Help me decide
I have narrowed it down to:
Any and all comments would be greatly appreciated!
Bluprint is brand new. I don't know anything about it. How adventurous do you feel, and are you willing to cut them some slack if they still need to iron out any kinks?
Otherwise, Aria and Sola are both good, but they're in entirely different neighborhoods. If you're downtown, go to Aria; if you're around Lincoln Square, go to Sola.
Not sure if it is too late, but I would skip Aria. I have always found the place to be completely awkward. The service is just odd, kind of spacey, and just feels like they have not found their nitch. I can't tell if they want to be a hotel restaurant, a destination restaurant, a special place, and everyday place....it just doesn't work imo and the place has kind of a dead vibe. I'll get panned for that, but that's been my experience.
Sola is fun and delicious. Have not been to Bluprint.
I just looked at the menus and the Aria page woke my teething baby that I had just rocked to sleep with it's mood music (grr). Aside from that I found the menu to lack focus. It's like they laid out buzzwords and built the dishes around that. I would go to Sola (based just on the menus).
I've never heard of Aria or Bluprint, but I have had a good meal at Sola - only been there once.
In that same vein, I have also been to Meritage in Bucktown a couple times and have always been pleased. The room in the back can be a little cramped, but the food was always excellent. I prefer eating on their patio.
Went to Sola last night. My previous visit was right after getting a new job and maybe the mood of the evening influenced my memory, but I walked away very satisfied. Last night did not go so well. We ate inside, but maybe should have opted for a table outside because they put us in an awkwardly placed, too small table, which was odd since there were many nicer tables around and the inside was maybe 30% full.
During the course of the meal, I had the repeated feeling that the kitchen and waitstaff were in auto-pilot mode and not really paying attention to the details. We ordered the parmesan truffle fries as an appetizer and requested they be cooked extra crispy. Well no more than two minutes later the waitress came back and put them on the table - obviously a spare already cooked order that had been sitting out and were not crispy in any way. Tasted OK, but the saltiness overwhelmed a mild truffle taste.
Ordered shortribs as an entree and, while the portion was quite large and meat itself was quite good, it was served with a tiny pile of vegetables - so was really just a big pile of meat. It just seemed quite thrown together without much care. Less meat with some more substantial sides prepared with more precision would have made a much better composed dish.
There service was acceptable, but the waitress also seemed a little curt and not particulary knowledgable about the menu. Once again, doing her job but just seemed to be going through the motions. Not making you feel that eating out is a special experience.
In retrospect, and looking over you list, I might reccomend Boka. I was there several weeks ago and in hindsight I think I was overly critical at the time. The food was quite good, they just seemed to have a little attitude about it, but maybe that was warranted.
Or consider Avec which is a less formal atmosphere (communal tables, no reservations) but has outstanding food. I have been a little underwhelmed by my meals in Chicago over the past month or two, but I keep on thinking back to a recent trip to Avec which rises higher and higher in my estimation each time I go elsewhere.
If you are open to considering alternatives to Sola and Aria, there are plenty that do a great job in the same "casual fine dining" arena - one sixtyblue, Aigre Doux, Blackbird, Naha, Sweets and Savories, Magnolia Cafe (if you're looking for something near Sola), North Pond, Lula, Spring, Custom House, and many more.
Alinea is great but it really is in an entirely different dining (and price) category than these other places.