The Pump Room–Chicago

No, it’s not your mother’s Pump Room, the one that hosted celebrities for decades in the old Ambassador East Hotel. Though black and white photos from those halcyon days grace many of its walls, the new Pump Room is a total redo. Ian Schrager (of Studio 54 fame) recently bought the hotel and renamed it the Public Hotel. It has very quickly become THE place to be seen in Chicago. The bar is packed at all hours and the Pump Room is an impossible reservation to snag, undoubtedly due in part to Schrager’s decision to install Jeans-Georges Vongerichten in the kitchen.

Knowing we had to pace ourselves through a weekend of eating, my sister and I wanted to have a light lunch after checking into the hotel, and this was the place to do that without sacrificing excitement or flavor. Perusing the menu, I was delighted to find that JG has imported many of the signature dishes from his wildly successful ABC Kitchen in New York City. While vegetables used to be an afterthought, today’s chefs have relegated them to exalted status. At both ABC Kitchen and the Pump Room, they are the stars of the show.

Ever since my visit to ABC Kitchen last spring, I have been extoling the virtues of the Roasted Carrot and Avocado Salad to anyone who will listen. Though it may be hard to believe that this dish could be so memorable, my sister agreed with me that it deserves the accolades it gets because fortunately, this was prepared as flawlessly as the first time I reveled in it.

Another dish on both menus is the Roasted Beets with Homemade Yogurt. The dish was pretty as a picture and the beets were as sweet as candy. But the surprise of the meal was the broccoli side dish. Who knew this green veggie could be so addictive? It was roasted with garlic, jalapenos and pistachio and every bite made us smile.

We almost ordered a pizza, but when we saw the homemade bread and green olive oil that our server brought to the table, we opted to enjoy that instead…and an order of crisp house cut French fries. What a great lunch!

Since the restaurant is in a hotel, one of course can expect the obligatory hotel menu items like a cobb salad or turkey sandwich, but Jeans-Georges gives these classics a new twist. The hamburger is finished with herb mayo and pickled jalapenos, the mushroom pizza (a huge seller at ABC) is finished with a fried egg, and fried chicken comes with sweet corn and a chile glaze.

The hotel, too, is a visual treat. The common rooms are spectacular and very cozy for coffee or people-watching.

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