A few months back, I ate at the Wheeling location of Cooper's Hawk Winery and Restaurant, and I really enjoyed it in every way. This is one of several Chicago-area locations of this restaurant.
The winery itself is in southwest suburban Orland Park; all of their locations have a tasting room at the entrance where you can sample and buy their wines. Their wines are excellent, and reasonably priced. Even if you dine there, the prices are reasonable; one wine selling for $20 in the store was listed for $28 in the restaurant, which is a very modest markup as wine lists go. Our favorite wines included their Malbec (red), Blanc de Blanc (sparkling), and Ice Wine (dessert).
There were several highlights at our dinner. The "Red Wine and Mustard Short Ribs" served on a bed of mashed potatos were excellent, very tasty, not overly fatty (as short ribs can sometimes be), and a nice portion size with three hunks of short ribs. The Sweet Chili Calamari appetizer ("tender rings of calamari, fried tempura style, and tossed in mango chili-ponzu sauce with a touch of spicy mayo") was truly amazing, cooked perfectly so they are extremely tender. Portions were quite large, so don't over-order!
In addition to Wheeling, Cooper's Hawk has other locations in South Barrington, Orland Park, and Burr Ridge. Here's the info on the Wheeling location:
Cooper's Hawk Winery and Restaurant
583 N Milwaukee Ave
Wheeling, IL 60090
It would be nice if Crawdaddy bayou was still in the Pete Miller spot. That place was always excellent. I used to live three blocks from there and it was a sad day in my household when they unexpectedly closed.
I honestly never went to any of the other restaurants while living there. I wanted to go to La Francais, but I could never convince my wife to do so.
Le Francais went through several different chef-owners before it finally closed. For many years, beginning when it opened in the mid-1970s, it was owned by Jean Banchet, and was widely considered the best restaurant in the entire country during much of that time. After Banchet retired and sold it - talk about a sad day! - it was owned by Roland Liccioni for a while, and also briefly by Michael Lachowicz. Both have gone on to establish more casual (and less expensive) restaurants where you can still enjoy their cuisine, Liccioni at Old Town Brasserie in the city, and Lachowicz at his wonderful namesake restaurant, Michael, in Winnetka.
My wife and I used to absolutely love dining at Le Francais. Just recently we dined at Michael, in Winnetka. It was decent...and the prices were pretty cheap. I would go back...but it did fall short of what I was longing for.
Have you eaten at Irae 60? I wonder how it would fit into the mix???
I'm still pretty addicted to the Tramonto/Gand restaurants in the new Westin. In fact, I'm eating at the Steak and Seafood restaurant tonight (which of course requires me to grab some sushi at the Lounge as well!).
I haven't tried Mitchell's before, but I do like Bob Chinn's quite a bit. All a matter of preference. Most of the dishes I like at Chinn's are simpler presentations, such as simple grilled, so, for me, it works out A-OK. Some folks aren't as big of a fan of it for various reasons, which is all viable as well! :)
Also, don't forget, there's the new Claim Jumper across from the Westin. Fun place, if you've never been to one. Their food is actually pretty good and much better than the first night we tried them (which was opening night). Our subsequent visits showed marked improvement in the food. Very different than what you'll get at the Tramonto/Gand places though.
Pete Miller's was a long standing favorite of mine. We used to eat in there about 2x a week on average, but haven't gone back in about five months now after a couple issues with our last visit. Overall, I did love the place. They provided very good food and service as well as live music at a reasonable price.
In the general area, there is plenty to eat, that's for sure! If venture a bit, within about a ten minute drive from the hotel, you'll find a pretty new Morton's (Northbrook), Ruth's Chris (Northbrook), Wildfire (Lincolnshire), Big Bowl (Lincolnshire) and so forth. Those four are chains, but just give you more options in the area for a good meal.
I ate at Claim Jumper last night, and I was quite disappointed. I should note that I don't automatically have a negative predisposition towards chains the way some on this board do. I was hoping that it might be similar to the Cheesecake Factory, which I think is quite good. Unfortunately, it just wasn't very good, for food or for service.
Our server took our first order of a round of drinks, then took forever to bring them. We then started with their "Appetizer Combo": Artichoke, Buffalo Wings, Zucchini, Mozzarella Sticks, Parmesan Garlic Rings, Loaded Skins, Cheese Potatocake & Southwest Eggroll. The rings were tasteless, the artichoke was tasteless, ... you get the idea. We also had the calamari appetizer, and although they were somewhat tasteless, they were actually surprisingly tender, one of the few high spots. We had salads that were okay (it's kind of hard to ruin a salad). After we had taken about three bites of the salad, they brought the main courses, so we were juggling plates and snarfing down food to make room. One member of our party ordered a tri tip steak medium rare, and it arrived well done (no pink at all). When this was pointed out to the server, he brought another, which arrived medium well (but at least it arrived quickly). The tri tip was also WAY too overseasoned and peppery. I had the prime rib, which was okay - not the best I've ever had (which would be at the Black Ram in Des Plaines), but not the worst either. Could have been more tender, but I've had some that are more chewy than theirs. It came with mashed potatos with a huge pool of gravy I could have done without. I also ordered a side of peanut Thai slaw which was not very good at all.
