Looking for help for Chicago dinner
I am looking for suggestions on a place to take my family on Saturday evening of Labor Day weekend. We are all good eaters, though the kids aren't always willing to try anything. We prefer smaller places with great chefs and are anything but stuffy (we are from NY and love places like Little Owl and Little Giant, for example). We were thinking about Blackbird, but it isn't available. Italian/French/European fusion, sometimes Asian, Greek, Lebanese are all favorites. Our hotel is on E. Bellevue Place and we don't know the city at all -- so we prefer not to go more than a reasonable cab ride away.
How about Spring? It has great food, mostly seafood, and its chef Shawn McClain was just named the James Beard Best Chef of the Midwest. The prices are comparable to Blackbird, the setting (in an old Russian bathhouse) is interesting, and you'd see a different neighborhood, Bucktown, which is still within a reasonable cab ride from your hotel.
I just looked on opentable.com and Spring has tables available at 7:00 and other times.
have fun wherever you end up,
How old are your children? I wouldn't think young children would enjoy Blackbird or a place like it, so I'm assuming they're at least teenagers? That would make a large difference in recommendations.
However, I'll go out on a limb and recommend Cafe Spiaggia - the more casual sister to haute-Italian Spiaggia, located at 980 N. Michigan (so a short walk away). The food is perhaps the best Italian cusine in the city. Or, just go for Spiaggia itself - though not it's not "small." Another nice place is Le Lan, 749 N. Clark, for excellent French-Vietnamese fusion.
Spring is an excellent choice. Try Blackbird though on another trip as it is really great.
On another note, although a very large place... I always thought a good spot for family dining is Scoozi (on W.Huron). Its a large, fun spot that has surprisingly good italian food for a place that's sort of a chain (its part of the Lettuce Entertainment restaurant group). Also has a decent wine list.
5 min taxi ride away.
Cyrano's Bistro is a non-stuffy, fun French bistro that is within a 5 minute cab-ride, or 20 minute walk from your restaurant. Lots of French Bistro standards.
When I was 15, my idea of great food ran along the lines of the Cheesecake Factory/Grand Lux Cafe because, well, there was always that Cheesecake. I've moved on from that now, but I've seen a lot of families dining in high end Chicago restaurants with kids never seem to quite comprehend the beauty of their $35 filets.
Assuming your kids are a little more worldly than I was (not tough), Tizi Meloul might be fun. Middle Eastern fusion you might call it. Another fun one is Carnivale. Huge place. Lots going on. Great Guacamole. Santorini in Greektown? These are all SW of Bellevue a 10-15 min cab ride. You could also try Red Light. Asian. I find it a little overpriced, but its a neat experience. Plus the Chicago Chocolate company is across the street where you can pick your own chocolate desert.
None of this would really qualify as fine dining, but a lot of my friends with teenage kids like them.
On a side note, I have a truely disappointing experience at Cyrano's two weeks ago. The only thing worse than the bland food was the incompetant service. Maybe I caught them on a bad night. Seems like they used to be better. I find Bistro Margot, or Bistro 110 a lot better and closer to you hotel. Topo Gigio is a not bad Italian in the area. Not on the level of Cafe Spiagga, but more casual. Wells Street is a fun one to walk down. Second City comedy club is right up the road.
For lunch, Big Bowl is not a bad Asian chain near Bellevue.
What atmosphere are you looking for? Blackbird/Spring are quite minimalist, but with great food. Merlo has fabulous Italian--homemade pastas and two locations...my favorite location is the more rustic and casual one on Lincoln, but you could walk to the other on Maple. Another Italian, my other favorite is Pane Caldo, also walking distance but on the expensive side--fabulous. Randolph always is interesting and has many restuarants/great people watching. You can go have fondue for dessert at the chocolate company and sit outside and people watch. Speaking of sitting outside, Timo has the most gorgeous outdoor patio to dine--Italian. Naha also great d/t.
Just one guy's opinion, but I recently had a decidedly lackluster meal at Spring. I hadn't been in several years...they used to be quite good. Check the "non-fish entree @ Spring" thread on this board for further info. Instead of Spring, I'd suggest Scylla; they're not only supposedly one of the best restaurants in Wicker Park, but seem to be positioned as one of the best young restaurants in Chicago, period. I have no affiliation with Scylla and have not eaten there, but a friend recently dined at both Spring(with my s/o and I and another) and Scylla(with other friends) back to back. Scylla won out by a large margin.