A hidden gem that Chicago has yet to discover, the refine Travelle Kitchen + Bar shines with its rustic farm to table concept. The Langham Chicago Hotel's signature dining room will remove you from the hustle and bustle of the city life, and transport you to a private space that will sooth your inner peace and foodie cravings. Join me as I relive one of my most enjoyable dining experience that the Chicago culinary scene could offer.
Arrival & First Impression
First of all, I have to say that this restaurant is worth every penny spent. From the service to the food, everything was above average. This is to be expected of a five star reputable hotel like the Langham and they certainly made it hard for a critical foodie like me to find fault.
Situated on the second floor of the Langham Chicago Hotel, guests of the restaurant would be whisked away from the street level hotel entrance and politely ushered to the elevator. I personally liked the warm welcome we received from the bellman even though we weren't a guest staying at the hotel. After getting off from the elevator on the second floor, we approached the hostess counter which is situated on the west side of the lobby. The hostess greeted us with her name (5 star standard) and escorted us to our quiet corner table. From my first impression, the restaurant setting was elegant, adorned with appropriate decors, floor to ceiling windows looking at the neighboring buildings, comfortable chairs (a lot of inferences can be taken from the kind of chairs and furniture that an establishment is willing to invest in), and an open kitchen encased by a glass wall, allowing patrons to observe the chefs doing their magic. Without even looking at the menu, the expectation was already set to high level.
Once we got settled down, our waitress came to introduced herself and presented the menu. Their menu is seasonal, using Green City Market produce to which we were thrilled to hear as we were ourselves fans of the farmer's market produce. You just can't call yourself a farm to table concept restaurant if you don't locally source your ingredients! Credibility, check.
A variety of protein is offered, although a little more seafood than I would've thought. Fear not, the staple chicken and steak are on the menu so if you want to stick to the traditional, they've got you covered. There were interesting vegetable components such as kumquat jams and morel mushrooms for the fancier palate.
The price here is definitely on the higher end so I would recommend the venue for special occasions or a date you would like to impress.
For aperitif, I chose a cute cocktail named "The London Lover". To my surprise, it was a 2-part cocktail (which I've never of such concept, pretty creative!). The set is comprised of a passion fruit puree concoction paired with a glass of rose to mellow out the intensity. A half cut fresh passion fruit accompanied the drink, building on to the passion fruit concept. The presentation was further enhanced by the bohemian glass and the stainless steel tray. On the other hand, Gus chose to take a glass of the house rose which was served professionally.
Our waitress and her team was pleasant through out the entire dining experience from communicating the menu items and offering recommendations to setting up the table course by course. We liked that the cutleries were replaced and supplemented according to the dishes that came out and also the attentiveness in making sure our thirst was quenched. The thing is, when an establishment refills your water even before you ask and even before you run out of water, you know you are in good hands. That's how I felt when we dined there.
Appetizer: Prociutto Flatbread | arugula, lemon, olive oil
Main Course: Branzino (fish) | sofrito, chorizo, farro, spring vegetables pilaf
Seared Scallop | buttermilk, roasted carrots, wild rice
Sides: Crispy New Potatoes | harisa aioli, chorizo, scallions
Warm Asiago Bread | whipped ' nduja pork butter, local honey
Dessert: Lemon Pavlova | lemon cream, coconut dacquoise, lemon crouton
Blackberry Parfait | creme fraiche mousse, almond-thyme olive oil cake, blackberry sorbet
Flavor-wise, we would give this place 7/10. There were more wow moments than there were mediocre moments as we experienced the dishes meticulously one by one. The ingredients were cooked nicely and you could tell that attention to detail was taken for each dish.
