Money No Object
Okay. I have a friend coming into town from Columbus, Ohio. We are going to dinner on March 14th and 16th. He told me last night - "let's go somewhere very nice and money is not an object". I told him to let me know what he liked and I would find a place knowing I would get good advice from the Chowhounds. He said he loves Italian and American foods. Something where it is relaxing, the atmosphere is great, as well as the food. He not been to Chicago in 10 years. He is staying at the W Hotel on Lakeshore for his conference. And is Spiaggia THE place for Italian? I have never heard that sentence above in my life - so now I am more nervous than ever! lol
If someone told me, "let's go somewhere very nice and money is not an object", meaning that he is looking for something totally above and beyond anything else, the first three places I would try to get a reservation at are Alinea, Everest, and Avenues. No offense to fans of any of other top places in town.
If it MUST be an Italian place, IMHO Spiaggia is the top one in the city. Yes, there are many good ones, but Spiaggia is unique in the level of its cuisine. That's why I included it when naming the absolute top nine chefs and restaurants in the city in this topic:
You can find links to the websites of each of the nine in that topic.
Make your reservations as soon as you can, particularly if you decide on Alinea. Everest, Avenues, and Spiaggia all take reservations through opentable.com so it's easy to see who has openings on the dates you have in mind.
Even if money is no object, you should be aware that, with moderate alcohol, you will probably be paying around $250-350 per person at Alinea, $125-200 pp at Everest and Spiaggia, and I'm not sure about Avenues but I'm guessing around $150-225 pp (ask me a few weeks from now). If those prices are shocking to you, Everest has a $50 three-course pre-theater dinner at 5:30 pm (not on Fridays) or you can go to a place that is still outstanding but whose prices are not quite as stratospheric, such as One Sixty Blue or Aigre Doux, which are in the $75-125 pp range.
Spiaggia would absolutely be the top high-end Italian. If money were no object I would do the Tour at Alinea with upgraded wine pairings. That will set you back about $400 per person without tax or tip. You're a bit too late for this, but the Foie Gras tasting menu at Avenues (pre-ban) was really outstanding. It was about $250 pp, not including wine, tax or tip. Tru would be another option, but the atmosphere might not be exactly what you're looking for (I love Tru, but it's a little like eating at an art gallery).
ETA - Based on when you're going, if you want to go to Alinea you'll need to call ASAP. Reservations on weekends fill up 2 months in advance, but you might be able to snag a table on the 14th.
I wouldn't put Les Nomades among the very top places in the city. Maybe I'd put it in the top 20 - and I'm not even certain about that - but not the top 9, which, IMHO, are:
1. Alinea - Grant Achatz - www.alinearestaurant.com
2. Everest - Jean Joho - www.everestrestaurant.com
3. Charlie Trotter's - Charlie Trotter - www.charlietrotter.com/restaurant
4. Avenues - Graham Elliot Bowles - http://chicago.peninsula.com/pch/dini...
5. Tru - Rick Tramonto - www.trurestaurant.com
6. NoMi - Christophe David - www.nomirestaurant.com
7. Schwa - Michael Carlson - www.schwarestaurant.com
8. moto - Homaro Cantu - www.motorestaurant.com
9. Spiaggia - Tony Mantuano - www.levyrestaurants.com/Levy/DiningEx...
Aside from the topic I posted, this is probably the only one on this board to which I feel somewhat qualified to reply.
Alinea was one of the best meals I've ever eaten, though the price for the 14 course (the "lesser of the two options) tasting menu with paired wines was closer to $500/person than $350 after tip.
I had dinner tonight at Les Nomades, on your advice I believe nsxtasy. It was a very, very good meal, and I would heartily reccommend it to anyone. The cost, with two bottles of wine and cocktails for a party of four was reasonable: $600 or so before tip. The food and the service were both outstanding.
re: Robert Peyton
I'm not sure how that pricing works out for Alinea. The Tasting is (I believe) $135pp. Even if you had upgraded wine pairings, I don't understand how that gets to $500. IIRC, the upgraded wine pairings are generally equal to the cost of the menu...a total of $270. Tax and tip adds about another 30% which puts you at $350pp.
re: Robert Peyton
To answer both of the above questions:
Regarding Les Nomades, I agree that it is very, very good; I just wouldn't put it quite in the same category as those other nine. Remember, there are so very many fine dining restaurants in Chicago where you can get a very, very good meal. The dividing line IMHO is in creativity and sheer excellence. This is not in any way meant to show disrespect for those I didn't name in that list of nine. You can go to places like Les Nomades, and Ambria, and Butter (just to name three) and have an outstanding meal. It's just more of a gut feel on my part that those other nine are just a step above (and I would argue that the first 4-5 are a step above the other 4-5). Bottom line: These are all excellent restaurants that are doing everything right to even qualify for the discussion. And of course this is strictly a matter of subjective opinion! So someone else might argue that Les Nomades or Ambria belongs in the same group, and someone else might argue that one of those places doesn't.
Regarding pricing at Alinea: According to their website, pricing for the 12-course tasting menu is $135/pp, and for the 22-course tour, $195/pp. So if you have no alcohol or other beverages and add tax and tip, you're looking at somewhere in the neighborhood of $175/pp and $255/pp. Alcohol is the big variable, of course. I mentioned $250-350/pp with *moderate* alcohol, which I would define as drinking up to one bottle of one of the more moderately priced wines. Their wine pairings can drive the cost considerably higher than that - but please, let's not get into a debate over semantics. If you enjoy drinking more wine than that and/or more expensive wine than that, either with their pre-designated "flights" or by choosing some nice vintages, you can drive the price up as high as you like.
(Frankly, I think even $250-350/pp is pretty darn high! By Chicago standards, that's considerably above just about everyplace before Alinea came along, with the possible exception of Trotter's and maybe Tru.)
Upscale restaurants not worth the money. I've been to all the above except Moto and while expensive I never could justify the 200 - 300 per person. Everest is truly a waste of money. Trotter's while very good is three times the price of a suburban restaurant as good(Hemmingway's Oak Park, Amber Lombard, etc. etc. etc.)
First of all, only two or three of those places typically run $200-300 per person unless you go wild with wine, and Everest is not one of them. FWIW, I myself seriously question whether Alinea is worth $250-350 per person (or more), when you can get an outstanding and equally wonderful meal at Everest for half that price (or even less, with their pre-theater deal).
As for whether ANY of them are "worth the money", whether it's at a place for $250-350 or for $125-175, that is strictly a personal opinion and entirely subjective; you are welcome to your opinion. It is worth that much TO ME to enjoy a dinner that's such a special experience that I will remember it fondly months and even years later. However, if they are not worth the money TO YOU, why did you go to them?
Of course it is all subjective, but I think Alinea is absolutely worth every penny. While Everest is good, Alinea provides a truly unique experience. I just don't think Everest stands out...it is very solid fine dining though.
ETA - Not trying to start a conflict, just providing a balanced viewpoint for the OP in making a decision.