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11_3_COPY_CENT_1948_1.A1300.jpg [The Irv Kupcinet-era Pump Room. | Sun-Times file photo]

Hotelier Ian Schrager, who bought the historic Ambassador East Hotel last April, announced his plans for the hotel -- to be called Public -- and its famed Pump Room on Tuesday, promising a "new breed of hotel" and a restaurant that will "still Chicago's beloved restaurant, but better."

He's bringing in New York chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who will rehaul the Pump Room in the spirit of his ABC Kitchen -- "reasonably priced, delicious favorites in a relaxed, comfortable environment" with a farm-to-table vibe, a press release said. Vongerichten and Schrager have been interviewing chefs to run the kitchen; they plan to choose a Chicago chef, spokeswoman Jill Katz said. "That's their goal - keep it Chicago," she said.

The clubby, old Hollywood feel that so many associate with the old Pump Room won't be completely wiped clean. In the evening, the restaurant's bar will turn into a supper club, serving small plates, "exotic cocktails" and music.

The hotel at 1301 N. State will have a soft opening in late September and will be up and running by early October, Katz said.

"We are trying not to be hip, we are in fact anti-hip, and therefore by definition, we are," Schrager says in the release.

crucial1.jpg

The National Restaurant Association's annual show, with its aromas of greasy pizza and fried everything, is an unlikely launching pad for a collection of serviceware heretofore seen only at Alinea, the accolade-laden Chicago restaurant owned by Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas.

But there was the badge-wearing Kokonas on Saturday, the show's opening day, working the crowd at a prominent corner of the Steelite International booth.

The six porcelain serving pieces in the collection were designed for specific dishes at Alinea by Martin Kastner, with whom Achatz and Kokonas collaborated when opening their newest restaurant and bar, Next and Aviary.

Kastner has partnered with Steelite, a Pennsylvania company that will manufacture the pieces on a much larger scale -- but for restaurants, not for home use.

Several stainless steel pieces will be released in the fall, followed by glassware currently being used at Aviary -- up to 25 or 30 pieces by the end of the year, Kokonas said.

"It's difficult to let go of certain aspects," said Kastner, who works out of his Crucial Detail studio on the Near West Side. "I don't have the ability to inspect every piece."

But, said Kokonas, who calls Kaster "persnickety," "The quality of these is the same as what Martin was doing."

What will most certainly be different is how others restaurants use the sculpturally striking pieces. Kokonas says a hotel in Las Vegas ordered 500 of the pronged cork presenters, and is using them as taco holders.

Recently, Kokonas saw a photo in a newspaper article of the same contraption being used by a chef -- to hold his cigarette.

On a related note: Because of the show, Next and Aviary are open tonight (Monday is usually an off day for both). On Saturday morning, Kokonas posted a notice on Facebook for 22 Monday night tables at Next; they were sold out in eight seconds, he said.

Coffee Caddy of the Future?

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coffeetop02.jpgHere's another item to file under food- and drink-related concepts, but unlike the Cole UV aluminum can cleaner, this is one that makes some sense and could make life easier, at least as far as that daily coffee trip for you and your officemates is concerned.

Like anyone who volunteers to get coffee for their officemates, I don't mind picking up coffee for one or two of my co-workers when I'm going down to our nearby Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts, but what causes me a little bit of stress is remembering how much sugar or cream this or that person wants with their coffee, as well as the thought that I am holding up others by standing and stirring multiple cups of coffee at said coffee shop's tiny condiment stand.

The Coffee Top Caddy by Josh Harris can end such stress for the person picking up the coffee as well as those waiting (and presumably working) for the kind-hearted volunteer to come back with their drinks. Harris's design makes dedicated spaces on the coffee cup cover for as many as two creams and a few sugar packets. So the person who picks up the coffee can just get the coffee from the barista/cashier, insert the creams and sugars atop the cup in their secure spaces, then trot back to the workplace, where everyone will be happy to be able to put precisely as much cream or sugar in their coffees as they wish.

Brilliant.

(More images of Harris's coffee caddy can be found at toxel.com.)

About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.

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