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Inside The (New!) Pump Room at Public Chicago

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  Site Where: 1301 N State Pkwy [map], Chicago, IL, United States, 60610
September 16, 2011 at 4:30 PM | by | Comments (0)

As with any good meal, we saved the best for last. And we're talking about the revamped legendary Pump Room restaurant from Jean-Georges Vongerichten inside Ian Schrager's new hotel, Public Chicago.

Ok, now that we've got that loaded introduction (Pump Room! Vongerichten! Schrager!) out of the way, onto the good stuff. Oh but first, to be fair, while JGV designed the menu concept, the chef hard at work in the restaurant is chef Bradford Phillips, an Indiana native whose resume includes NoMI at The Park Hyatt Chicago. Now, onto the food!

So we actually took a seat in the hotel's Library Bar on the other side of the lobby hoping to sip a drink and eat some food away from the Pump Room scene. (It was opening night so there was lots of backslapping going on and PYTs clogging up the bar.) But a hostess told us that while they would usually serve food in the bar area, that was not happening tonight. There were, however, some cancellations for dinner and she could seat us in the Pump Room instead.

Eeeee, we hesitated because we were dining by our lonesome. But faced with the possibility of not having tasted the Pump Room before checking out, we said, F it and followed the hostess to a table along the windows and overlooking the hubub in the middle of the restaurant.

First things first, we requested a cocktail menu. After inquiring about a "lightly alcoholic" drink and getting laughed at--"We don't do that here in Chicago" the waitress said--we decided on the Chicago Cosmo ($12) made with Effen vodka, fresh lemon/lime juice, cointreau and cranberry. Even though we sipped it slowly and hardly finished it, we still needed a cappuccino at the end of the meal to recover.

But our terrible tolerance aside, once we started skimming the menu, we started to get a little anxious...in a good way. All dishes are made with seasonal ingredients and are locally sourced when possible in a "farm to table" experience that's all the rage these days. We wondered if it were possible to sample a little bit of everything on the menu.

It was a tough, tough, tough decision but with the aide of our server we settled on the Roast Carrot and Avocado Salad ($11) with crunchy seeds (like pumpkin), sour cream and a citrus vinaigrette to start followed by Seared Scallops ($24) served with some chili foam and a side of Sauteed Corn ($6) with creamy pecorino, jalapenos and lime.

Scallops are always an iffy menu choice, in our opinion, because sometimes they come out too hard or too briny but the Pump Room scallops were cooked perfectly. Nice and soft but a little crisp on top and just the right balance of salt. The chili foam was interesting but tasty and helped spice up (heh) the scallops. It also complimented the side of corn which was heavenly as you can imagine anything sauteed and topped with melted pecorino cheese would be.

Given that we were half in the bin at a table by ourselves, we decided to finish off with dessert because...why not? We ordered the Creme Fraiche Cheesecake ($7) with market raspberries and a side of raspberry sorbet. Oh boy. Tasty gluttony. And that's when we decided we needed a cappuccino to wake ourselves up. Otherwise, we would have face-planted (with a smile on our faces!) on the table.

So now that we've just made love to the food at The Pump Room and are lazily smoking a cigarette at our desks, let's talk about the design of the new Pump Room. The place is virtually unrecognizable except for the bones of the room. Yabu Pushelberg, a very well-known interior design firm in the boutique hotel industry and the designers of the hotel formerly known as The Waikiki Edition, not only did the 285 guest rooms at the hotel (blending classic and modern design elements with very neutral colors), but they also helped Schrager's in-house design team led by Anda Andrei along with Kirstin Bailey and Paul Haslhofer in achieving the new look of the Pump Room.

The initial vibe is that of a very well-lit cave as the wall behind the bar of the Pump Room looks exactly like that. But if you're facing the bar and then turn around, the rest of the Pump Room is laid out and lit up in front of you. "Lit" being the key word here as the ceiling's old fussy chandeliers have been taken down replaced by provocative light spheres that jut out from all angles. It's futuristic but not scarily so.

The colors palette, much like the guestrooms, remain very neutral with beiges, grays and dull whites mixing in with the dark wooden tables and chairs. Some tables even have low sofas to sit on!

Clearly the place to be seen while you're eating is on the main floor at a table but a banquette along the side harks back to the Pump Room's glory days and the long communal table up front is great for big groups.

Speaking of the Pump Room's glory days, for the folks who miss how it used to be, there are tons and tons of photos for you to look at. A good batch is clustered at the restaurant's entrance but if you head downstairs (where the loos are) you'll find an entire corridor of Pump Room photos as well as the restaurant's old sign.

When we spotted it, it was lying on the floor between some leather benches. Hopefully, there's a grander plan for the sign in store. If not, it might be ok. The Pump Room will be creating a new kind of fame now. Also, can you imagine if they named this place The Gold Coast Kitchen? Thank you, people of Chicago, for not letting that happen!

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