Blackbird advice or alternatives needed
My wife and I will be in Chicago on a food pilgrimage on 3/22 through 3/25. Here is our schedule ... not necessarily because I think it will help you make a recommendation, but because I'm so excited about the trip that I risk having an embolism.
Thursday: afternoon snacks at Avec to hold us over until 8:45 reservations at Alinea.
Friday: lunch at Hot Doug's and dinner at ... well, that's where I could use your help.
Saturday: breakfast at M Henry and dinner at Moto.
I'm considering Blackbird for dinner on Friday, but I've been a little put off by descriptions of noise, crowding, and bad service. Those are pretty much show stoppers for me when I read them consistently in reviews but then I see "braised pork belly and knackwurst choucroute" and I have to think that must taste just as good in a mosh pit of "see and be seen" diners. Can anyone confirm that the food rises above the scene or are we going to feel too much like cattle to enjoy "smoke grapes and bacon caramel"? My god that sounds good.
The other options we have considered are: North Pond, Sweets & Savories, and Toplobompo.
I think Toplobompo would be a good contrast to Alinea and Moto.
I'd love to hear from anyone who has experienced these restaurants or has other suggestions that I haven't considered.
All of the restaurants you mention as possibilities for Friday are excellent, and their "casual fine dining" is a nice contrast to the more formal (and more creative) places for your Thursday and Saturday dinners. However, since mention that you are concerned about noise and crowding, you might want to choose some place other than Topolobampo.
My top two recommendations in this "casual fine dining" category were not mentioned. As good as the others are - and they are very good indeed - these two have done an even better job of blowing me away, with one "to die for" food dish after another, and they are not as hectic as Blackbird sometimes can be:
Unless you are really set on M. Henry's, which can be a fun place for brunch, i strongly recomend the lula cafe for your sunday brunch.
One of the best places for brunch, with about 5-10 daily specials, all seasonal, is the lula cafe. similar in price range, with breakfast entrees around 8-12 dollars, the over all quality is outstanding. everything is fresh and the ingredients are always the best available.
check the menu on their website: http://www.lulacafe.com/
I would keep the Blackbird reservation. I've never had the service issues there that others describe, and there certainly is no "hipper than thou" atmosphere. Sure, it can get a little loud, but so do lots of restaurants. I say go and enjoy. The pork belly is insanely delicious.
I would say Blackbird or Topolobompo. Definitely do not waste your time going to Sweets & Savories (sorry guys, I just do not get what is so great about it). I do love North Pond, but the other two offer better, dare I say more Chicago-like, atmospheres. North Pond is exactly what it is cracked out to be....a beautiful restaurant in the park. It succeeds at that, but Topolo and Blackbird provide a more lively experience that will contrast nicely to your other options.
What about Sunday Brunch at North Pond? I have not been there for brunch, but the current menu looks very appealing (though not inexpensive). It might be a very welcome contrast to Saturday's edgy dinner at Moto. I have had lunch at North Pond, and think it is an even more beautiful setting during the day (it is not open for lunch in the winter). Plus you have the Zoo, Conservatory and Nature museum close by. If the weather cooperates, it might be a pleasant way to conclude your trip.
Blackbird is noisy but worth it. I don't think Topo is too noisy once you get into the restaurant and away from the door it shares with Frontera (that area is, indeed, noisy).
My experience of Blackbird was more austere than noisy. Definitely go for the food, it's great, but I have to say Avec is more fun.