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Alinea, Trotter's, Topolobampo and ???

What two restaurants would you add to this list to get a wider variety of the best Chicago has to offer? (I understand that there may be some disagreement about the first three, but the reservations are made.)

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  1. Hi

    if you are looking high end, I'd say Avenues and Tru (and to throw a wrench in, Spiaggia instead of Trotters :)


    2 Replies
      1. re: leek

        I wish I had your restaurant budget. Are you looking to adopt any adult children?

        Anyhow, I would almost agree with leek except I would say Spiaggia and Avenues and Tru instead of Trotter's (same end result, different logic).

      2. I'll disagree w/ the others and tell you to keep the Trotter's reservation. I think Tru or Spiaggia would round things out nicely; you'd have 4 very different dining experiences.

        1. Have not been to Avenues, but got a very bad review from friends with fine taste in fine food. I think Tru is a must add. Also agree about Spiaggia.

          And perhaps a nice Italian Beef sandwich for lunch one day from Mr. Beef on Orleans or Al's #1 close by on Ontario. :-)

          1 Reply
          1. re: kstroble

            I don't know why your friends were unhappy with Avenues, but I'd just like to say in the restaurant's defense that our single meal there was absolutely excellent - and many other people posting to this board have had similarly wonderful experiences there. I haven't heard any actual first-hand report that would make me uncomfortable recommending it wholeheartedly. Chef Graham Elliot Bowles is recognized for the excellence of his cuisine, and IMHO Avenues definitely deserves to be on any list of fine dining in Chicago.

          2. I'd add Moto, with the advice to ignore the largest tasting menu (GTM - which contains repetition) and go for either the 5 or 10 course. Brilliant at times, but can get repetitive, so in this case, less is more.

            2 Replies
            1. re: estufarian

              I certainly hope the 5 or 10 course menus are better than the GTM at Moto! We disliked our $700+ dinner for two (GTM plus wines) so much that I don't have any desire to return. I was looking forward to eating there for a long time and it was a huge disappointment on many different levels. But if we had spent 1/3 or 1/2 as much on a shorter meal, maybe it would have been worth it. Instead, there were a few dazzler courses, a number of so-so courses, and a few spectacular misses. Just my 2 cents (or in this case, 72,000 cents).

              1. re: Pugman

                Absolutely agree - which is why I made a point of this. The shorter menus are indeed dazzling - the GTM is repetitive and gimmicky.

            2. Schwa needds to be there... the food was great at avenues, too bad it is in a hotel, you just cant shake that new construction safety code feel of it. the rabbit loin wrapped in prosciutto was one of the best things i have ever eaten...

              1. Uno's and Due's, dammit! You're loking for best, not most expensive right?

                I would also add Lulu's in Evanston, but that's open to debate.

                2 Replies
                1. re: scoobyhed

                  Forget Uno and Due. Since they went national, they are absolutely terrible.

                  Try Lou Malnati's. Order the deep-dish and ask for it well-done. I think it's our best.

                  1. re: bakeryqueen

                    Lou Malnati's is a joke. Giordano's trumps all deep dish pizza in Chicago. Any self respecting pizza eater would agree. Just saying.

                2. I'd also like to be adopted, and I can get free on most Saturday nights. Great choices. Stick with them all. I'd add Spiggia and Spring, Sean McClain's original seafood place and home base. (though Green Zebra and Custom House aren't bad)....(Although, despite what Gourmet says, the local #1 critic derides Alinea as being "gimmicky" - a hard charge to refute. But I loved his work at Trio, just before he opened Alinea.) Tru sometimes can be subject to the same criticism.

                  1. i hate to be negative, but i've said it before and will say it again, trotters is absolutely the worst fine dining experience i have ever had. i'd skip it unless you have money to burn and don't want to have any fun!

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: mjpd

                      Amen, amen, amen. Couldn't agree more.

                      1. re: mjpd

                        I absolutely agree. There are much better dining experiences to be had in Chicago for that type of money.

                        1. re: jpschust

                          Because it is not that great of a place and the wine guy is an arrogant wine snob. We went once. I thought the food was decent but the wine program was miserable. The guy was actually trying to sell some other diners on a class he was giving. What an idiot.

