The Peninsula Hotel in Chicago recently renovated the property and has designed some unique dining experiences to match the elegant décor. This past spring I enjoyed unusually balmy temperatures for The Windy City and had a chance to dine en plein air as well as indoors in the gorgeous lobby for epicurean delights.
With a friend in tow, I checked out one of Chicago’s finest Chinese restaurants, Shanghai Terrace. We enjoyed a green oasis in the bustling city, seated at a table in what could is described as a refined outdoor “1930’s supper club”. As the sun set, we relaxed marveling at the skyline views.
Knowing they specialize in Cantonese cuisine, we elected to be surprised and let Chef Elmo Han choose our courses. Bamboo boxes of dim sum appeared with dispatch. Traditional flavors of duck and shrimp were represented along with his unique lobster and chicken dumpling with black truffle. The won ton soup was simply sublime, served in a miniature bone white china terrine. Highlights included a trio of barbecue pork bun, spicy beef gyoza and green leaf shrimp dumpling and the main dish, Chinese style beef tenderloin with Chinese vegetables and a spicy black pepper sauce.
An interesting light and airy dessert, the green tea white chocolate raspberry cake paired with a raspberry lychee sorbet topped with a ginger infused raspberry cookie roll was perfectly executed and plated beautifully. A cold glass of vintage Laurent Perrier champagne completed the decadent meal.
Not to be outdone, the next day was also filled with gastronomic amusements. I had the pleasure to attend the Peninsula Academy’s special cooking class and tea ceremony. Donned with a personalized striped apron, Chef Han brought me into the kitchen and attempted to teach me how to make his famous dumplings. There is a great deal of finesse needed to shape the dumplings into a perfected scallop shape despite how easy he made it look. His patience was nothing short of Olympian and eventually I was able to produce something not too embarrassing. With help from his superb ingredients, my products tasted immensely better than they looked.
The tea ceremony was both educational and a great deal of fun! The array of interesting teapots I learned, are not merely ornamental, but are chosen specifically to bring out the flavor of teas brewed in them. The ceremony begins with the lighter versions brewed in pretty china porcelain and progresses towards the more unusual and stronger blends steeped in clay pots. A fascinating tidbit, I was told that the “first pour” was traditionally reserved for your enemies. I wonder how many times I have violated that ritual?
A late Afternoon Tea was slightly edited as I opted for champagne as my beverage having already consumed copious amounts of tea earlier. The pastry chef is indeed French, which was obvious by the dazzling details on the yummy petit cakes and macaroons. I couldn’t help but spy with my little eye a table next to me. A grandmother and granddaughter were giggling with delight at the little one’s adorable plate of age appropriate goodies. Teddy bear shaped sandwiches, a mini burger, a tomato hollowed out and filled with hummus with square cut veggies and a small clear glass filled with colorful gummy bears made me jealous. When, and if, I have a granddaughter some day, I will definitely take her here!
Room service breakfast can be ho-hum – not here at the Peninsula. I was duly impressed by the ease of ordering via the tablet next to my bed and the on time arrival of it. But what truly captivated my attention was the exact way breakfast was served. The waiter did not simply bring the dishes out from the warming tray below his cart, he actually purposefully placed each item in a table setting worthy of the world’s best five-star establishments. He was quick and precise and it was one of the most delicious and memorable hotel breakfasts of my life.
My only regret was getting on the airplane soon after and feeling spoiled. There was no way on this earth I could manage to put any of the institutionalized food into the same vessel that had experienced such fine cuisine the past few days.
The Peninsula Chicago: 108 East Superior Street (at North Michigan Avenue), Chicago, Illinois 60611, USA | Telephone: +1 312 337 2888