Breakfast is a chameleon. Dial it down, and it’s a meal eaten on the run. Snazz it up, and it’s a veritable feast. Enjoy it in the restaurant of a multi-starred hotel, and it’s a great way to start the day.
Chicago has a long history of excellent restaurants in top tier hotels, some of them owned by the hotel, and others, such as The Florentine in the J.W. Marriott, privately owned.
Whatever the ownership, hotel-based restaurants occupy a unique niche. In addition to serving three meals a day every day of the year, they have to accommodate a diverse clientele, some of them hotel guests and some not. At the same time, The Florentine and their white tablecloth brethren are judged by the same standards as a stand alone restaurant, whatever the meal. Breakfast, which has a lower price point than either lunch or dinner, is-as a result-a great way to sample an excellent restaurant.
Several of the newcomers are built around eggs. The Amatriciana, for instance, partners sunnyside up eggs with pancetta and a spicy tomato sauce, while the Pecorino Scramble is made with both pecorino and mascarpone cheese and the Egg White Fritatta with mozzarella cheese with butternut squash.
On the lighter side, the Prima Colazione (“classic Italian breakfast”) partners coffee cake and seasonal fruit with caffe latte. The coffee cake merits four stars, and so does the Burrata (a fresh cheese) served with toasted ciabatta, lemon curd, and blueberry compote.
And then there are the musts: the avocado toast with lemon aioli, avocado mousse, prosciutto, and a sunny side up egg; the almond brioche French toast with almond butter roasted apples dried cherries, cinnamon, and cider; and the warm ricotta doughnuts (Bombolini) served with an espresso caramel dipping sauce. The latter are habit forming and work best as a shared starter.
As someone who downed four cappuccinos in ten minutes while waiting for a hotel shuttle to leave for the Milan airport, I’ll vouch for The Florentine’s coffee. It’s good enough to make you wonder if anything could be better than starting the day with a cup of Italian coffee served in a beautifully appointed restaurant by a well trained staff intent on making you glad you’re there.
The Florentine, 151 W. Adams Street 312.660.8866.
The mood is casual, the decor “beachy,” and the menu long on seafood at Two Lights Seafood & Oyster on North Avenue just west of Wells. Owners Keene and Megan Addington open restaurants inspired by their own preferences, and this time ‘round, the inspiration is their summer vacations in Maine.
Brunch is fast becoming a must for restaurants in the city’s trendier neighborhoods, Old Town included. Two Lights began serving Sunday brunch several weeks ago, and the restaurant will be adding brunch on Saturday this week.
Certain menu items are almost as sacred as brunch itself. Think pancakes, Benedicts, French toast, and eggs in one form or another. They’re all on Two Lights’ brunch menu, albeit with a tweak or two.
One Benedict is made with house-smoked salmon, the other with Maine Lobster. The French toast is crusted with bacon and served with whipped lemon honey yogurt and a Maine-inspired blueberry compote, the avocado toast includes smoked salmon among its toppings, the tacos have a tuna poke filling, and there’s a fish sandwich made with Icelandic cod included on the lunch side of the brunch menu.
Two of the pairings are especially interesting. First up is the grilled octopus partnered with a soft scramble and the restaurant’s signature root vegetable hash, itself a welcome change from the ubiquitous hash browns. Grilling gives the octopus a smoky flavor without overwhelming either the octopus or the eggs.
Moving on, the biscuits are memorable, whether they’re ordered a la carte or served with a clam chowder gravy as an entree. And FYI-the strawberry marmalade is house made, and it’s yet another must, along with the strawberry mimosa, the oyster shooter, and the champagne cocktail.
There's a lot to sample, but then again, there are lot of weekends to sample them.
Two Lights Seafood & Oyster,227 W. North Avenue 312.929.3091.
Kohler Original Recipe Chocolates
Kohler Original Recipe Chocolates, the chocolate brand handcrafted at Destination Kohler, in Kohler, Wisconsin, is launching their new Spring Collection. Complete with a shell that's 61 percent dark chocolate, the candies are available in four different fillings: Pink Lemonade, Watermelon, Orange Dream and Key Lime.
Kohler Original Recipe Chocolates launched in 2007 with the introduction of its Terrapins, a blend of chocolate, caramel and salted pecans. Building on the Terrapins' success, the brand has gradually expanded its product line.
The Spring Collection is available online through Memorial Day at KOHLERChocolates.com and Amazon.com.
Lincoln Square Wine Stroll
More than forty-five restaurants will be participating in the same-annual Spring Wine Stroll in Lincoln Square and Ravenswood on April 25. from 6:30-9:30pm. The event is organized along six different routes: four in Lincoln Square and two in Ravenswood. Each of the participating restaurants will offer 2- ounce wine pours; twenty-five wines will be available for tasting on each route.
Prices range from $35-$45, depending on the route. For more information and tickets, visit http://www.lincolnsquare.org/wine-stroll.
James Beard Eats Week
Choose Chicago, in partnership with the Illinois Restaurant Association, has announced the return of The Fifth Annual James Beard Eats Week from April 26-May 6. Restaurants participating in the event make a $100 donation to the James Beard Foundation Scholarship Fund, which directly supports Chicago's culinary students.
A complete list of restaurants participating in the James Beard Eats Week program is available online.