Sweets & Savories, Sola, Blackbird, somewhere else?
My girlfriend and I are coming to Chicago in August (part of a cross-country baseball trip extravaganza), and are looking for a place to have a belated anniversary dinner.
Our first criteria is excellent food, bonus points if it's a bit creative. Looking to get out of there, with appetizers and dessert and entrees and wine, for about $200 (which rules out, say, Alinea).
What do you guys think?
I like Naha better than any of the restaurants you mentioned.
Our last visit to Blackbird was very disappointing. We took out-of-town guests there and none of our meals were anything special. Portions were extremely small. On, the other hand, we also took them to Naha and the food was great. I've eaten at Sola and I thik it is very good but not in the same class as the others you mentioned. I can't recommend Sweets & Savories. Three of us ordered the pork tenderloin and none of us could cut it with a knife. We all sent it back. The three men had the kobe beef burger which was a lot better than our entrees. The chef did send out every dessert on the menu to make up for our entrees. That was the best part of the meal.
I have not yet been to Sola, so I cannot comment on its quality. However, Blackbird and Sweets and Savories are two of my few favorite restaurants in the city.
Blackbird's food is very creative, emphasizing both midwestern ingredients and French techniques. They typically do an amazing job with pork and game and the desserts are fantastic. In my opinion, the food is as good here as anywhere else in the city (except for Alinea) and you're guaranteed to have a great meal. Here's a link to the menu:
Sweets and Savories is one of the great unknowns in Chicago. For whatever reason, the local media has not really talked much about it. Why I have no idea. But the 7 course, $60 tasting menu is a steal and is not only creative but fantastic. They also offer one of the best wine lists in terms of value that you'll find anywhere. To get an idea of the cuisine, here's a link to mine and other's recent visits:
I would say that Blackbird might be a little bit more polished in both service and food (but not much). Blackbird can be a little bit louder -- some complain about the noise; I've never found it to be so objectionable. Both are short cab rides from Michigan Avenue hotels, in case that's where you're staying, and you'll be able to eat for less than $200 at both.
One place that you did not mention which I think is excellent is North Pond and it is in one of the most picturesque spots in the city, nestled on a lagoon in Lincoln Park. The food is outstanding and creative, although I prefer both Blackbird and Sweets & Savories. However, the atmosphere is better at North Pond. Here's a link to North Pond's website:
Enjoy your trip!
I agree with everything BRB says (though I haven't yet been to Sweets & Savories - that's coming this weekend!). Blackbird is outstanding, but could be a wee bit over your budget (depends on how much you drink, I guess). If you do choose it, be sure to sit at the table for two along the west wall, as another poster mentioned - it's not only less crowded, but it's less noisy because it's in the "L" of the room. You could ask for it when you call for a reservation.
Sweets & Savories is known to be a real bargain, with lower priced entrees yet still excellent cooking. I've heard the atmosphere described as casual, though.
All in all, it's hard to see how you would go wrong at North Pond - it's a very romantic setting - the decor is a sort of modern Arts & Crafts style - plus the food is excellent. Just don't drive there, as street parking is impossible in Lincoln Park, and I can't think of a garage around there. Nor do I think they have valet parking (they're in the middle of a park), though maybe their website sheds some light on that. You don't say where you're staying, but a cab ride would make the most sense.
If I was choosing between S&S and Blackbird for a one-night-in-town-fantastic-dinner, I'd go with Blackbird. Nothing against Sweets and Savories - it's great. But Blackbird really is exceptional.
(Re Blackbird: I recommend that you ask for a table on the west side of the room. There is long stretch of tables along the east wall. These tables are very, very close to one another and I find it a little uncomfortable to sit so close to the next table. The tables on the west side of the room have more space.)
I haven't been to Sola. If you want to consider some other options, you might consider Topolombapo (high end Mexican), Arun's (Thai, but perhaps will be over $200 total), or Schwa (which is BYO). Have fun and report back on your experience.
By the way, are you hitting both Wrigley and the Cell?
Indeed, we are catching the last game of the Cubs' homestand and the first game of the Sox, so we will make it to both parks.
As for Topolombapo, we have lunch plans for Frontera, so probably won't do other Bayless/other high end Mexican.
Thanks for the tips - I'll be sure to report back.
Glad you are making it to Frontera. You seem to have done your research, so I apologize if you've already figured this out: Frontera doesn't take reservations. On weekends, the wait can be very, very long. Even for lunch. It's worth it, though, but you can't show up starving. I like to go on the early or late side, and grab a seat at the bar while I wait.
I second (or third, or fourth) others' suggestions regarding North Pond as a place to add to the mix. Don't you love having choices! :)
Hit North Pond in Lincoln Park - it's "modern American", like Blackbird, but a bit better in my book. Also, Blackbird has tightly packed tables and is quite loud - you hear the conversations of everyone next to you. North Pond, if you're looking for "Romantic", takes the cake. Not to say you'd be going wrong with Blackbird - I really like it.
Kevin is a french/Asian fusion and is quite creative - a very good place. You can also give MK a shot. All these are "upscale" and will probably take you up to $180/$200 for dinner.
A clarification on North Pond:
It's in Lincoln Park, ina building that used to be a warming hut for ice skaters on Lincoln Park's North Pond. It has a clear view of the skyline, and has a very relaxed, warm feel. For a romantic dinner, I think this setting work more than the tight-packed hustle and bustle of Blackbird. They both, however, are excellent places.
I'm not a big fan of Sola, but others seem to like.