We define and study a geometric graph over points in the plane that captures the local behavior of Delaunay triangulations of points on smooth surfaces in IR 3. Two points in a planar point set P are neighbors in the empty-ellipse graph if they lie on an axis-aligned ellipse with no point of P in its interior. The empty-ellipse graph can be a clique in the worst case, but it is usually much less dense. Specifically, the empty-ellipse graph of n points has complexity Θ(Δn) in the worst case, where Δ is the ratio between the largest and smallest pairwise distances. For points generated uniformly at random in a rectangle, the empty-ellipse graph has expected complexity Θ(n log n). As an application of our proof techniques, we show that the Delaunay triangulation of n random points on a circular cylinder has expected complexity Θ(n log l).