A taste of The Gwen: See what's cooking at Chicago's new lux hotel

A taste of The Gwen: See what's cooking at Chicago's new lux hotel
Prosecco Poptails are a signature drink at The Gwen. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

In case you hadn't noticed, there's a new girl in town and her name is Gwen. Actually the new Gwen is named after an old Gwen. That would be Chicago-born sculptress Gwen Lux--who designed the Art Deco McGraw-Hill building's facade and architectural sculpture back in 1927--and who also worked on Radio City Music Hall in NYC.

The original Mag Mile structure has had quite a run since then. Its facade and architectural sculpture was designated a Chicago Landmark in 1997.

Then in 1998 the building was demolished, save its facade--which amounted to 4000 large pieces that were labeled and stored in a warehouse until 2000 when it was reinstalled.

The building next opened as Le Méridien Chicago Hotel until 2005 when it became the Conrad Chicago. In September 2015, The Gwen Hotel--part of The Luxury Collection division of Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide--made its debut.

During the past nine months, Starwood has been working overtime to transform the 300-room, 34 suite Gwen into a 5-star destination.

An important aspect of the transformation is the hotel's dining scene which as of late May features a rooftop dining space named Upstairs at the Gwen and a second floor bar and lounge flanked by an outdoor terrace complete with fire pits, comfy seating and city views. Coming soon to the second floor patio--a fire wall that should be installed before the end of this month.

Outdoor patio at The Gwen. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Outdoor patio at The Gwen. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

In addition, The Gwen sports a new upscale restaurant called Circa, headed by the young and talented new chef, Angelina Bastidas.

Bastidas who just celebrated her 26th birthday this month has already built quite a resume for herself playing a big role in the Miami restaurant scene along with serving a stint on Top Chef.

Angelina Bastidas Chef De Cuisine at The Gwen. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Angelina Bastidas Chef De Cuisine at The Gwen. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

A few days ago Bastidas rolled out her summer menu which offers a host of innovative ingredients. She showcased the new menu items with a six course tasting menu. Circa's sommelier Chris Marcus presented the pairing menu using wines from Santa Barbara County, CA.

Gwen2

Heirloom Tomato Salad. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

The tasting got off to a stellar start with an Heirloom Tomato Salad with Whipped Yogurt, Charred Citrus, Chipotle Vinaigrette and Sesame Tuile. The flavors married well with none overpowering the essence of the dish and the beautiful full-blown summer flavor of the tomatoes. The salad was paired with a Sanford Rose Pinot Noir--a light  wine with a bouquet of candied cherries crushed flowers with a hint of watermelon.

The second course, perhaps my favorite for its cool jolt of flavors, awakened the palate with fresh thinly sliced tuna Carpaccio with Scallion Ash. The ash added a nice texture to the tasting experience. This was paired with a crisp Pence Ranch Chardonnay that offered a hint of citrus serving as a perfect compliment to the fish.

Tuna Crudo at Circa. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Tuna Crudo at Circa. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Next up was a Beet Cavatelli, Goat Cheese Espuma, Ramp Butter with Carrot-Top Pesto. This course shouted seasonal and spring with its use of ramps and carrot-tops. This was paired with Stolpman Vineyards Roussane that Marcus called “a red wine drinker’s white wine.”

Beet Cavatelli. Photo:Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Beet Cavatelli. Photo:Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

The fourth course featured Fennel-Coriander Crusted Scallops, Asparagus, with Lemon Curd. The Lemon Curd was an interesting choice that I may not have made but it did add a nice jolt of color that made for a more attractive presentation. Maybe a yellow egg yolk or perhaps just some lemon slices could have done the same. The English Pea Puree offered the lovely green of a spring day with nice airy freshness. Marcus carried over the Roussane pairing for this course.

Scallops. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Scallops. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

The fifth course, named Nortorius P.I.G., paid homage to the pig with a nod to America's obsession to everything pork. The dish featured Braised Pork Cheeks, Morel Mushroom, Farm Egg Poached in Pork Dashi, Pickled Fiddlehead Ferns and Cocoa Nib Jus. The dish was flavorful but a maybe a little too rich. The Fiddlehead Ferns did help to break up some of the heaviness of the pig.  The dish was paired with Byron Nielson Vineyard Pinot Noir lending just the right touch of muskiness and fruitiness.

Notorious P.I.G. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Notorious P.I.G. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

The grande finale, the dessert, was decadent but not too decadent.  Bastidas married a White Chocolate and Mascarpone Cremeux with Amarena Cherries, Almond Financier and Hisiscus Reduction--evoking a perfect blending of flavors.

Dessert. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Dessert. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

The tasting had all the elements that one hopes for in a pairing menu. It was innovative, elegant, and surprising--a seasonal celebration of tastes. You can check out the all the menus at The Gwen here.

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