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Top-Notch Resto in Chicago?

I am the proprietor of a fine-dining establishment in Manhattan.
I will be in Chicago for a wedding at the end of August.
This is my first visit to the windy city, and I want to have a superb meal.
The obvious is Charlie Trotters, however, I am young (27) and it seems too stuffy. Someone recommended TRU, but I've read some mixed reviews. I want something upscale, price is not an issue, just want to see if Chicago is up to par with the NYC dining scene.
Reccomendations please! THANKS!

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  1. Here are some recs:

    Spring: Seafood based with very calm atmosphere. Great service and food all around...and they can get relatively inventive with some dishes (coffee and cigarettes: tobacco infushed coffee dessert with homemade cinamon doughnut)

    Blackbird: Kind a hip, trendy tip of place. Very modern, minimalist interior, but really great food. If you want a restaurant with more of a scene, this is it.

    Custom House: Same chef/owner as Spring. A modern steakhouse. Really great space with fantastic food across the board. The black truffle risotto is to die for, as is the sirloin and braised short ribs with horseradish puffs

    Alinea: Really high end dining. Extremely innovative cuisine. Grant does amazing food and makes you go, "how'd they do that?". Similar to wd-50 in NYC, but does not put presentation and shock factor over taste as much as Wylie does at wd-50.

    These are just a few recs (they are all high end dining). I think that Chicago is on par with the NYC dining scene. Might not be as many choices, but the quality is there across the board. And this is not a bias opinion...I don't even live in the midwest.
    PS I had a great meal and experience at TRU when I went. Dessert cart and cheese cart are killer and the wine list is top notch.

    1. Charlie Trotters is not stuffy at all. There was a very good, long review of it by a chowhounder within the last couple of months. Tru has been getting mixed reviews recently, as you said, perhaps because the chefs/owners have been working on their new restaurant.

      Read my response on this thread for more about four star places:

      Then search earlier posts for many others experiences. You might also read reviews on lthforum.com.

      It is hard to recommend something since you haven't told us much about your tastes (other than you don't want "stuffy"). If you want to stay under the four-star level, I'd recommend Schwa, a relatively new and very innovative restaurant. See other recs in my post above.

      By the way, you'll probably get a more favorable response if you lose the us against them attitude. People in Chicago know our restaurants are excellent and don't really care much about how they stack up against others.

      1. You can read my review of Trotters here:


        I'm 26 and generally look for stuffiness--part of me really wanted to leave thinking "I wasted my money but now I never want to come back"--but it was top notch, service was excellent, not a hint of stuff at all.

        Lots of people here have very strong negative opinions of Trotters for reasons which seem pretty valid, but all I can speak for is my experience which was fantastic.

        1 Reply
        1. re: chris

          This was the *excellent* review that I was referring to above. Thanks again Chris for writing it. I've referred many people to it.

        2. Thanks for the quick replies.
          My tastes are varied, I am up for anything.
          But definitely want a fine culinary experience...high end for sure.
          I did not mean to offend...just have no idea what Chicago is about...
          Being that I am a born and bred New Yorker and restaurateur, who dines out frequently, I know that we have some of the best restaurants in the world.
          Hoping that after my trip to Chicago, I can say the same!

          1 Reply
          1. re: alexnyc33

            If money really is no object and you want a true culinary experience, I would head to something from this list: Trotters, Tru, Spiaggia, Alinea, Moto, or Avenues.

            Trotters, Tru, and Spiaggia are contemporary, but I wouldn't say avant-garde. Alinea, Moto, and Avenues are avant-garde. goat's comparison above of Alinea to wd-50 is good. This is one of the most celebrated new restaurants around, and it's generated as much controversy as praise. Definitely read the reviews here and on egullet and lthforum to get a better idea about the differences between these places. All are excellent, but have different styles.

            Finally, as you probably know, the restaurants' websites themselves will tell you more about the cuisine itself than reviews.

            Have fun and please report back on your experience. We'd like to hear your perspective.

          2. I forgot one place in my post above: Topolombapo, Rick Bayless' masterpiece of gourmet Mexican cuisine. The food is definitely four stars and perhaps the best Mexican food in the United States. The atmosphere is not quite as formal as, say, Charlie Trotters.

            1. Although most of what you can find in Chicago can be found in NY, there are some exceptions.

              First, I think that the recommendation of Blackbird is excellent. It's one of the very top restaurants in Chicago and really does a great job of introducing Midwestern ingredients into French cooking. I actually prefer it to Trotter's, although the two are like apples and oranges -- Blackbird is anything but formal dining. Here's a link to their menu:


              But I think that the one thing that really is setting Chicago apart from NY these days is in the ultra-creative cooking arena. NY has WD-50, but I just don't think it compares with Alinea, Avenues and Moto. I think that you'll find that none of these are stuffy, with Moto being perhaps the most relaxed and adventurous of the three. I would say that Alinea is the best of the three, and perhaps the best restaurant I have ever been to.

              Here's a link to an article talking about Avenues, Alinea and Moto, and another link to a thread linking to diners' reviews of the three (as well as some others):

              http://www.lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.... and http://www.lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic....

              Here are links to Alinea and Moto's websites: http://www.motorestaurant.com/flash/i... and http://www.alinearestaurant.com/

              Ultimately, if money was not an issue, I would choose Alinea. But if you are looking for slightly less adventurous dining, I'd head to Blackbird.