For dessert, I got the English toffee pudding, which was good (not as good as at Aigre Doux though), and their best dessert IMHO. Others had the green tea and ginger creme brulee (it was okay) and the deep-dish berry pie (not very good - very plain pie crust, soupy contents).
Where Claim Jumper distinguishes itself is in quantity, not quality. Their portion sizes are enormous, particularly the desserts. Their chocolate layer cake is well over a foot tall, and one slice can easily serve four people. (I am NOT exaggerating.) So can their "I Declare" version of an eclair. Oh, I should note that they have two categories of desserts - big desserts ($9-11) and little (i.e. normal-sized) desserts ($3-4). The toffee pudding and creme brulee were in the latter category. But even many of the savory courses came in large portion sizes, and they encourage you to get the large sizes. For example, a 16-ounce portion of prime rib is quite large. The Claim Jumper offers two sizes of prime rib: a 16-ounce portion for $28, and a 24-ounce portion for $30. At those prices, you would be a fool not to get the larger portion size, even if it just means you'll be taking the additional eight ounces home.
The decor is nice - kind of generic "chain restaurant" with a big bar, an "exposed" (but not rough-hewn) beam look, a few big-screen televisions over the bar (the dining room is huge, so these were not a distraction while dining). It was a fun place, where you could get a bit loud if you wanted and no one would mind - but, by the same token, it was LOUD, so if you're looking for a place where you can hear all the members of your party easily, it might not be the best. People were dressed *extremely* casually, significantly more sloppy than I would have expected (really, "anything goes" would be an accurate description); this is not how people typically dress in comparably-priced suburban chain restaurants.
I can see why they do such a big business: casual attire, generally reasonable prices, and huge portion sizes. But when you come down to it, the food was mediocre (some things were good, others were not, nothing was "to die for") and the service was erratic. We won't be back.
I've been to the Claim Jumper twice. Twice to finish up the balance on the gift card I got as a present. First time, everything was horrible, 2nd time (after we figured out what kind of stuff to order,) we did a little better. Out of the two times I went, the only thing I remember is that the half order of fish and chips was a complete ripoff, the fries were absolutely covered in salt, the average at best chocolate cake was massive, and nsxtasy is being far, FAR too kind in stating that the Thai peanut slaw was "not very good at all" when, in fact, it was the most disgusting thing I've eaten at a restaurant in quite a long time. Oh, Oh oh - I do remember one more thing: the jerk chicken dish in the stuffed sweet potato was not that bad at all.
As for a not to be missed spot, there are not many. Le Titi, Chinn's (just to say you've been there.) My rec for a not to be missed would be Flamingo's which would be a short drive. Do a quick search, you'll find other recs for it also.
I would like to jump in on the Claim Jumper, which I really hated. I too, was hoping for a Cheesecake Factory type, which I do think is good. But what a disappointment! I thought the food was very mediocre while very overpriced. The calamare appetizer wasn't bad, but I have a problem with an appetizer that was around $13 that is "not bad" . The dining room reminded me of a hotel coffee shop, the service was crummy. All in all, I would never go back...
So, I'm going to amend what I wrote about CJ. I haven't been back in months, at this point. Too much confusion whenever I went in. For what it's worth, I did enjoy the tuna appetizer and the salmon entree was generally good, but my experiences varied from good and enjoyable to "why did I come here?"
While their corporate office was great about checking ingredients for dietary limitations, the same salmon I'd always order would constantly change. On top of it, one of the managers in there (others were much better about it), seemed to get irritated when I would order my dinner with an allergy note. When I had the kitchen tell me something would contain and allergen, he then questioned why I requested that they change the dish and insisted the kitchen was wrong. He one time came to my table and said "I thought we finished with this?!" which did nothing to endear the restaurant to me.
I used to enjoy Cheesecake Factory too, but they also seemed to have trouble with allergens. After a very bad experience, they sent me gift cards to come back to the Lincolnshire location. I didn't make it through dinner before I had to leave due to illness, so I gave up on them.
re: Chicago Wine Geek
I really, really like Stoney River (whose Deer Park location is closest to Wheeling, although they also have a location in Deerfield) as well as Pete Miller's. Even though they specialize in steaks, both do a wonderful job with seafood. The last time I was at Stoney River, the crab cake appetizer was one of the very best in the Chicago area, and the chilean sea bass was sublime. I recently ate at Pete Miller's Evanston location and they have some new seafood dishes on the menu that are excellent (notably the seared sea scallops and the lobster pot pie).
Tramonto's isn't the only place in Wheeling for steaks (and seafood); Pete Miller's is also excellent:
For French fine dining, Le Francais is still excellent, now back under Roland Liccioni:
In the same genre, still excellent after many years is Le Titi de Paris, just a little ways down Dundee Road from Wheeling in Arlington Heights:
I'm not all that crazy about Bob Chinn's; the seafood is fresh but I like the preparations much better at Mitchell's, which is in Glenview, not far from Wheeling:
And if you're just looking for a burger or a brick of onion rings, Hackney's is still there (so you can still joke about the location of Le Francais, with Hackney's next door):