There was a time when dining at a hotel's restaurant was almost an afterthought.
How times have changed. Many hotels across the nation now boast at least dining establishment that features upscale dishes that warrant repeat visits.
Among such spots is Chicago's Travelle at the Langham ( 330 N. Wabash Ave.; TravelleChicago.com ), which features plenty of items with innovative twists.
Recently, Windy City Times talked with Travelle Chef de Cuisine Jeff Vucko and The Langham Executive Chef Damion Henry ( who oversees all culinary operations within the hotelincluding its 15,000 square feet of banquet space, Travelle, Pavilion, in-room private dining and exclusive Club Lounge ) about what distinguishes the food at the spotand they both cited a determination to raise standards.
"We keep challenging ourselves," said Henry, who landed here after being in Jamaica, Miami and New York City. "We keep setting the bar. We get five stars, but we don't settle. We want to be the best restaurant in the city.
"There are the big boys, like the Book Group and Lettuce Entertain You, and hotels like the Four Seasons. I like eating at those places, but we want to be in the conversation as well. We want to be the giant-busters and be the giants of the city ourselves."
"We definitely challenge ourselves and we don't want to be comfortable," echoed Vucko, who even was involved in the insurance business at one point, but who said he followed his dream of owning a restaurant. "Never stop."
Vucko and Henry have both been involved with Travelle since it opened in 2013so why have they remained with this establishment, when so many other people seem to quickly and continuously jump from one culinary spot to another? "The space itself is gorgeous, and I feel like it's on tier with a luxury brand," Vucko said. "I also went through two chefs de cuisine, and learned a lot. We competed in [the culinary competition] Cochon555 and we won this regiontwice." He also talked about embracing Chicago's Green City Marketso much so that Travelle has hosted a Green City Market dinner series for the past three years.
From the start, The Langham "was sold as a luxury, five-star dining experience," Henry added. "A lot of times you hear that, but it doesn't come to fruition. But here, the best talent in the country is here, and the backbone of that is still here."
And the talent these chefs exhibit was apparent during lunch, when I was fortunate enough to try a hearty serving of creamy barley risotto and a perfectly cooked lamb burger. However, there is one experience Vucko described that warrants a return visit.
"There's this 32-ounce tomahawk chop that we bury in salt and put in the oven. Then we crack [the salt shell] tableside, in front of the guests. Then we light a torch and give it a little sear," he said. This writer had heard of fish being prepared that wayand it comes out tasty, without retaining the salt.
Travelle is definitely on its way to being included in those conversations Henry mentioned.
Note: Restaurant profiles/events are based on invitations arranged from restaurants and/or firms.
On Wednesdays, Schaumburg's Tokio Pub is offering, for $12, any combination of three burgersincluding the Tokio Sunrise Burger, Eruption Burger and the signature Ramen Burgerwith any of the eight beers for 24 pairings. See tokiopub.com .
The Dearborn's pie program includes a choice of key lime ( graham cracker crust, key lime curd, vanilla cheesecake, toasted meringue ), Dutch apple ( traditional pie crust, Granny Smith-and-gala apple filling, streusel topping ), brown sugar pumpkin ( traditional pie crust, spiced pumpkin custard, mascarpone whip cream ) and bourbon pecan ( butter crust, caramelized pecans, brown sugar, bourbon ). Pre-order by calling 312-384-1242 at least 48 hours in advance. Pies are $35 each and are available now through Jan. 2.
Sable Kitchen & Bar has a kitschy Christmas pop-up bar, Miracle, that will take over its cocktail den with "Miracle at Sable Kitchen & Bar" on Nov. 23-Dec. 31. In collaboration with Cocktail Kingdom, Miracle's cocktail menu of 10 Christmas-inspired libations and two shots will be served in festively ornate glassware by Beverage Director Jenee Craver. A launch party will be held Friday, Nov. 23, 5-7 at 505 N. State St. and guests are urged to wear ugly holiday sweaters; visit SableChicago.com .
Launching on Black Friday and running through the holiday season, Lincoln Park spot Gemini will offer its ZooLights prix fixe special, including two courses and Santa's Cookies and a hot beverage to-go ( $36 ). Starters include the chef's seasonal soup of the day, and Gemini Salad or mini-chorizo empanadas, followed by a choice of lasagna bolognese, rainbow trout provencal or steak frites. See GeminiChicago.com .
Starting the week of Nov. 26, Ina Mae Tavern & Packaged Goods, 1415 N. Wood St., will offer daily specials. They include kids eating free on Mondays, Yakamein Tuesdays ( yakamein being a Southern soup similar to ramen ), All-You-Can-Eat Shrimp Wednesdays ( the shrimp being $35 ) and Fried Chicken, Beer and Bingo Thursdays. See www.inamaetavern.com .