              1. I just came back from Chicago and had a blowout meal at Alinea (in the spirit of full disclosure, I'm friends with an investor and my meal was free). Although I'm still not sure I'm a molecular food convert, Alinea is definitely worth a visit. If you do, I highly recommend the "Tour," all 24 courses. Here's a terrific photo-essay about one person's meal (14 of the 24 courses were in my meal, and I can vouch for the kobe beef and squab, in particular). http://www.skilletdoux.com/2006/07/al...

                I've been to WD-50 and Per Se once each, and I think Alinea stacks up well versus either. Per Se might be more consistent, but I thought the highs were higher at Alinea.

                4 Replies
                1. re: Dave Feldman

                  Dave - thanks. That website is extrordinary.

                  1. re: Darren72

                    I was lucky enough to meet Dom, the creator of http://www.skilletdoux.com We ate at Tac Quick and he was snapping away feverishly on his digital camera. He said that the photos of Alinea were not photoshopped. It's extraordinary how good the photos are without any of the aids professional food photographers are afforded.

                    If I could give Alex additional advice about his eating in Chicago, I'd recommend a visit to TAC Quick, Spoon Thai, or Sticky Rice. New York has no Thai restaurants to compare.

                    1. re: Dave Feldman

                      I absolutely agree with you on the Thai front as far as Chicago vs. NY (I'd add in Mexican as well). Personally, I prefer Spoon Thai, Aroy Thai and Sticky Rice to TAC Quick, although I like them all. All are very accessible by the "L" also. If you end up going to a Thai restaurant, be sure to check out the following site for translations of items you would find on the restaurants' Thai language menu -- many of these items are never found on the English menus: http://www.silapaahaan.com/

                      1. re: BRB

                        I ate at Spoon as well as TAC, and based on one meal each, I don't have a clear favorite. The only dish that I tried at both, the fried chicken with spicy tamarind sauce, I preferred at Spoon. Both places best dishes were noticeably better, IMO, than anything I've had at Zabb, Sripraphai, Arunee, or Wondee in NYC, my favorite Thais in New York.

                        I only had two Mexican meals in Chicago. A very disappointing one at Salpicon, and a wonderfully satisfying plate of carnitas at Uruapan.

                2. Hi

                  I've recently eaten at Alinea, WD-50, Per Se, Schwa. Have not eaten at Tru Moto Avenues or Trotters. I think that Per Se and Alinea compare in terms of service and food quality, though the approach to the food is very different. I was disappointed at Per Se that they didn't have a wine pairing like Alinea does. The food at Alinea is definitely more experimental. I found WD-50 to be good, but only vaguely comparable to Alinea. Schwa, for what they are charging and where they are, is incredible. It isn't Per Se or Alinea, but it's half the price and BYO!

                  Yes, Chicago has great high-end restaurants, so does NY. But if you go in saying "I challenge you to be as good as NY" you're not going to enjoy yourself. Go somewhere fun, have a good time, forget comparisons - just get good chow. Make sure also to enjoy our low-end cuisine. No visit to NY would be complete without a bagel or a slice of pizza, no visit to Chicago would be complete without a Chicago dog, deep dish pizza, Italian beef... :)

                  1. I'm only going to comment on Trotter's vs. Tru. We've been to both places a number of times over the past 5-10 years; Tru wins, hands down. Our first experience at Trotter's was magical; during subsequent visits, we found the "snob factor" to be too much. We just turned ourselves over to the chefs and sommelier. If you have the funds and interest in doing that, do it. If not, I would stick with Tru. Much more down to earth waitstaff, and the food was unparalleled. Either way, you will have a world class dining experience!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: neensbeans

                      neensbbeans, could you clarify the above a little bit?

                      I'm confused because first you said "Tru wins, hands down". But then in an apparent reference to Trotters you write "We just turned ourselves over to the chefs and sommelier. If you have the funds and interest in doing that, do it. If not, I would stick with Tru."

                      I think the latter quote leaves the impression that the price of a dinner at Trotters is related to whether or not you leave yourself in the hands of the chef, and that your recommendation of Trotters vs. Tru depends on whether you leave yourself in the chefs' hands. As you know, the price is fixed (though it depends on which of the four fixed price menus you choose). You can of course make requests of the kitchen, which they will generally accomodate.

                      Trotters' service clearly evolks different responses from different people. Like you, some people find it quite stiff, or less charitably, snobby. My experience has always been the opposite. The staff is formal and precise, but I've always been able to have a great conversation with servers about the food, the restaurants, etc in a very friendly manner.

                      In any case, you are absolutely right that either way, you can't go wrong.

                    2. Alinea is extroadinary in the true sense of that word. It's a once in a lifetime experience and I mean that literally as well. Every dish is thought out completely and is a revelation, but I am a down to earth food person and the whole "molecular" Alinea experience is a bit like the "Emperor's New Clothes" for my particular tastes. I am headed back to Chicago tonight and have written down all the alternatives and hope to find that delicate balance of "gourmet" without out being too over the top. Just great food served simply and honestly.


                      1. Laurent Gras is the new chef at Tru - you have a winner.

                        1. If you are "in the business" then Moto or Alinea. Avenues is a great but less entertaining restaurant. Moto is far more cerebral and Alinea is more refined. One can have a less than satisfactory experience at Trotters. I prefer Tru over Trotters as well. Laurent Gras will only widen that gap.

                          1. I wouldn't rule out North Pond either. A little off the beaten path, it's a sublime spot on a lake in Lincoln park with top-notch food sans attitude.