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TheStreet Open House

Department Store Fine Dining Lives On

One of the most famous department store dining rooms in the country is now known as the Walnut Room of Macy's State Street, once Chicago's famous Marshall Field's department store. Opened in 1907, the famous eatery is a downtown tourist stop for those looking to dine in a fabled setting preserved to feel like another time. The grand dining room occupies a showcase spot under a dramatic ceiling, and there's an elaborate marble fountain, opulent display of Austrian crystal chandelier and white-clothed tables, all ensconced in vintage walnut paneling.

Newer elements of the Walnut Room include a wine bar with communal table, opened in the store's centennial year. Open for lunch and pre-theater supper, the restaurant offers a menu mixing old-time classic such as a peach nest salad with chicken in a nest of shoestring potatoes with peaches, grapes and strawberries or Mrs. Hering's chicken potpie. Newer dishes have been dreamed up by Macy's own Culinary Council, a group of chefs consulted from around the country and resulting in such dishes as Tim Scott's farmers market chop salad and Tom Douglas' crabcake BLT.

In California it's been a tough history lesson for fabled dining rooms at legendary department stores such as I. Magnin & Co. in San Francisco, Los Angeles' Bullock's Wilshire -- now the attic of a law library -- and Robinson's, whose shuttered Beverly Hills location may be demolished. While dining rooms still exist at top departments stores, finding one here with the buzz of yesteryear is a tough prospect. One exception is Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale's South Coast Plaza, which since 2008 has occupied a starry dining room that wouldn't look out of place on New York's Upper West Side, even if it is in one of California's poshest shopping malls.

This ultimate new department store dining room is reached via a glass bridge suspended over a cutting-edge wine storage room and retail store as well as a burger annex called DG Burger (DG stands for "Damn Good"). In the main dining room, reclaimed wood floors from vintage chardonnay barrels complement creamy upholstery with hand-stitched detailing under a central art installation and voluminous chandeliers. A menu honed at eateries such as Aureole and Charlie Palmer Steak offers a sophisticated menu of Hudson Valley foie gras with tamarind chutney or braised crisp pork belly with frisee salad followed by Moroccan-spiced lamb sirloin and thyme-scented steamed halibut in a culinary experience that proves department store fine dining is alive and well.

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Michael Martin is the managing editor of JetSetReport.com, a luxury travel and lifestyle guide based in Los Angeles and London. His work has appeared in InStyle, Blackbook, Elle, U.K.'s Red magazine and on ITV and the BBC.
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