Critics’ choice: The reinvented hotel restaurant

Allium; Nougatine; Oliver’s

Allium Chicago

Give Chicago’s Four Seasons credit for seeing the writing on the wall, said Phil Vettel in the Chicago Tribune. Recognizing that fine dining is fading, the Gold Coast hotel recently shuttered its white-linen in-house restaurant and laid to rest that establishment’s “excruciating correctness.” At Allium, the food remains outstanding, but the first dish you’re likely to notice being served establishes this usurper’s more carefree ethic. The lavosh, a cheese-and-herb-topped flatbread, is “baked with an off-center hole, like an artist’s palette,” and hung from a wire hook that’s set at the center of each cloth-free table. When diners begin tearing at it, “the point is made: This is a place where it’s okay to get your table a little messy.” The rest of chef Kevin Hickey’s new menu is filled with dishes—such as the bison steak tartare—whose simple-sounding descriptions “belie the astonishing craftsmanship that goes into them.” If any strike you as too serious, just finish your meal with the house-made Oreos. Four Seasons Hotel Chicago, 120 E. Delaware Pl., (312) 799-4900

Nougatine New York City

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Until this past spring, it was easy for Manhattanites to take Nougatine for granted, said Pete Wells in The New York Times. Located at Columbus Circle inside the Trump International Hotel, this glass-walled, modern bistro was for years the modest adjunct to Jean-Georges, chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s world-renowned flagship. But then Vongerichten had the space made over with sleeker furnishings, and suddenly, Nougatine acquired “a Rat Pack–era verve” that made it feel like a destination. Most of the fare is home-kitchen simple, but an amateur couldn’t touch Vongerichten’s crispy chicken breast, and the simple watermelon salad “soars above salad-bar level thanks to good green olive oil and a sly kick of cracked white pepper.” The desserts and the Cantonese-style lobster could be better, but diners here aren’t paying the prices shelled out by the “gastrotourists” they can watch being ushered into the hushed Jean-Georges. At Nougatine, that parade turns out to be part of the fun. Trump International Hotel, One Central Park West, (212) 299-3900

Oliver’s Camas, Wash.

There’s nothing outwardly striking about this modest hotel restaurant in suburban Portland, said David Sarasohn in The Oregonian. But turn to the menu and “big surprises” are in store. Set at street level inside a carefully restored historic hotel, Oliver’s looks like a place you might stop for “an upscale burger” but instead offers thoughtful options for a cheese course, plus four- to six-course tasting menus, complete with wine pairings. An opening fruit soup delivers flavors so fresh you’ll think the raspberries were picked in the kitchen. A “fist-sized” bourbon-and-peach-glazed double pork chop “comes from what seems to have been a particularly contented pig, its moistness set off by a lively salsa of peach and red onion.” The editors at Food & Wine weren’t fooled by the humble setting. Last year, they named Oliver’s one of the top three new suburban restaurants in America. Camas Hotel, 401 NE 4th Ave., (360) 210-4037

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