Advice? Schwa vs Topolobampo
Each year I give my niece and her husband a gift certificate to a Chicago restaurant for Christmas. Several times it's been to Topolobampo 1) because they love it 2) because it's excellent, and 3) because it's reasonable. Should I branch out with Schwa (I've seen it mentioned once as reasonable)--is it good enough or should I stick to the tried and true? Many thanks.
They've already been to Topolobampo. Schwa is one of the best restaurants in the City. Change it up, send them to Schwa (but with a warning that they should make the reservation WAY in advance (2+ months if they want a weekend).
I suggest you send them a gift certificate for the Lettuce Entertain You restaurants. That way they can use them at any of their restaurants - everything from the very best restaurants in the city (Everest, Ambria) to very good but more mainstream fine dining restaurants (Shaw's or Joe's for seafood, Maggiano's* for Italian, Cafe Ba-ba-reeba for tapas, Wildfire for steaks, etc). Also, you can stretch your dollars because for every $100 in LEY gift cards you buy for the next few weeks, they add a somewhat-restricted $25 bonus certificate. You can find more information on the LEY website at http://www.leye.com/welcome.html
One other, even more flexible option that I've used for gift-giving is the "Be My Guest" gift card from American Express. You can buy it directly from American Express and they can use it at any restaurant that accepts the AmEx card. More info on the AmEx website at http://www10.americanexpress.com/sif/...
Either of these cards gives them a lot more options regarding wehere to go, as well as more ability to use any balance remaining after a splurge meal.
*Maggiano's is now part of the Brinker restaurant group, but all locations continue to honor (and even sell) the Lettuce Entertain You gift certificates.
Unless you know exactly where someone else wants to dine, it shows greater consideration to give someone the flexibility of choosing from many places, so that they can go to a place that *they* want to go to, rather than being forced to go to one specific place they may not even like.
Blackbird was no more expensive than Topolobampo and was truly a wonderful meal. I ate at both restaurants on Friday (Topolobampo for lunch and Blackbird for dinner). I agree with other posters that branching out to other top-notch restaurants couldn't hurt. Friday's meal at Blackbird was not too loud and I will definitely go back next time I'm in the city.
Schwa and Topolobampo don't have much in common. One of those differences being that Topo, and I don't mean this as a slight to Schwa, but it has a much more professionally run front of the house, or maybe its more accurate to say that they have a front of the house. I am sure you can get a gift certificate for Topo because, well you say you have done it, but even so, its the kind of thing that they would do. At Schwa, which is run by a bunch of chefs out back, I don't know how they would even deal with a gift certificate request. Maybe Chef Carlson could write something down on a post it note?
I mean, not only is it like pulling teeth to even get a reservation there, one you get in there are maybe ten tables, no real waiters, no wine glasses, no wine service for that matter, I'm suprised they even take credit cards - and no AMEX while you're at it. But the food is marvelous, sublime, certainly the most reasonably price high-end meal in town, if only because its BYO. It is a bit esoteric. One recent dish is a Pad Thai using sliced jellyfish instead of noodles. I'd go there any any day before Topo, but it might not be appropriate/convenient for your gift idea. At best, you could make a reservation (a couple months in advance), and take them out. Or just give them the reservation. They're like gold.
So if you want to branch out, I might look elsewhere. Lettuce is an option, although maybe not as personal as picking a special place out for them. I bet blackbird/avec could fix you up. The guys who run Red Light/Marche/Opera have gift certificates. I had a fabulous meal a Avenues and being in a major Hotel (Penninsula) I'm sure they could do something too. Or if you want to stick with Mexican, Salpicon is an option. Or who knows, try Schwa.