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I'm graduating! Help me choose where to celebrate

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Hey all,

I'm getting my master's degree next month and I need to find the perfect place to celebrate. I'd like to take advantage of this opportunity to try upscale, not-to-be-missed places like NAHA, NoMi, and Spring (been there, ate that). I'm looking for one dinner spot and one weekday lunch place. I'll be dining with both family and friends (about six of us) and here's what I'm thinking so far:

Aigre Doux
Blackbird
May Street Market
Custom House
De la costa

Please feel free to add to this list and to specify if lunch or dinner is best. Thank you!!

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  1. You should definitely add Avenues to your list...depends what $$ you want to spend. Absolutely incredible food, and you will never have better service. Chef Bowles will make it a special evening, far beyond just serving your food.

    I would, based on comments from many, put Schwa on your list as well

    1. I was at De La Costa this weekend and it was only OK. A very good shrimp appetizer, an excellent chocolate dessert (the chocolate cigar...) but the entrees were nothing special, and the reaction to our other appetizer and desserts was mixed. I had a chicken dish that was a little bland and a little dry. Maybe OK for lunch if you are in the area. The decor was impressive, and service was quite good.

      Your other selections are all excellent, although I'm personally not a fan of Aigre Doux. For what its worth, I had my best recent meal at 160 Blue. That's where I would go for a special event, although the tasting menu at Avenues is something I've always wanted to try if you've got the $$.

      1. First of all, congratulations!!

        I've really enjoyed my meals at both Aigre Doux as well as Custom House. I think for your occasion, however, Aigre Doux might be the better choice (it's slightly more trendy). Another place that we recently tried (and was excellent) is Scylla in Bucktown (1925 N. Damen Ave.) - it was one of the better meals I've had in a while! Perfectly executed and quite inventive... Another festive and fun place for a small group would be Avec (next to Blackbird).

        You may want to keep receiving feedback on Aigre Doux, though. We went within the first month or two that it was opened and actually had a fantastic meal. Service was spotty, but I imagine some of those kinks might have been worked out by now?? You may want to get more recent feedback, though...

        1. All of the choices mentioned above are good (including the recommendations by others of One Sixty Blue, Custom House, Scylla). I don't think you can go wrong with any of them (although my personal favorites are One Sixty Blue and Aigre Doux, and I wasn't that impressed with May Street Market).

          I would draw a distinction between these places, and the previous recommendations of Avenues and Schwa. To me, there is a big difference between the places I consider "casual fine dining" (most of those mentioned above) and "formal fine dining" (Avenues, Schwa, Alinea, NoMi). Part of the difference is cost; casual fine dining places are typically $75-125 per person, whereas the "formal fine dining" places are generally double that amount or more. And the "formal" places are dressier (jacket and usually tie are worn by most gentlemen, with the exception of Schwa). I'm not trying to recommend *against* any of the "formal fine dining" places, only noting that they really represent a different experience. (And if you are interested in those, Everest is a particularly good value, especially for the $50 three-course pre-theater early dinner.)

          1. Since it's a celebration, and you'll be dining with both family and friends my top picks from your list would be Blackbird and Custom House.

            Also, as a clarification on Schwa, I think it's a hard restaurant to categorize. Labeling it as "formal, fine dining" is probably over-simplifying things a bit in so much as it's not really anything like going to Alinea, Avenues, Everest, Tru, etc.. The thing with Schwa is that it's all about what's on the plate. It's a small, casual room. The music playing is usually something pretty funky picked by the chefs. There certainly isn't much emphasis on service. But, the food is as good and innovative as anywhere in the city. Bottom line, Schwa really operates in an emerging category of "haute-casual" that hasn't really made it to Chicago yet. If you think those who you will be dining with would be cool with that, then I would highly recommend it.

            3 Replies
            1. re: jesteinf

              I realize what you're saying about Schwa. However, its price and the creativity of its cuisine both place it into the more rarefied group of chef-driven fine dining places. (Price is $100 plus tax/tip, and it's BYO so the alcohol is up to you, but even with the cost advantage of a BYO policy, it's going to cost you significantly more than the places in the casual category.) And it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me to place restaurants into more and more detailed categories with obscure names like "haute-casual".

              1. re: nsxtasy

                Cost has nothing to do with whether someplace can be considered "formal" or "casual". I think by calling Schwa "formal" you are giving people on the board who may not know anything about it the wrong idea of what to expect.

                Sure, it's pricey, but you'll also be sitting there listenting to hip hop and staring at a mohawk-ed chef while you're eating.

                1. re: jesteinf

                  >> Cost has nothing to do with whether someplace can be considered "formal" or "casual". I think by calling Schwa "formal" you are giving people on the board who may not know anything about it the wrong idea of what to expect. <<

                  I assume people on the board have enough intelligence to look beyond labels and to distinguish between two categories when the characteristics of those categories are described when the labels are first provided. And to realize that a few of those characteristics may not apply to every single restaurant in the category.

                  I doubt that many people here think a restaurant should be categorized by the appearance of the chef or the type of music being played, rather than the quality or cost of the food.