Downtown Chicago wins top honors for group dining
I had to fly to Chicago to find out from a pair of celebrity chefs that I have been doing Italian food all wrong, and you probably have, too. Sitting in the dining room of Spiaggia (which means “beach” in Italian), overlooking Lake Michigan from a wall of windows, James Beard Award-winning chef Tony Mantuano and executive chef and Top Chef winner Joe Flamm debated their favorites on their new spring menu—and explained to me that risotto should not be a sticky pile of rice, but a delicate disk of creamy, fresh flavors.
Take one taste from the menu of the third-floor private dining room (popular corporate and social venue that seats 200), Sala Privata (private dining room for 20) or Cafe Spiaggia (seats 30, with a lighter menu and ambiance), and you’ll agree this team is doing right by groups.
In fact, famed Magnificent Mile is proving that while the Windy City may still be home to more steakhouses per capita than just about any other city in the country (to name a few, Lawry’s The Prime Rib, Ditka’s Restaurant and Michael Jordan’s Steak House Chicago), options for groups are more varied—and authentic—than most planners may realize. Yes, it is home to RPM Steak, but that same group now also operates RPM Italian and the soon-to-open RPM on the Water Chicago.
Sleep and Eat
Hotel properties are turning up the heat on diverse dining options, as well. Sofitel Chicago Magnificent Mile, a shining, triangular prism on the city skyline, speaks Midwest cuisine with a French accent at Cafes des Architectes. Whether it is a private dinner in Chicago’s only cheese cave, featuring chef Greg Bigger’s aged charcuterie and preserves, or a seven-course feast of summer vegetables, local farmers and artisans will be showcased on the artful plates.
And forget rolling in gallons of dark roast at the breakout at Sofitel. In the lobby each morning and in The Magnifique Meetings Hub prefunction space, iced drip coffee and house-made croissants from executive pastry chef Leigh Omilinsky bring the cafe to the meeting. French sangria in newly remodeled Le Bar bookends the day’s business with international flair.
At the other end of Magnificent Mile, LH on 21, two-year-old LondonHouse Chicago’s rooftop bar, has become one of the most popular selfie spots in the city. With its views of Chicago River, bridges and Chicago Riverwalk, it’s easy to see why. Planners have already gotten creative with the space, turning it into a Nordic retreat with ice sculptures, clear plastic and lots of vodka. The indoor portion has a jazz theme, and a couple of cozy alcoves (one with a fireplace) can be rented for private parties.
The same culinary creativity can be brought into 25,000 sq. ft. of event space, along with natural light from oversize windows and balconies. After a new Ocean Prime opens in 2019, this first Curio Collection by Hilton property in the city will be home to six restaurants.
Next door, Wyndham Grand Chicago Riverfront has many sweet options for meetings in the view-drenched penthouse (the more-than-2,000-square-foot space was used to film the Batman sequel, The Dark Knight, and hosted Smart Woman Summit 2018) and 4,361-square-foot grand ballroom. Think milk shots topped by a cookie, or cake pops and spiked hot chocolate on the heated outdoor terrace.
To sate a big group appetite, Hyatt Regency Chicago delivers with 240,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including four ballrooms and 74 breakout rooms. Riffing on the trend to convert lobbies into living rooms, this property turns up the heat with a fireplace and hearty offerings such as crispy, fried mushrooms with Boursin cheese and white truffle cream. Stetsons Modern Steak & Sushi is the property’s nontraditional take on locally sourced, sustainable and yummy. Pair all that creative cuisine with an extensive selection of organic and bio-dynamic wines for the perfect new Chicago dining experience.
Also in the Gold Coast neighborhood along the magnificent Mile is the historic The Drake, A Hilton Hotel, which at one time regularly hosted the likes of Bing Crosby, Marilyn Monroe and Walt Disney. It still offers high tea accompanied by a harpist at Palm Court Grecian foutainside. For those who like their amber liquids a little stronger, Coq d’Or restaurant and piano lounge serves branded rye whiskey comfort as dark as the leather and wood-paneled accents. The authentic Chicago experience spills over into the 33,657 sq. ft. of event space and Camellia Room, where the grand 1920s beaux-art style architecture adds grand notes to any gathering.