The Pump Room, Reborn

First thing you need to know: This is not your parent’s Pump Room.

Yes, there are beautiful, comfortable booths lining the wall, but the restaurant’s décor has been updated and transformed in a pretty spectacular way by an infusion of light, both natural and electrical.

Simply put, the huge resin-ball light fixtures that fill the room are some of the most beautiful that I’ve ever seen. The stars of yesteryear have been replaced by a galaxy of luminous globes that seem to float above the diners. It’s a sight you really don’t want to miss.

The food has also seen a major update—by consulting chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, no less!—and it was much a needed change to the tired menu of the past. The food suits the room, full of fresh flavors and bright spots. Executive Chef Bradford Phillips oversees the restaurant on a day-to-day basis.

The Pump Room Pisco ($12) is a lovely way to start your afternoon or evening meal. Barsol Pisco, lime sour, rosemary-infused fresh grapefruit juice, house-made granadine, and the telltale foam of egg whites (don’t worry, they’re pasteurized).

The chewy, warm Ciabatta bread brought to your table is also made in house, and though I prefer a crispy crust, it had great texture and yeasty flavor. Of course, with butter like that, anything would be a worthwhile vehicle.

We felt kind of “meh” about the Pretzel-Dusted Calamari ($8), served with room-temperature marinara and strongly flavored mustard aioli. If there was pretzel on there, it was in atomic form. But the squid was tender, if a wee bit greasy.

Much more successful was the Tagliatelle with Carmelized Brussels Sprouts and Pistachio Pesto ($14/18), available in appetizer- or entrée-sized portions. The house-made, fresh pasta was toothsome and delicious. The sprouts were cooked to a turn, caramelized to bring out the sweetness in the tiny cabbages, with a lovely crust; and the pistachio pesto was the perfect foil, oozing with excellent olive oil.

Lunchtime entrees—and I recommend you go at lunch, when the pace and crowds at the restaurants are a bit more laid back and you can still get a table—run the gamut from substantial salads to decadent sandwiches, whole wheat flatbreads, and some judiciously chosen proteins.

The Slow-Cooked Salmon Salad ($18), served on a bed of Bibb lettuce with “market vegetables” (this day, cherry tomatoes and sliced radishes, hardly inspired) and dressed with a thick carrot-miso dressing, was a bit of a disappointment. The salmon was perfectly cooked, just set all the way through from the slow-oven treatment, but the texture was a little off-putting and it might have benefitted from a bit of a crust. The dressing was drizzled over the top, but the salad itself was not dressed, and given the texture, it was more of a thick sauce. Perhaps a light citrus vinaigrette on the greens would have improved matters.

We loved the luscious Pump Room Croque Madame ($13), filled with thinly sliced, super moist ham, properly oozy cheese and egg-soaked bread, each half topped with a tiny, perfect fried quail egg, sunny-side up. I can only imagine the cholesterol count, but wow! A small frisee salad tossed in an overly oniony vinaigrette accompanies the sandwich.

Desserts, including the ubiquitous homemade doughnuts that seemingly appear to be on every menu in Chicago right now, are baked on premise daily. We ordered the refreshing Crème Fraiche Cheesecake ($7), topped with ruby-like blood orange sections and blood orange sorbet, with a side of kumquat marmalade and fennel crisps. The cheesecake was both fluffy and substantial, the slightly sour crème fraiche lightning the cheesecake, perfectly paired with the citrus flavors.

Service was both warm and professional; the booth we were seated in was incredibly comfy and decadently roomy for two. If you’re interested in a serious scene, come in for dinner or a drink, especially on the weekend. But lunch suited me just fine.

3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars

The Pump Room at Public Chicago
1301 N. State Pkwy., Chicago