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Sixteen – Bringing Back Culinary Traditions

Something new, something old and respect. These are the ingredients which Chef Thomas Lents used to create the first menu of 2015 for Sixteen at Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago
Something new, something old and respect. These are the ingredients which Chef Thomas Lents used to create the first menu of 2015 for Sixteen at Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago
A luxury restaurant that has received two stars from the 2015 Michelin Guide, and five stars from the Forbes Travel Guide 2014, doesn’t really need any other endorsement. And such a restaurant doesn’t follow trends, but creates them as others follow suit. 
Sixteen, located on the 16th floor of Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago, was designed by Ivanka Trump and features modern American cuisine created by Executive Chef Thomas Lents. And Chef Lents, after much research, strategizing and planning, has debuted the first in a quarterly series of menus, guided by the theme of Progress. It wasn’t a quick task to be sure. “Each menu takes us about 6-8 weeks to bring to fruition and we’re usually in the research phase for even longer than that,” said Chef Lents.
Looking at the menu, and understanding the explanation behind it, it reinvents traditions and signifies progress, while not undermining authenticity. Titled ‘Dining in Progress’, the menu tracks the evolution of fine dining by looking back at influential cuisines, significant chefs and traditional techniques. It pushes towards the future by respecting the past. 
Build it up
The experience starts right from the minute you are handed the menu. “The design of the menu resembles a jenga game. It’s a lot of fun to have guests actually get to play with their menus, but it also represents the idea that as we build higher, we must always be mindful of our foundations,” said Chef Lents, as he points towards a menu which presents guests with wooden blocks to construct their dining experience.
chef thomas lents sixteen trump hotel chicagoThe new menu at Sixteen is multi-cuisine and multi-course. And that delights us as you get to have a taste of what was and what will be, all in one place! It begins with a series of snacks that brings to fore a new cuisine, yet probably one of the oldest. The four snack options include flavors and ingredients from Nordic cuisine – the food of the Vikings if you please. ‘Buckwheat and rutabaga blini with peppered mackerel and radish’ is a part of the snacks menu, along with ‘Cuttlefish, beet, seaweed and trout roe’; Smoked oyster, potato broth and horseradish’; and King crab with carrot sea buckthorn and dill. If this sounds exotic, keep reading.
The first course celebrates the humble vegetable, and gives it an elevated position in this menu. Vegetarians will be delighted as they make a choice between ‘Salad of Grecque style vegetables served in an artichoke with Comté and black garlic’ or ‘Variations of onion cippollini petals and caramelized jus with jamon, sourdough and cultured butter’. Is Chef Lents bringing back vegetables? He doesn’t want to take the credit entirely: “I’m not sure I would say that I am the one to bring vegetables back, but we did want to discuss several chefs and culinary styles that have seen vegetables and grains take a much more central part on the plate. Modern fine dining is much less about one large central protein. We can thank chefs like Alain Passard and Dan Barber for this.”
The second course, which serves grills to perfection, is a choice between ‘Grilled lobster on rice with uni and coffee’ or ‘Veloute of lettuce with veal sweetbreads and razor clams’.  The main course truly fuses the old with the new, creating a new cuisine of its own, which will certainly appeal to the diner at Sixteen. For example, sample the ‘Monkfish cooked on the bone with endive, truffle and blood orange’ or ‘Venison cheek with fourchette sweet potato and green curry coco blanc’
“We aren’t trying to lecture anyone,” says Chef Lents. So don’t be surprised to find Gift Courses as a part of the menu, which are included to make the dining experience fun, just like the engaging menu presentation style. The first gift course celebrates broth, which adds flavor to all, yet remains the unsung hero. ‘Scallop in its shell with salt roasted kohlrabi and a scallop truffle dashi’ and ‘Foie gras with kumquat and bergamot in a navet consommé’ plan to bring the focus on the broth. The second one, titled ‘Nose to Tail Fine Dining’, serves delectable and unique delicacies such as ‘Deviled kidneys with parsley root and foam’ and ‘Veal tongue blanquette’. 
restaurant sixteen trump hotel chicago fine diningBring back the sugar
There is not one dessert course, but two. And sweet tooths will surely make a beeline to Sixteen just for that! Whipped up by Executive Pastry Chef Aya Fukai, the first dessert course is a series of snacks. ‘Pineapple Celery Granite’ and ‘Mango Quark Gateaux’ are not your regular sugar laden desserts. Observing the growing use of savoury ingredients in pastry dishes, Chef Fukai created these two snacks. The other two, ‘Papaya Guava Spritzer’ and ‘White Chocolate Ginger Namelaka’ are inspired by the Spanish modernist movement, which promoted the use of new techniques to achieve different esthetics and textures in desserts.
As you go forward, you need to look back and take lessons. The main dessert presentation, therefore, reinstates the position of pastry chef, who is usually the first to be eliminated from restaurants to make ends meet in the competitive F&B industry. To exhibit the unique pastry chef craft, Chef Fukai serves two classic desserts with a modern spin. Choose between ‘Chocolate Cake with pecan, coconut, and kaffir lime’ or ‘Lemon Tart with diplomat cream, fennel, and olive oil jam’. Best of luck with that!
Did Chef Lents break into a sweat while conceptualizing and executing the menu? I don’t think so, and he too shows confidence, as he says, “For me, showing a variety of both modern and traditional cooking styles was quite easy. I have always been a proponent of mastering the classic techniques while adding new methods where they fit or better the cuisine.”
Just the first of the four part series, this menu was enough to intrigue us about the next ones. Unfortunately, Chef Lents isn’t giving away too many secrets. “We will continue to look at the double edge sword that can be progress. The next menu will focus less on progress in the restaurant itself and more with the product and produce that allow us to have great restaurants.”
You can mull over that as you spoon through the exquisite broth course…
Price: The multi-course tasting menu costs $190 per person with a pre-fixe option available for $130. Wine pairings may be added for $125 and a reserve pairing may be selected for $750. 
Reservations: +1 (312) 588-8030
Coordinates: 401 N. Wabash, 16th Floor, Chicago, IL