Summer Tasting Menu at The Pump Room
Walking into The Pump Room in the Public Chicago Hotel, one is immediately struck by the touches of classic elegance beneath the sleek, modern vibe of the historical spot. Nestled in Ian Schrager’s super-cool hotel, which opened last fall, the concept for the reimagined Pump Room restaurant was led by world-renowned Jean Georges Vongerichten.
The menu, while innovative, also gives nods to the historic 1938 Pump Room, formerly a part of The Ambassador East Hotel, as exemplified by the crispy braised chicken (now accompanied by sweetbreads and a roasted peach marmalade) and the Baked Alaska (now with salted caramel ice cream). Sticking with the theme, the lively bar in the front of the restaurant is from the original space, but now it’s adorned with a large, carved-out gold dome that glimmers behind it with the glamour of the 1930’s and 40’s — a time when high-profile patrons like Audrey Hepburn and Frank Sinatra frequented the place.
While The Pump Room hasn’t lost sight of its roots, its tribute to the past certainly doesn’t overshadow its fundamentally modern sensibility. The attentive wait staff brought out the first course of chilled soba noodles in a dashi broth with shaved Peekytoe crab and a Meyer lemon jelly while all of us seated at the long, elegant communal table ogled at the craft-y white lanterns hung at varying heights from the ceiling. I had been invited to try out revamped The Pump room’s summer tasting menu along with a dozen other Chicago press members.
Moosah Reaume, The Pump Room’s executive chef, joined us to chat. One writer asked him how much food they’re sourcing from local purveyors. Reaume responded that while sourcing locally is a priority, the emphasis is on seasonality and quality above all else.
“When I see some of these farm-to-table restaurants I think, ‘where are you getting olives around here in the middle of summer?’ For us, it’s more about going local when we can, but above all, keeping the quality as high as it can be.”
When I asked Chef Reaume whether there was a certain cuisine that inspired the menu, he replied that more than offering one specific cuisine, the emphasis at The Pump Room is on providing a supremely comfortable setting with reasonably priced food that draws inspiration from many different cuisines.
Indeed, as the food arrived, the influence was less bound to a certain culture than to a higher culture of great taste. The market salad, for example, features baby arugula and grilled peaches over a bed of burrata cheese, with crispy lavosh crackers over the top. Other standout dishes included the roasted sturgeon (a fish Reaume loves to work with) over fava beans, served with pickled carrots and bacon vinaigrette, and the seared scallops in a clear coconut-lime broth served with corn, tiny mushrooms, and an herb salad.
Chef Reaume and his team never failed to subvert expectations. The lamb loin served over a navy bean ragout, for instance, featured an out-of-this-world cherry-chipotle glaze that was at once smoky, spicy, and fruity. Similarly, the ginger-lime sorbet at the end of the meal featured enough ginger to add a real spiciness to the otherwise cool, sweet dish.
Ultimately, what made The Pump Room shine was its ability to strike dualities — in its simultaneous reverence and subversion of traditional flavors, its assertively modern yet mindfully traditional atmosphere, and its insistence on creating a comfortable, casual environment that is still fit for the stars.