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First Post - Suggestions for Wife's 40th

Hi everyone. Newbie to the board. My wife's 40th birthday is coming up and we are going downtown for a nice dinner. I've read a lot here already, but wanted to get a quick smattering of opinions on where to go. She took me to Alinea for my birthday last year (OMG, amazing!) but that's not really her cup of tea. She likes meat, usually her first choice. Right now I'm looking at:

Custom House

If it was my birthday, I'd want to try Moto. We are going with another couple who's first choice was Tru.

What say you?

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    1. If she likes meat, I would highly recommend Nine or David Burke's Primehouse. Nine is one of my favorite restaurants but it can be extremely loud. Their steaks are very good as is everything we have ever eaten. I especially like the two cones appetizer and their french fries. We just ate at David Burke's last week and my husband's sirloin was one of the best steaks he has ever eaten. He wasn't thrilled with the double stuffed potato but I thought everything we had was delicious.

      1. How about Avenues, where you can get a three-course dinner with a nice-sized portion of whatever meat Chef Bowles is featuring on the degustation - when we were there it was bison ribs, and it was superb. Whatever it is, it will be marvelous - the place is that good - I feel it's the sort of place where you don't have to worry what you order, because it all is so wonderful. It would also be nice payback for her taking you to Alinea (no other place in the city is really in the ame league as Alinea, but the atmosphere and the service at Avenues are commensurate).

        I continue to hear reports that Moto is quite uneven.

        1. TRU is an excellent choice if you want something very formal. I'm unimpressed by Nine. For about the same price, I think Custom House is much better. By the way, I had a birthday dinner at Moto a couple weeks ago and it was my worst high-end meal EVER. I was so looking forward to it. We did the full-blown 16-course menu with wine pairing and by the half-way point I just wanted it to end. Only two or three courses were good; some were just terrible. I love cutting-edge food (several of my all-time top 10 meals were at Alinea). The problem wasn't execution (for the most part), it was just that the dishes were fundamentally ill-conceived--they simply didn't taste good. For nearly $700 for 2, it should have been mind-bogglingly wonderful. Instead it was a culinary trainwreck (albeit one with good service).

          1. Pugman, sorry to hear that about Moto. For that kind of coin I'd be seriously disappointed!. We will be playing dress up, but I'd like to avoid uber formal so maybe not Tru.

            Akatonbo, Avenues is another one we are considering. I just checked out their dinner menu online and it looks awesome.

            1. We have our 10th wedding anniversary coming up at the end of September.

              I was considering Tru, but the restaurant is on the ground floor of the building my wife works in (her job drives her crazy), and I'm not sure if this would mess with her fragile psyche.

              Is Trotter's worth it? Or should I give Alinea a shot? And how competitive are the reservations for these three?

              1. All three are different and all three are excellent. You'll want to book any as early as possible, especially for prime days/times. Alinea and TRU are the most comfortable (tables spaced wider and seating is more comfy). TRU's food tends to be a bit more conventional than Trotter's (and certainly more so than Alinea)...thats a plus to some and a minus to others.

                The "is it worth it?" question is very difficult to answer when it comes to ultra-fine-dining. At this top tier, it really can't be about cost (nothing is worse than being distracted by thoughts of the price while you're eating). It has to be about the quality of the entire experience, regardless of price. And these 3 restaurants are all capable of delivering the the very elusive "perfect dining experience."

                Alinea is the only one of the three that ever totally blew me away with the sheer amazingness (and utter perfection) of the experience, but it's not the best choice for some people (people who are very set in their ways, control freaks, people who are hung up on classicism, people without a good sense of irony and humor, and people who may have somewhat compromised senses of smell and taste are probably not going to like Alinea). But Alinea's appeal goes way beyond just appealing to foodies, because pretty much everything tastes really good--and the same goes for Trotter's and TRU, too.

                How much interaction do you want with staff vs. romantic time with your wife? If you don't want too much intrusion, then doing the smaller prix-fixe menu at TRU would be best. The longer "collections" at TRU and a Trotter's meal will be more service-intensive. At Alinea it will be almost non-stop interaction with the staff (which is one thing that makes the experience so enjoyable--but maybe not for certain occasions).

                1 Reply
                1. re: Pugman

                  I got my recent birthday reservation at Alinea a week before the date. The choices, needless to say, were limited - 5:30 and 9:15. We went for the former, and got finished at 9:45, which was fine. The moral is: it's always worth a call, and at Alinea, at least, an early start is not necessarily a bad thing.

                  We didn't notice any intrusion on our "romantic time" together while eating at Alinea - but then, we've been married 36 years, so ... ;)

                2. True, you do not have to be a foodie to enjoy Alinea, but at the same time I do not think that if you don't like Alinea you are either very set in your ways, control freaks, people who are hung up on classicism, people without a good sense of irony and humor, and people who may have somewhat compromised senses of smell and taste.

                  1. If I was choosing from your list, I would probably select Butter. I was just at Butter in the last couple of weeks and really enjoyed my meal: http://www.lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic....

                    I think it would be a great place to try -- one person in my group is a less adventurous diner but still found meat on the menu and enjoyed the food quite a bit. Also, it's stylish without being formal and it's a great place for a celebration.

                    I have been to David Burke's Primehouse a couple of times and I think it's a fantastic stop for aged beef. Here's a collection of thoughts on DB's: http://www.lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic....

                    I have not been to Custom House, but I've heard very good things. The menu is meat-heavy, yet certainly more creative than DB's Primehouse, which might appeal to you.

                    I would skip Nine. I think it offers style over substance. I've been there twice (although not in the last year) and came away disappointed both times.

                    I have not been to Copperblue but I tried the chef's offerings at the Green City Market Chef's event and was quite impressed, and a couple of friends of mine who dined there really liked it. I also applaud the chef's fight in support of serving foie gras, so I'm looking forward to giving it a try.

                    One place you do not have on your list that I love is North Pond -- the food is outstanding and the setting is as beautiful as you get in the city. Also, there's meat on the menu: http://www.northpondrestaurant.com/te...

                    On a side note, I have had a couple of wonderful meals at Moto, and although I do not believe it as good as Alinea, it is probably more cutting edge and the food is excellent.

                    Good luck!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: BRB

                      Just want to chime in and say that I agree with your and Pugman's opinions of Nine. Though I've only been there for lunch, I wasn't impressed either time. On one occasion, I had a barbequed beef sandwich that was dreadful. Now, you might say that I can't expect a place like this to do good 'que, but why then do they even have it on the menu? I took it as a bad sign.

                    2. Wife ended up picking Tru. I picked the kitchen table. Should be fun. Anyone done the kitchen table at Tru? (I know, I know, search is my friend....)

                      1. Last Friday night was dinner at Tru at the kitchen table.

                        Experience of eating at the kitchen table: 10/10
                        Food: 7/10

                        Next time I'll try Charlie Trotters.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Chicago Wine Geek

                          What made the experience in the kitchen so good? What made the food not so good?

                          1. re: leek

                            In my dreams, I'm a wannabe chef. So hanging out in the kitchen was just plain cool. Talking to some of the other chefs, getting shown some cool new products, watching them plate cool entrees, it was all fun.

                            The tasting menu just didn't do it for me. Two of the "main course" tasting plates just weren't that good. One was a pasta with cuttlefish dish that was just bland and chewy. And the final "knock them out before the dessert course" plate was poorly prepared squab. Come on, if you're going to end on squab, it better be pretty freaking good. This wasn't.