Watching the chefs going about their cooking routine while dining is a whole different experience and perhaps this is why people love chef's table (and would pay a pretty penny for such seats). It's all because seeing how your food is prepared and eventually make its way to your table activates your visual curiosity, and of course other sensory nodes. At least for me, whenever I dine at an open kitchen restaurant with great views of the kitchen, I'm always trying to observe what the chef's are doing, what ingredients are they using, and how they are preparing or storing the ingredients. It's like watching a live food network TV show. As amateur chefs ourselves, knowing that many thoughts were put into curating the menu, prepping the ingredients, serving the dishes through military like production planning (high end restaurants tend to operate as such), and other nuances such as the services in the dining room, we completely appreciate the fact that cooking good food is still a skilled craft that no robots can replace just yet.
Circling back to our food, Gus enjoyed his branzino and though the dish was fine. We enjoyed every dishes including the finger licking good nduja pork butter (divine!), the well seasoned new potatoes, and the pair of desserts. Minor setbacks, I thought my scallops were a tad overcooked, rendering them slightly dry. But that could be my personal preference rather than a miss in execution. Also, it was interesting to see grilled lettuce as a component on my dish.
In my opinion, I think there were rooms for improvements on such areas like the pairing of ingredients to achieve greater sophistication in flavor and perhaps the presentation as I thought the color composition was not as impressive. Being a farm to table concept, I was expecting for the vegetables to really bring out the flavors of the protein and peak my interest with vibrant flavors, reminiscence of the fresh ingredients sourced from the local farms. Especially this was in June, the beginning of summer where produce are in abundance, I would expect to see further emphasis of seasonal vegetables on the plate such as tomatoes to really liven up some of the dishes but instead there was that feeling of heaviness, driven by the usage of rich ingredients and strong flavor profile. I thought that such theme was exuding from the menu and the dishes that we had tasted failed short of achieving the farm to table harmonization of the seasonal flavors. However, those were relatively subjective comments to which some could argued the opposite. Despite my critical interpretation of the Chef's menu and execution, it was by far again above average than most restaurants here in Chicago. I would agree that there's potential for this restaurant to make it big one day. Nevertheless, there needs to be further reflection of how the customer's would perceive such claim of farm to table and ensure that the menu composition incorporates nuances that would reconfirm the validity of the concept.
It seems like there was a common theme that sweet things here, passion fruit cocktail and the two desserts, were outstanding. The highlight of our meal -- dessert. Gus was studying in New Zealand during his high school years so having pavlova was a delightful experience evoking his fond memories (apparently it's a national dessert for NZ too). My blackberry parfait was light and refreshing. It was sort of like a deconstructed blackberry ice cream cake. The creme fraiche contrasted well with the blackberry sorbet, creating a blackberry gelato flavor when eaten together on one spoon.
Our meal at Travelle Kitchen + Bar ended on a high note and we truly had a wonderful time. If I have to ask myself, would I come back to this restaurant and spend the equivalent amount of money for another variation of their menu? I would say maybe so. However, with aggressive competition in the Chicago food scene and a long list of michelin starred restaurants, Travelle would have to put extra work on drafting an exciting menu than can capture the mass and allow itself to standout amongst the sea of equal if not more well established staples.
As a person who frequently analyzes the feasibility of restaurants, my recommendation is for them to do a competitive analysis and perhaps re-position themselves if they can't penetrate the Chicago food scene with the farm to table concept. This meal was enjoyed in June through their special promotion on Travelzoo (in a business standpoint, you know what the financial conditions of an establishment is like if they're on sale on such websites like Travelzoo and Groupon as an example). Anyways, I've finally gotten time to come back to this review on which I've drafted right after I enjoyed the meal. It seems like the extended Travelzoo promotion help garnered the restaurant reviews and some publicity but not at the same pace that fellow hotel restaurants had succeeded. Then you wonder, was it just because the concept was farm to table that the restaurant was struggling to get its name out, thus resorting to Travelzoo? Was it just because it's located in the 2nd level of the Langham hotel and people just to see the restaurant front? Was the price not right, was it somewhat overpriced? Those are debatable questions and perhaps you might know the answer. I know I got philosophical with this restaurant review but I truly saw potential in this restaurant that I think it could be doing better if it just changes the way the restaurant is run and market to the mass. But then again, who is to say?
Thank you for the excellent experience!
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