The Dana Hotel means business. In the past, it has always been a perfectly pleasant place to visit. With stellar accommodation, a rooftop lounge and an ultra relaxing spa, stopping by never seemed like a bad idea. However, over the last few years things at the Dana Hotel began to change. The once buzzy rooftop bar closed and so did the restaurant on the ground floor. With the sudden string of closures, word around the culinary world began to spread: the Fifty/50 restaurant group was taking over.
While you may not know the group by name, you definitely know their food if you’re a regular on the Chicago food scene. Fifty/50 is at the helm of Homestead on the Roof, The Berkshire Room, Bodega, Fifty/50 Bar, Steadfast, Roots Pizza, West Town Bakery, Bunny Slope and The Sixth. Rumors were confirmed when the group announced they would open Portsmith, an elevated seafood restaurant on the ground level of the hotel, as well as Leviathan, a sea monster inspired cocktail bar on the second floor, and Apogee, a whimsical cocktail lounge on the twenty-sixth floor.
Apogee opened in April of 2017 and was quickly accepted into the ranks as one of the best cocktail bars in Chicago. Headed by mixology master Benjamin Schiller, it is one of those places you must visit before you die. Portsmith followed soon after, opening in August of the same year. Headed by Executive Chef Nate Henssler (previously of Homestead on the Roof), Portsmith allowed him to flex his creative culinary muscles and showcase seafood in a familiar yet unexpected way. The menu has many unpredictable nuances with subtle whimsical interludes.
What to Order
What better way to start a meal than with a fancy oyster? Yuzu citrus (a fruit cultivated in Japan, China and South Korea), finely sliced green apple matchsticks and foie gras torchon sit inside the oyster. A well-balanced bite, the fattiness of the foie gras adds richness while the apple and yuzu adds a tart zing. You can order as many as you like, but I recommend starting with one. After all, you don’t want to spoil your dinner!
Portsmith’s fried oysters are covered in squid-ink panko and topped with trout roe and oyster basil aioli. It’s comforting yet refined and if you order fried and fancy, you get the best of both worlds. Again, unless you plan to make a meal of your oysters, resist the urge and order small.
A pleasant and refreshing starter, raw sushi grade tuna hides underneath a large umami shrub cracker. Resting comfortably with the tuna is jalapeños and a sprinkle of cilantro. It’s a satisfying appetizer that won’t weigh heavy in your stomach.
Long octopus tentacles are coated in Vietnamese rice flakes and served with kalamansi mayonnaise and sweet chili jam. Cultivated in the Philippines, the calamondin fruit is a hybrid of oranges and kumquats. It delivers tartness to the mayo and the heat from the sweet chili jam cuts through its acidity. It’s a spicy meets sweet vacation for your mouth packed with textural contrasts.
A brilliant combination of ingredients, the Scallop Rumaki is invigorating. Georges Banks scallops and Nuoc Chom pork belly (aka melt in your mouth bacon) alternate while sitting in a lemongrass carrot puree with papaya, radishes and ginger confit. Each bite is more gratifying than the next. This is a must order.
Made fresh in house by Executive Pastry Chef Chris Teixeira, bread service includes a Cheddar Parker House Roll with Old Bay Butter (hats off to Red Lobster), a Bonito Flake Sourdough with Black Garlic Butter and Squid Ink Ciabatta with Rosemary Butter. At my table, we had an amusing time tasting our way through each offering to compare textures and flavors. When the last crumb was cleared, the ciabatta was crowned the winner, followed by the cheddar roll and then the sourdough, respectively.
Fish & Chips
A cheeky version of “fish and chips”, Henssler overlaps layers of potatoes to mimic scales atop a mouthwatering piece of Atlantic Halibet. The fish sits in a malt vinegar jus and is served with a side of creamy tartar sauce inside of a small white onion. Regarded as their signature dish, it makes waves. The fish is expertly prepared and the potatoes are sensational. The jus adds layers of flavor while the tartar sauce punches you in the mouth with tangy notes.
Depending upon your proclivity to destruction, you’ll either love or hate the suggested sequence of events tied to the Lemon Napoleon. The dessert itself is stunning. Layers of puff pastry are intertwined with creamy lemon custard and cream while poppy seed meringue shards adorn the top and lemon ice cream sits on the side. Rather than delicately piercing this baked masterpiece with your fork, Chef Teixeira suggests something ghastly: smash the entire creation and then eat it. Of course, whether you choose to acquiesce to this request is entirely up to you, but I promise, it tastes heavenly either way.
The meal closes on a generous note with a delectable arrangement of post-meal candies and cookies presented on an artificial piece of coral.
Other Changes to Note
Not only has the Dana Hotel stepped up their culinary prowess, they’ve positioned themselves as an accommodating host to both two and four-legged guests. If you book a room they will roll out the red carpet for you and your pooch. After check-in, stop by the spa for a relaxing salt scrub, facial, massage, or mani/pedi. It’s a wonderful way to relax after a long day, before heading down to dinner.
Featured Photo by IMR