                          1. re: Skeeter

                            You have to be kidding me- he has possibly the best nose for wine that I've ever been around. He knows many of the growers personally and has gone out of his way to put together an incredible wine list spanning all cost/value levels. On top of that the service and ambiance is incredible and the food is wonderful. By the way, if your diners show a distinct interest in wine and are sincerely interested there's nothing wrong with selling them on your class if it's relevant.

                            1. re: jpschust

                              I thought his pairings were average at best. Nothing was served that was decidedly different from wines that I personally own. There was nothing inspired. Nothing to tell me that he had really sat down and tasted the dish and the wine and thought about was to approach it.
                              But yet he wanted to fill the room with his great thoughts. It was the worse wine experience I've had at an allegedly high class restaurant.

                          2. re: jpschust

                            Ambria was good 20 years ago. It's been a joke for years now.

                            1. re: WineTravel

                              I went to Ambria last year and it was excellent in every way (food, service, decor), as good as it was when I went there twenty years ago. No "joke".

                          3. For French country fare try Les Sardine. Delicious, uncomplicated entrees, wonderful salads, a French onion soup to weep over, nice wines, good service (ask for Bob's station), a warm and comfortable room. Just lovely. Wait, I almost forgot...soufflé!!

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: JP Big Daddy

                              We love it, too - the Grand Marnier Souffle is to die for! Being picky, but the name is La Sardine.

                            2. Les Sardine is incredible! forgot about that one!

                              1. Brief Report:
                                Alinea and Trotter's - each is definitely an experience. Neither was a place that I left saying that I could have eaten the same thing all over again immediately or next week for that matter. For less money, you get more variety, better wine and a friendlier, less cocky chef at Alinea. These two are fairly similar. The quality of both was excellent, but, in retrospect, I would go to Alinea and replace Trotter's with a different type of restaurant.
                                Topolobampo is excellent, from the margaritas to the dessert. I would go back next week to Topo. or Frontera Grill. Outstanding.
                                Went to Gene and Georgetti's for a steak the other night. Solid, but not overwhelming.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: fl bob

                                  Wow, what a stunningly bad choice for your third restaurant. You may have noticed that nobody reccomended G&Gs. In fact, if you had asked for recs for a steakhouse, you would have been given at least half a dozen better options.

                                2. Any list of the best of Chicago has to include Avenues, Tru and Everest.

                                  Avenues is underrated. The food is close to that served at Alinea but Chef GEB just doesn't get the same respect. In any other city, GEB would be THE star.

                                  Tru is classic. I prefer it to Charlie Trotter's any day. Charlie Trotter's is a classic, but Tru has surpassed it.

                                  Finally, to get a real "feel" for Chicago, you need one place that has really heavy French influences, and for that, you can't beat Everest.

                                  1. I agree - You can't beat Everest. I've been to all the top places, and the one that dazzles every time I go there, for heavenly food and impeccable service, is Everest. Highly recommended. http://www.everestrestaurant.com

                                    Two other places that are just wonderful are Oceanique, which is in Evanston and specializes in seafood http://www.oceanique.com and also One Sixty Blue in the West Loop. http://www.onesixtyblue.com/default.htm

                                    All three of the above are places where you can go for dinner, and still be swooning the next day over every single item you ate.

                                    I'm not a fan of Grant Achatz (Alinea). He serves food that is different and creative, but doesn't necessarily taste better. And even compared with the very best places in town (like Everest), his prices are shockingly high. Highly overrated, IMHO.

                                    I've had very good meals at Trotter's, Topolobampo (and Frontera Grill), and Ambria. But I would take Everest, Oceanique, or One Sixty Blue over any of them.

                                    1. I have to disagree with nsxtasy about Alinea. In two trips, I have yet to have a bad course.

                                      That is what keeps Alinea above Moto. Moto is more creative, but some of the dishes just don't work. At Alinea, almost all of them do.

                                      Also, the wine program at Alinea is as good as it gets. The choices are interesting and pair well with the food. You drink wines that I never knew existed (late harvest Zin for instance).

                                      I rank Alinea as the greatest restaurant that I have ever eaten at, barely nudging out the late Lucas Carton in Paris, along with Tru and Charlie Trotter's (when he was at the top of his game, nobody was better).

