Mercat a la Planxa: Jose Garces, former protégé of Stephen Starr and Douglas Rodriguez, took a break from building his mini-empire in Philly to unveil some Catalan tapas-style love on his hometown of Chicago at the newly refurbished Blackstone Hotel. The mod space outfitted with gleaming hexagonal tiles and mirrors etched with organic (think birds and leaves) motifs and bare hanging bulbs is one of the funkiest dining rooms to grace our austere storied hotels. The term "smoke filled rooms" actually originated in the Blackstone, and it used to refer to the cigar laden atmosphere in which party bosses once chose Warren G. Harding as a presidential nominee. Today it refers to the smoky romanesco sauces and salbitxada served with deep fried peppers, or the grill-marked succulent lamb chops and head-on shrimp from the grill. The rabbit agnolotti with black truffle may be my favorite dish of the year, and the restaurant itself is one of the best openings of 2008.
Lockwood: Lockwood holds court in the baroque lobby of the storied Palmer House Hilton. Chef Phillip Foss is breaking out the old school Michelin-style polished charm in the form of Champagne and caviar, lobster bisque, and truffle risotto, though he's not afraid to get a bit dirty with a veal plate featuring delicate tenderloin, rich sweetbreads, and melt-on-your-tongue tongue. The cuisine's spot on, though it does feel a little bit old school. The décor, which features orange mylar boxed chandeliers and dark woods, is pretty cool, and the bar, which gives you an awesome view of the al fresco style paintings on the lobby ceiling, is one of the more inspiring places to drink in Chicago.