Sixteen at Trump Tower

January 19 2009 - 1:46 PM

Last week, I was lucky enough to be treated to dinner at Sixteen,
the restaurant at Chicago's Trump International Hotel & Tower.
This officially marks the most expensive meal of my life, though
ultimately I wasn't paying for it (phew). Sixteen opened fairly
recently last spring, to much hoopla and fanfare as is appropriate for
a Trump property. Now, does it live up to the hype?

Some thoughts on
the experience:

The service is phenomenal – As
soon as I stepped foot on the sidewalk outside Trump Tower, it was as
though I'd entered the Pampered Princess Zone. Doors were opened for
me. Revolving doors were revolved for me. I didn't have to lift a
finger to push the elevator button. Heck, they even tied my shoe for
me. Okay, they didn't, but they did pretty much put on my coat for me.
Service flow during dinner was extraordinarily smooth, probably better
than any other restaurant I've ever seen before. Plates were silently
whisked away as soon as I set down my fork, and my glass was never more
than halfway empty. Plus, our server was super friendly and knew the menu
inside and out. I peppered her with questions about the barramundi (a
type of fish), and asked her to describe a couple wines from the
hefty list. She handily provided detailed descriptions without breaking a sweat.

The bartender is adorable – I arrived a little early, so I had a chance to scope
out the bar before dinner. The bar was fairly quiet, with only 3 other
guests around, but no matter, the bartender was there to keep up the
patter of conversation and provide festive beverages. Like everyone
else I encountered, he was all smiles. He also asked me for an id,
which is unusual at high-end places in my experience, so good for him!
Also, the bar snacks provided included mixed nuts, olives, and cured
garlic. That's right, I was noshing on whole cloves of garlic, and it
was delicious. (Much more pleasant than the time I was dared to eat
whole cloves of raw garlic) With that precursor, I had great expectations for dinner, but…

The food is meh – After
our meal, I felt incredibly full even though I hadn't actually eaten
that much because everything was so rich, and not necessarily in a good
way. Chef Brunacci's menu features contemporary American takes on
standard dishes (duck, rack of lamb, scallop, steak), and certainly
focused on meat as the center of the plate. There were no
vegetarian-friendly options for entrees, not even a pasta dish, and I
don't think any of the appetizers were vegetarian either. I ended up
trying the foie gras (parsley sauce, crab salad and puff pastry) for an
appetizer, the duck (polenta cake, date & orange chutney, and black
cardamom) for my entree, and the Nougat Deconstructed (honey ice cream,
pistachio crisp, sheet wafer) for dessert. Each item was good, but not
outstanding, and I found myself hankering for other flavors besides
decadent meaty & creamy goodness. For instance, I would have rather
had less duck in exchange for additional polenta and chutney. We were
also given an oxtail-mushroom soup amuse-bouche, a caramel creme tart
for a pre-dessert course, and a tray of caramels, macaroons and petit
fours for a post-dessert course. This results in an awful lot of
dessert, and by the end, I was too full to appreciate any of it. I
would have much preferred a lighter intermezzo course; even the typical
tart sorbet would have provided some much-needed contrast.

Don't get me wrong, the food is very good, it simply didn't wow me. And I say all this knowing that many people have worked
very hard at putting together this restaurant, and think it's the
best restaurant in the city, and here I go lambasting the food in
one swoop as just being "okay." Perhaps
I'm becoming jaded.

Trump is in da hizzouse – Hot
damn, is that a 19,000-crystal Swarovski chandelier hanging from the
30' ceiling? Can we say this place packs some bling? Much like its
namesake, Trump Tower has a flair for the dramatic, though it is always
with understated elegance. From the chocolate bark embossed with the
Trump logo in our dessert, to the jaw-dropping view of the Chicago
skyline, the atmosphere was designed to be bold and ostentatious,
though never tacky. The foyer features an impressive look at the wine
cellar, with hundreds of bottles neatly stacked behind the glass. I
might also add that the chairs come with armrests and are incredibly
comfortable. And, in case you are interested in living so luxuriously
on a permanent basis, business cards and pamphlets to buy a condominium
in Trump Tower are tucked into the credit card folios.

Conclusion: Sixteen is overpriced like an airplane seat-pocket catalogue – I
wanted to love this restaurant, I really did. But I hear there's a
recession in town, and that does not bode well for Sixteen in its
current form. Chicago is a big town with lots of upscale restaurants,
and I
can easily think of other places where I can get better food for my
money. Does the view and the service compensate for the just-good food?
I'm thinking no. Moreover, hotel restaurants always fight an uphill
battle to attract non-hotel guests. Does Sixteen have enough to
differentiate itself from the city's coterie of independent
restaurants? I'm not sure that it does. At any rate, fear not, Sixteen
will be around for at least as long as Trump Tower is operating

Sixteen
401 N. Wabash
312-588-8030

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