Illinois: Sofitel Chicago Water Tower
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Address20 East Chestnut Street 60611 Chicago, Illinois U.S. 312/324-4000 sofitel.com
The bar snacks at Le Bar—a trio of olives, parmesan cheese crisps, and house popcorn (sometimes cheddar, sometimes an addictive mix of cheddar and caramel that's a Chicago favorite).
The perfectly-textured macarons that you'll find on the tower of mignardises you're presented with after dinner.
Free coffee and tea on the bar every morning—just enter through the restaurant and take a cup to go (enjoy it on the terrace, if the weather's nice).
- 415 rooms and suites
- 24-hour room service
- Wireless internet
- Bar (Le Bar)
- Café des Architectes
My room is bright and modern, with a view of the John Hancock tower, an inviting-looking bathtub, and the kind of bed you sink into. I have a routine when I check into a hotel: set up laptop and check for wifi (24 hours free, here), peek into closets and hang up clothes (ample space—check!) and see whether the toiletries in the bathroom are worth swiping (here, the cute travel packs of q-tips, cotton balls and emery boards are to my liking, and the L'Occitane products are nice but too lemony-smelling for my taste). On the table there's a treat from the pastry staff, a bottle of water, and a welcome note for me. Throughout my stay I'm struck by these little touches of hospitality: a subtle switch of a white napkin for black at the table when I show up to dinner wearing dark clothes; a noiseless signal from the server at dinner for someone to refill my water before I've noticed it's empty.
The food at Café des Architectes, too, has the mark of someone who cares about details. Chef Greg Biggers' dishes, from a cool, silky foie gras terrine to a lightly spicy pork tenderloin paired with wild boar sausage and jalapeno jelly, are perfectly balanced. I show up for dinner with a friend, and between us we devour most of the tasting menu: red snapper sashimi with a yuzu gel and lemongrass meringues, seared halibut in a parmesan broth with tomato-caper relish, a sphere of chocolate paired with tonka bean ice cream that oozes ganache when cracked (we both emit a rather unsophisticated "Oooh!" when she breaks into it).
Breakfast is a pleasure, too. The decadent-sounding menu tempts me, but after two days of being treated to pork belly and lardo brulée I just can't face nutella pancakes, so I order grapefruit and coffee. It is the nicest plate of grapefruit I've ever seen: Glistening juicy segments fanned out on the plate in perfect formation, not a speck of pith missed. (I've worked in kitchens and, having segmented hours' worth of citrus, am now faced what a sloppy job I did by comparison.) Dipping a bite into the vanilla-scented apricot puree that has arrived alongside, my intended light breakfast suddenly seems luxurious—and all the more French. —Laura Sant
In the Area
- Spiaggia and Cafe Spiaggia: Spiaggia is an upscale Italian restaurant with a lovely view of the lake that was the recipient of a 2012 Michelin star, and Cafe Spiaggia is its casual little sister. Chef Sarah Grueneberg's plates, like a crescenza-filled ravioletto with lobster, nettle and Black River osetra caviar, would be worth the trip even if it wasn't around the corner from the hotel. Leave room for dessert—the gelati and sorbetti (in flavors like Fernet Branca peppermint and cinnamon rice milk) are spectacular. 980 N. Michigan Ave; tel: 312/280-2750; spiaggiarestaurant.com
- Bar Toma: Helmed by Chef Tony Mantuano, Bar Toma is a recent addition to the neighborhood with a casual, wine-bar-like feel. Wood-fired pizza and small plates are the stars. Try the spicy calamari and octopus with controne pepper and the salty cod mousse known as baccala. 110 E Pearson Street; tel: 312/266-3110; bartomachicago.com
- Oak Street Beach: From Sofitel's spot on Chestnut Street you're just a short walk from the lake, where, in summer, you'll find people soaking up the sun as well as running and biking along the beautiful lakefront. Oak Street Beach, Oak St and Lake Shore Drive