Artisan Table—A Finer Palette

April 2014 View more


Photos by Greg Shapps

The hotel restaurant has long held the unenviable reputation as a place of last resort. The kind of overpriced, not-great-but-not-bad place for guests who were left with few viable choices due to a late hour, a lack of convenient transportation or inclement weather conditions. While not necessarily substandard in any way, there was often the distinct vibe of simply going through the motions at these paint-by-numbers eateries, with both patrons and staff members alike silently acknowledging that this was a functional arrangement, and not much more.

Artisian-066Lately, however, there seems to be something of a thought shift when it comes to hotel dining. All of a sudden, some of the best restaurants are popping up in hotels even if most of the diners probably aren’t hotel guests and probably never will be. It’s not unusual for casual observers to be far more familiar with the name and concept of the trendy new restaurant that just opened inside a hotel than the hotel itself.

The Reboot

While this tail-wags-dog phenomenon has yet to fully bloom in the western suburbs, more and more upscale hotels are certainly looking beyond the basic hotel restaurant template when outlining their dining capabilities. The recent transformation of an aging Holiday Inn Select into the more luxury-minded Chicago Marriott Naperville, for example, extended beyond the guest rooms and meeting facilities to the lobby restaurant as well, where the old just-the-facts-ma’am Terrace Café was shuttered in favor of the farm-to-fork aesthetic of Artisan Table.

Artisian-077True to the rest of the redesign here, the restaurant shares the clean lines and modern décor of its surroundings, with sleek lighting fixtures and comically high-backed booths. The menu sports an ambitious streak far beyond a typical hotel concept, riding a wave of scrupulous sustainability and locally sourced ingredients to craft something truly engaging.

Elevated Standards

While the two bulbous rolls sharing a small plate that arrived shortly on the heels of our drink order might have seemed rather lonely to someone expecting a more elaborate bread basket, one taste left little doubt that these warm, dense carbo bombs were intent on doing more with less. It didn’t hurt, of course, that they came accompanied by a whipped honey butter that could have easily resided on the dessert menu. Our appetizer choices were familiar options that were given enough care and attention to raise them up to noteworthy. In this case, that meant a sizable crab cake that was structurally unsound for the exact reason one would hope and a Caesar salad that arrived with a pair of melt-in-your-mouth crostini wedges standing sentry in place of the traditional croutons.

Artisian-023A pappardelle pasta dish made with spinach, artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes in a light rosemary-seasoned cream provided a little taste of summer on a cold winter’s night, while my bountiful Asian salad was flanked with a generous slab of honey-glazed salmon so fresh it seemed as though that fish might have pulled up and taken the spot right next to me in the parking lot on the way in. After a satisfying meal like this, the hope is always that they haven’t focused so much on growing their own parsley and hand-whittling the chairs that they’ve inadvertently neglected the dessert slate. And much to the relief of my insistent sweet tooth, the carrot cake parfait with cream cheese mousse offered proof positive that they had, in fact, given the final course the attention it deserves.

Artisian-103Maybe Artisan Table is less an earth-shattering concept than simply a smart one executed exceedingly well. But while it may not be changing the game, it certainly is raising the bar not just for hotel dining, but for local fine dining in general.

Artisan Table
1801 N. Naper Boulevard