asparagus and garnished with shiso, a seldom-used herb from the mint family with an anise-like flavor. The pumpkin ravioli features a smooth blend of sweet and savory with its ricotta crème and butternut squash stuffing, then sprinkled with spiced pine nuts like a night sky full of stars and topped with crispy fried sage leaves that eat like a snack on their own. The pork agnolotti is a satisfying spread of lean and marbled roasted pork wrapped into appetizing pillows of pasta. Using every cut of the pork adds finger-licking flavor, offsetting the tangy tomato sauce for a matchless taste-bud experience.

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One of the elemental motifs projected onto the animated walls is a gentle fire, which strums a primal string that begs for grilled meat. Lest diners forget, Element is billed as a Mediterranean steakhouse, so the offerings of four-legged land dwellers are expectedly impressive. The carefully aged cuts of Iowa Premium Establishment 8 angus beef, some of the highest quality beef in the country, come grilled or seared to perfection and topped with Element’s herb butter. Ambitious appetites will appreciate the 38-ounce tomahawk steak, a mammoth cut of bone-in ribeye packed with enough protein to satisfy a tribe of hungry Cro-Magnons. The bone-in wild boar chops presents like an archaeological museum exhibit with its prominent protrusions of rib bones. The boar meat is wrangled in-state, and the wildness shows in its lean texture. Rather than overload the meat with avant-garde dressings, Tarantik opted for a simple blend of salt, pepper and garlic-chili oil to let the boar’s seared gaminess serve as the focal point, though condiment connoisseurs will enjoy the house-made spicy mustard that comes on the side. 

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Sitting at the bar under the faux pergola, diners get the impression of an infinite night sky above with the ceiling’s midnight blue color and celestial spread of dim spotlights—a perfect backdrop for a nice glass of wine or an artisanal cocktail. Pairing nicely with the vast array of grilled delights is the 2012 Brunello di Montalcino, an Italian red made from Sangiovese grapes of the Tuscany wine region. Post-meal, patrons can choose from a selection of digestifs to soothe their overstimulated stomachs. The Fernet-Branca amaro, known affectionately as the “bartender’s handshake,” is a spicy tincture of 27 herbs that serves as a fitting conclusion to a culinary and visual voyage. 

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