Two new hotel hotspots

CHICAGO Our food reporter has been highlighting a few of the new and noteworthy places over the past few months.. This week, he takes on two new upscale options, including a taste of Spain and "The Donald."

Hotel dining used to be a bore. In the old days, it offered overpriced French or continental fare. But Chicago's Ritz-Carlton changed all that. Now, there is exciting dining at the Park Hyatt, the Peninsula, and two brand new hotels. In one, Donald Trump shows off his luxe approach to dining.. And in the other, a grand dame is lovingly restored in the South Loop, where all things Spanish rule.

There's a lot more than just garlic shrimp at the brand new Mercat A La Planxa, the new Spanish restaurant takes up two floors of the newly remodeled Blackstone Hotel in the South Loop.

"We do small portions so it's not really like a tapas restaurant that you would be like, at a tapas bar, it's just smaller portions of modern Spanish food inspired by Catalonia," said Jose Garces, Mercat a la Planxa.

The tapas are both traditional and modern. Pulpo con patatas features Spanish octopus with potatoes, garlic and smoked paprika, while almond-stuffed dates are wrapped in bacon, then coated with a Spanish blue sheep's milk.

From la plancha or grill, comes both seafood and meat, like 10 ounces of sliced American wagyu skirt steak; slow-cooked pork belly is cider glazed, paired with green apples and cabbage. Garces says Chicago is more than ready for a modern approach to Spanish cuisine.

"It's known as you know, one of the most cutting-edge cuisines right now in the world, and having those factors along with some pretty good local ingredients and also the availability of imported Spanish products helps out a lot," said Garces.

In River North, The Donald has put his stamp on the city's skyline, while Chef Frank Brunacci is doing his part to raise the bar on the local food scene, at Sixteen, on the 16th floor of Trump's new hotel tower.

"Modern America, international accents - I've spent a lot of time traveling the world and seen different things and kind of incorporated those things into my dishes," said Brunacci.

Midday, power-lunchers can dig into a moist chicken breast with crisp fingerling potatoes, dabbed with a bit of onion cream, plus peppery arugula in a truffle dressing.

At nighttime, when the lights go down and the view steals the show, Brunacci offers delicate crab salad laced with pink peppercorns, wrapped in cantaloupe, it's topped with micro greens. His duck arrives with crisp polenta, plus a fruity date and kumquat chutney. A spiced orange Indian crepe layered with coffee cream and milk sorbet is one of a half-dozen decadent endings. It's a room where both the food and the view are breathtaking.

"It's majestic, because they grew up with the Wrigley building but they never grew up with it being so close, they never saw it in this light because you can see it and at night time, it just, I mean, it sparkles, really, it's a gem," said Brunacci.

One more hotel restaurant to keep your eyes on is at the Affinia Hotel on East Superior, where New York-based Marcus Samuelsson is slated to open the C-House in about a month.

Mercat A La Planxa
638 S. Michigan Ave.

401 N. Wabash

Coming Soon: C-House Affinia Hotel
166 E. Superior St.
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