Breaking bread takes on a whole new meaning when the bread is sensational, and the ambience is right (the gal remembers breakfasting with the late Lionel Poilâne in his bakery just round the corner from the Lutetia in Paris – he would come up from the ovens below, and, still wearing his dark-mushroom knee-length linen coat, he would dunk a piece of buttered Poilâne toast in a handleless pot of milky white coffee…. ). Luxury hotels have other ways of helping you remember the bread they serve. At Four Seasons Hotel Chicago, the knowledgeable ask for an order of lavosh, intentionally meant to be broken into bits.
The lavosh comes as a big artist’s palette shape, complete with hole. The bread is therefore presented on an upright-standing C-shaped metal frame. You say wow, when it arrives. You say wow, again, when you break bits off. The flavour today is cheese and fresh herbs and it is so delectable you really do not need anything else, but to stick to current trends you must, you say, have a kale salad. If you want to show you are up to date in Chicago, and I guess elsewhere in the great USA, kale is absolutely essential. What it does for you, goodness only knows, but it is certainly a staple, as elsewhere, here at Allium.
Allium, it turns out, is the onion genus, and Chicago is named for onions. Indians called plants found along the Chicago River shikaakwa, or stinky onion… There were no onions on the menu today, however. The very-Irish chef, Kevin Hickey, came out to say hello. He is lots of fun. His dessert menu is called Sweet & Stinkies. Yes, it does it include some smelly cheeses, but his signatures are a Black walnut carrot cake, a Cheesecake sundae, a Pineapple upside-down cake and S’mores with milk chocolate mousse and smoked chocolate gel. One alternative is a Flaming bananas Foster shake.
How can you flame a shake, especially one that originates from Brennan’s restaurant in New Orleans? It was created in 1951 for Richard Foster, a restaurant regular and a New Orleans Crime Commissioner who loved bananas, brown sugar, rum and vanilla ice cream. Bet he was not size zero. Leave Allium and you know this is a fun hotel. A fountain outside its door is illuminated with pink light, to match its sign, and a pink duck swims in the water. Nearby, a couple of paintings of legs, one pair each, is so three dimensional that you walk past and the legs walk. Run past and the legs run. Head for the ladies’ washroom and two normal, full length mirrors flank one that is labeled ‘you look fabulous’, and it has shrunk you, vertically, to a size zero.
The ladies’ also has a sultry photo, a kind of Ich Bin Ein Berliner kind of woman. Nearby is a red telephone, with a message saying ‘If only Lydia had known about the need-it-now phone’.
Pick up the phone, and a sultry voice (Ich Bin Ein Berliner again?) saying if you have a pantyhose malfunction dial one, and so on. Brilliant.
Apparently the men’s washroom has a miniature golf hole and ball, for you to do what with no girl should ask. But it all just shows that you can have a lot of fun running a hotel, as Michele Grosso, who runs this one, obviously does.
Michele Grosso, and chef Kevin Hickey, will be hosting the next Cochon 555 event, the weekend of April 26-28, 2013. Five years ago, Brady Lowe, of Taste Network, launched a nationwide series of competitions to introduce the public to rare pig breeds. Every year ten cities host culinary cook-offs and the winner from each is flown to Aspen for the great Food & Wine Classic, to find the Grand Cochon overall winner. Many will stay at this luxury hotel to go out into the city, for an intimate guest-chef dinner on the Friday, and day-time Pastoral’s Artisan Producer Festival on Saturday. The Chicago great cook-off, on the Sunday (April 28th) is at the hotel, 4pm for 5pm. Yet another reason to return to the Windy City…