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: Skeeter

                                        I didn't say that the food at Alinea isn't GOOD. It is good. I just don't think it's GREAT. The same thing I would say about Charlie Trotter's. When I think of GREAT, I think of dishes in which every bite makes you close your eyes and go "mmmmmmm", not just things that make you say "oh, that's pretty good". I haven't hit that kind of meal at Alinea or Trotter's. And again, I've found the prices at Alinea (as well as when Achatz was at Trio) are much higher than Everest, much higher than is justified.

                                        The greatest restaurants I've ever eaten at include the French Laundry (recent) and Le Francais (many years ago, when Jean Banchet was at the helm). I wouldn't compare Everest or other local places to either one, just in terms of scope and complexity. But if I had a special occasion to celebrate, and I wanted to choose one place where I know I would leave feeling that I had picked a place commensurate with the occasion, that would be Everest.

                                        1. re: nsxtasy

                                          I completely agree about Alinea - very good, very interesting, but the food is not fall out of your chair great.

                                          1. re: fl bob

                                            I think you are missing something in the flavors. In two visits, I have had one dish that I was not wild about. The others were all at least very good. On a course by course basis, it far exceeds even places like Everest, Tru, and Charlie Trotters. Those places may have two or three great dishes per meal, but some of the others fall flat. I've just never had a similar experience at Alinea. For some courses the quantity was miniscule, but the food was just inspired.

                                            Never did I ever see more flash than subtance.

                                      2. What you have so far sounds good and to complement it I would go with any two of the following, all are a little more low key.

                                        1. Schwa - Only place where you can get fantastic food (quail egg ravoli is one of the best things I have ever eaten) on the chep (its BYOB) and wear jeans to dinner.

                                        2. Avec - The wait can be long, but who cares becuase you will be drinking great wine and will be snacking on their brilliant food. Also a little lighter than what you likely will be eating elsewhere and the space is great.

                                        4. Fox and Obel Market - Instead of eating out go to Fox and Obel, Chicago's premier upmarket market, and pick up some dinner. The Ahi Tune makes great Shashimi also get some of their duck prosciutto, bread and dessert then combine for one fresh and "home" made meal.

                                        1. Trotters was a huged disappointment. Hit or miss service and Hit or miss execution of dishes.

                                          1. Arun's is supposed to be the best Thai food and everyone I have talked to agrees. As I am vegetarian and they do a prix fix menu so I have never been. FOr Vegetarian food the green zebra is utterly amazing but it may not be your cup of tea.

                                            1. I love Thai food, and I have found Arun's to be UNimpressive. It's not bad, but it's no better than a lot of neighborhood Thai places, and it's a whole lot more expensive. I really don't understand why some people rave about it.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: nsxtasy

                                                The food at Aruns for the most part is excellent. Very fresh, delicate flavors. Some of the dishes are amazing, others just good. There are no bad things there. But the problem with Aruns is that they went to an ALL TASING MENU... you can't order a la carte like in the old days there. So, you get an $85 tasting menu with way too much food. If you could just order the dishes you love it would be much better. As a result, they are not very busy. Arun, listen to the people!

                                              2. Definitely Avenues! You MUST sit at the Chef's Bar, you get to see the food being made up close and talk with the chefs! For a serious foodie, this is the neatest thing to do. Chef Bowles is the nicest guy! He brought most of the courses over to us himself, and posed for a pic with me and my dad, taken by a waiter! I have never experienced service like that-very elegant, formal, but also warm and inviting. The 12 course menu will blow you away, it changes often but every single thing I had I loved!

                                                For your other choice, I'd go with Schwa. Haven't tried it yet but people at egullet forums rave about it!

                                                1. So, FLBOB... Did you go to Chicago yet? If so, where'd you go. Please report.

                                                  1. He reported back on Nov. 12...

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. I'm new to these boards (where has this website been all my life?!), but I can't believe there are so many replies about Chicago restaurants that sum up the city, and there's been no mention of Vermillion! Along with Topolobampo, Vermillion is my absolute Chicago favorite. It's a small place, I think it's off Wacker near Marina City downtown, but the place has amazing food. It's "Indian-Latin fusion" and the food is simply excellent. My wife and I first ate there a year ago for New Year's (the other night we ate at Topolo!) and it blew us away. The philosophies of spice are very similar between the cultures and it shows through in the menu. What it says about Chicago food is "boundaryless."