Long weekend in Chicago
My wife and I will be in Chicago later this month and were hoping to get some good restaurant recommendations. We have a reservation at North Pond for one night, but would like another lower key dinner suggestion and also would like to know some good lunch spots downtown. Thanks!
One nice lunch spot that's been on my mind recently is Russian Tea Time - it's very near the Art Institute, on Adams, I believe. It would also be good for dinner. Then there are several nice dinner destinations in the area south of the Loop, like Giocco (Italian) or Opera (Chinese). One fun lunch place would be the original Heaven on Seven (7th floor of the Garland Building, 111 N. Wabash). This is a Chicago institution that started as a coffee shop, until the owner went to New Orleans and started adding Cajun items to the menu. Now it's like a mini-Mardi Gras all on its own, with streamers hanging from the ceiling and a decor made up largely of bottles of hot sauce. You don't have to like spicy food to eat there - I may be wrong, but I think they still have some old coffee shop standbyes on the menu, and in any case, not all the Cajun items are spicy. Go early, though (11:30 a.m.) or be prepared to wait for a table, as the line snakes down the 7th floor hallway.
My current favorite non-$$$ restaurant is Quartino, a small-plates Italian spot at State and Ontario that is open for lunch and dinner. I go there at least once a week. The quality of ingredients is remarkably high and the prices are almost shockingly low (particularly in its high-rent location). Our lunch today consisted of 2 amazing--and large--salads (heirloom tomatoes with pears, artichoke hearts, granna padano and greens / seared steak, barlotta beans and mesclun); a big bowl of clams cooked in pinot grigio with spicy peppers, capers, and garlic; and paparadelle with pork ragu. Those 4 items were less than $30 total and we left STUFFED.
They also have a great selection of house-cured (as well as imported) meats and an ever-changing selection of other goodies. The "expensive" items are only $12 and include wonderful skatewing and a melt-in-your-mouth roast duck leg. The single drawback is that it can get very noisy...but this is one place that is so good and value-priced that it doesn't matter. I've had many meals there and only had two individual dishes that I didn't like (and each was only $7, so who cares?).
If your dates work out there is a fun possibility at Cafe Ba-Ba-Ree-Ba (Spanish, specializes in tapas and paellas). There is one evening in late August when a live flamenco show will be on, an unusual event. To read about all of this go to the Lettuce Entertain You website and 1) look at the special events calendar for details of the above then 2) click onto "restaurants" (Lettuce has a bunch of them) then onto Cafe Ba-Ba-Ree-Ba then onto Menu.
I second the recommendation for Heaven on Seven for lunch but be sure to bring cash. This location does not do credit cards. I also just found out (this is what happens when you live in the burbs) that Frontera Grill has a little outpost on the seventh floor at Marshall Field's on State Street. Probably a great option for lunch!!
fyi: the Frontera "outpost" on the 7th floor of M.F. State St. is merely one option among many food kiosks(burgers, salads, soups...etc) in that food court. It shouldn't be confused with the true Frontera experience at the original location. There are also cheaper cafeteria-style options in the basement.