108 E. SUPERIOR ST. // (312) 337-2888
Dining in a hotel lobby may sound too al fresco for some and
way groovy to others. Learning that The Peninsula Chicago had
ensconced a new chef in its lobby, we bit. Our reward? Culinary
luxury, beauty and calm.
The Peninsula’s lobby is one of those gigantic spaces with
palm trees and 30-foot ceilings, almost a Downton Abbey (make
that Downtown Abbey for the common man). Once it was known
mainly for English tea service. Now, it’s a dramatic background
for classic cuisine and perfect roast chicken.
A small combo plays from a red-curtained balcony up above
the fray. Wildly talented chef de cuisine Lee Wolen must have
hired angels to work in his kitchen. Who else rolled those exquisite
ricotta gnocchi topped with swirls of black truffle? This is food
so loving it brings tears to your eyes. And it spreads its beneficence.
Why else did we guard the last gnocchi so nothing could harm it?
Here, gentleness and gentility reign. And we’re still savoring
a beautiful still-life of succulent lamb with carrots, bulgur and a
little miracle of lemon preserve.
Scientists recently confirmed that we may have an unstable
universe, thanks to a giant particle called the Higgs boson. So
for complete repose, consider The Lobby as one great alternative
to nirvana. Even the hot chocolate pours out of its pot with serenity.
Soups flow like sacred rivers, including a mellow roasted-chestnut
soup with black truffle sauce and an artichoke soup with lemon,
garlic and roasted chicken.
What secret language can describe Wolen’s foie gras torchon
dipped in almond sable and flavored with lavender and tangy grapefruit? This must be how royalty eats. And the service? Bellisima!
Whole roast chicken is presented with bouquets of rosemary
and thyme streaming from between its drumsticks. The big
surprise is the brioche, butter and thyme stuffing, creating the
best of two worlds: roast chicken and fried chicken breast all in one,
followed by a tiny bowl of dark meat swimming in cream sauce.
Among sea delights count roasted Spanish octopus with
smoked ham, radishes and lime, and butter-poached Maine lobster.
There’s perfect hazelnut financier with espresso cream and
chocolate sorbet for dessert. And peanut butter truffles and salted
caramel macaroons to spoil you again. It doesn’t get better than this.
Starters: $11-$18 // Entrees: $26-$39 // Desserts: $13-$16
2039 W. NORTH AVE. // (773) 661-1540
Think Orville and Wilbur Wright soaring over Kitty Hawk
while frying chicken thighs. Or the Ringling Brothers as two
burly chefs/brothers taking to the flying trapeze. In other words,
brother/chef duos can really take off. So, ladies and gentlemen,
in the main ring, please find Michael and Patrick Sheerin, two
merry souls working their hearts out in toques, not tights.
The name Trenchermen signals people who really, really
like to eat. So, aware how easily a “culinary gorge mentality”
can seduce, we dined with a curmudgeon known to pepper his
conversation with, “I can make the same dish at home for a dollar
ten.” Well, Trenchermen’s subtle pyrotechnics so entranced him
that not one “brrr” or “grrr” issued from his mouth. Instead, he
discoursed on why the rehashing of other people’s ideas bores
him to death at most new restaurants.