It would be impossible for me to adequately express how much I love hotels. I inherited this love from my mom who, despite not having much disposable income, always prioritized vacations. We managed to go on a vacation every year of my young life, something I will always be grateful for. It taught me the importance of finding ways to take a break from the everyday, as well as the obvious benefits of being exposed to new people and places and ways of living. But my feelings for hotels go beyond their role as a signifier of vacation. And let me be clear, in my adult life my love of hotels should more specifically be defined as a love of fancy hotels. Which I know leaves the rest of these words dripping with privilege and elitism. I’m aware of that, and I am also aware that we all make decisions about how we will spend our extra income. I don’t have a car, or cable, or—I’m getting defensive.
Back to hotels: Hotels are this strange public/private space that is both your “home” and yet completely foreign and filled with strangers. They are at once comforting and stimulating. They have amenities. Pools. Room Service. Someone to make your bed every morning. Marble bathrooms with soaking tubs (or if you’re very lucky: steam showers). They have giant comfortable beds with nice linens. TV with dozens of channels. Someone you can call when you’ve forgotten your toothbrush. This is serious comfort. The stimulation comes from the public areas of the hotel. Grand hotels provide some of the world’s greatest people-watching. You overhear weird conversations and see the same people at breakfast each morning, as you try to piece together their lives. And don’t even get me started on hotel bars. All of that to say, I like a nice hotel.
Recently the folks over at the Public hotel in Chicago invited me to stay for a night. I usually refuse invitations like this because, as you may have guessed, I am not interested in shilling for a corporation. It’s why I have never had ads on the site, and why I don’t do give-aways or other promotional stuff. But in fact, I’d already stayed at the Public and knew I liked it and so it was a fairly safe bet for both them and for me (and for you?). Bryan and I had stayed at the hotel the weekend we got married to make some logistics easier. I knew I liked the hotel, but with all of our friends and family in town I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to it. This was a nice opportunity to return and really experience the hotel as a guest who was not worrying about flower deliveries or accordion players. And why would I ever refuse a stay at a hotel?
The Public falls into this new category of more affordable luxury-ish hotels. Hotels where you are sacrificing some of the perks of a true luxury hotel in exchange for slightly cheaper rates. This is a good idea. The Public makes a great impression from the moment you enter the lobby. It is easily one of my favorite hotel designs. It’s all whites and neutrals with strong black accents and the occasional metallic shimmer. (This is also what my apartment looks like, so in some ways the Public looks like the hotel of my dreams.) It’s in the former Ambassador East, a Gold Coast glamor hotel that was popular in the middle of the 20th century. Ian Schrager took over the hotel a few years ago and transformed it into the first of what is supposed to be a new brand of hotels for Schrager. Money was saved by leaving the layout of rooms basically the same. You can see the old Ambassador East in the painted wooden doors, and small bathrooms. These were savvy compromises. Everything else is beautifully updated. And the attention payed to the lobby and other public areas is truly outstanding. One of the things I like best about the hotel is that it has a great lobby culture. People are always hanging out, getting ready to start the day in the morning with pastries and newspapers and cocktails and partying with friends in the evening. It’s lively.
Because I write about food, I was also invited to dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, the Pump Room. When Schrager bought the hotel it came with the iconic Pump Room restaurant, which is where the 1% and celebrities had dined for much of the 20th century. The restaurant has been updated spectacularly and includes one of the most beautiful bars I’ve ever seen. They’ve managed to maintain a lot of the original glamor while making it a totally modern space, complete with a spectacular installation of glowing planetary orbs. Jean-Georges Vongerichten created the concept and the menu is very similar to his ABC Kitchen menu. We had both great food and great service at the restaurant. The raw fish we had (salmon with crispy sushi rice and tuna tartare) was especially good as were all of the vegetable preparations.
But I would like to really talk about one particular dish on the menu. I suspect that it might be the salad of our generation (is that a thing?). It started it’s life on the menu at ABC Kitchen and lives on at the Pump Room. It has been written about everywhere from the NYTimes to Food 52 and other food blogs (it’s also attributed to Jamie Oliver online- so the true history of this salad may never be known?). It is described on the menu as “Roast Carrot and Avocado Salad, Crunchy Seeds, Sour Cream, Citrus Vinaigrette”. And it is one of the best things you will ever eat. And you will eat it, even if you can’t visit the Pump Room, because my version of the recipe is below. It is a perfect mix of flavors and textures and pretty much everything you’d ever want in a salad.
I’ve made some changes to the salad, most of which I learned from my dear friend and fellow food-obsessive Emily Fiffer. I use greek yogurt in place of the sour cream, it has a little more body and flavor. And I don’t bother with the croutons which always have seemed a little superfluous. I’ve also altered proportions of everything a bit. You will too.
Roast Carrot and Avocado Salad, Crunchy Seeds, Sour Cream, Citrus Vinaigrette (adapted from the Pump Room)
- 1.5 pounds medium carrots, peeled
- 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- 1/2-1 teaspoon red chile flakes (to taste)
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 orange, halved
- 2 lemons, halved
- 1 avocado, halved, pitted, peeled and cut into thin wedges
- 1/3 cup greek yogurt
- 3 cups micro greens or sprouts, preferably a mix of radish and beet (I used pea shoots, radish sprouts, and some baby sorrel)
- ¼ cup sunflower seeds, toasted
- ¼ cup raw pumpkin seeds, toasted
- ¼ cup white sesame seeds, toasted
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the carrots and cook until just barely tender, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, with a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic, cumin, thyme, chili, 1½ tsp. salt, and ¾ tsp. pepper until crushed and pasty. Add the vinegar and ¼ c. of the olive oil and continue pounding until well-mixed. (Alternately, pulse in a blender or food processor until pasty.)
Drain carrots and arrange in a single layer in a medium roasting pan. Spoon the cumin mixture over, toss to coat.
Cut the whole orange in half. Arrange the 2 orange halves and 2 of the lemon halves over the carrots, cut-side down. Roast for 25 minutes or until carrots are golden brown. Carefully transfer the carrots to a platter.
When cool enough to handle, squeeze 2 tbsp. juice each from the roasted orange and lemon into a small bowl. Squeeze in 3 tbsp. juice from the remaining uncooked lemon halves. Whisk in the remaining 2 tbsp. oil to emulsify. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle over the carrots to your liking, reserving some for the next step.
Arrange the carrots on a serving platter. Arrange the avocado and sprouts on top. Drizzle with reserved sauce.
Dollop yogurt over the top, then sprinkle with toasted seeds. Serve immediately.