Specific Questions about Everest, Gibson's, Topolobampo, and Sola
Hi there, Chicago Hounds.
You have collectively been very helpful to my wife and I with our honeymoon planning. We have dinner reservations for 5 of the 6 nights we will be in Chicago: Everest on a Tuesday, Topolobampo on a Wednesday, Cafe Spiaggia on Thursday, Sola on a Saturday, and Gibson's on a Sunday. We are thinking about Spoon Thai on Friday (we will be in your town from Sept 4-10).
(Note: I did heed some of the warnings about Rick Bayless's restaurants, as well as about Sola, but my wife insisted on both places, and after all, it is our honeymoon).
Now, for some specific questions about the above restaurants.
1) Everest: 7 Course tasting menu, or a la carte? They also have 3 and 4 course pre-fixe dinners. I would be happy with three or four courses unless they are miniscule. Does anyone have strong opinions about which way to go here?
2) Topolobampo: Same question. Is the tasting menu (which looks quite intriguing on the website) an over-the-top size meal, or suitable for an average appetite? Is the food better suited to wine or beer? (I instantly think "beer" when I think of Mexican food, partly because the chilies don't pair well with wine in my opinion, but perhaps Bayless's flavours are more subtle than the average Mexican joint). Also, are the desserts good here?
3) Gibson's. (survey question) What is your favourite steak here? What is W.R.'s Chicago Cut? Why are there no rib/ribeye steaks advertised on the menu? Do they have a bone-in ribeye? What about favourite sides? Are the desserts good, or a pass? (the dessert names do not look very intriguing).
4) Sola: How much food to order (one appy and one main per diner? three appies and one main each for 2 diners? Good desserts?)
Generally, looking for info on what to expect re: portion sizes, how much food an average eater would order (i.e. 900-1200 calorie dinner); the strengths of the respective restaurants, as in do they excel with desserts, salads, red meat, fish, pasta, etc...
Thanks in advance for any feedback. I'll be happy to return the favour if any of you are planning a trip to the Victoria/Vancouver BC area.
Well... I never decide in advance whether I'm going to order the tasting menu or a la carte, anywhere (except when asked in advance, and the only place I know that does that is Alinea). I like to see what's on each menu. If several things in particular appeal to me on one menu and not the other, that's the way I go. However, it's also worth noting that most places are happy to do a substitution, if for example you want the tasting menu but something in particular not on that menu catches your eye from the a la carte side, or vice versa.
As for portion sizes, the tasting menu with a lot of courses usually consists of smaller portions, so that the overall amount of food isn't drastically different. One other note about portion sizes is that the servers at a restaurant can give you guidance on how large theirs are compared with other restaurants, and can suggest how many courses might be appropriate for someone with a given size appetite.
All of this advice applies to most places, including both Everest and Topolobampo.
Regarding beer vs wine with Mexican food, it's like red wine vs white wine - it's a matter of personal preference these days, either one will be fine. I wouldn't call Bayless's flavors "subtle", but they're not just chili sauce on everything the way some conventional Mexican places are, so if that's what you mean by subtle... Yes, Topolobampo's desserts are excellent.
I don't recall what steak I got the last time I went to Gibson's; it's been a while. As I recall, the desserts are more remarkable for their size than their quality. Personally, I would go elsewhere for dessert (or skip it).
If you really enjoy desserts, consider the Chocolate Bar at the Lobby Restaurant in the Peninsula Hotel, Friday and Saturday evenings starting at 8:30. It's an all-you-can-eat buffet of 30-40 different chocolate desserts, in smallish sizes. Around $32-34.
I think you've chosen an excellent assortment of some of our best restaurants. Strengths? Everest and Topolobampo are good at everything they do. Gibson's not so much for dessert, but their steaks and also their seafood are excellent (they also own/run Hugo's Frog Bar next door, which specializes in seafood).
First, as a Spoon Thai regular, I will tell you not to skip this spot -- one of my very favorite spots in Chicago. You should also acquaint yourself with the translated Thai language menu which has, in my opinions, the best of the menu choices, and the most unusual in terms of what you typically find at Thai restaurants: http://lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?t=7364.
As for Everest and Topolobampo, and whether or not to do the tasting menus, I think that is strictly a matter of personal preference. I would say that Topolobampo is unlike most Mexican restaurants you will find, and thus, I would be more inclined to do the tasting menu here so that you can sample more items. I must disagree with you about wine/beer at Topo -- wine can be perfectly suitable with Mexican food and Topo has a wonderful sommelier who as I recall was quite skilled at matching wines with the food, and very interesting wine choices as I recall. Overall, I think Topo is excellent and I expect you'll enjoy an excellent meal.
Gibson's - the WR cut is a bone-in ribeye. I like Gibson's (although I'm more of a dry aged fan and so my first choice is David Burke's) and my favorite cuts there are the WR and the New York strip. Skip the desserts unless you are craving oversized, mediocre homestyle desserts (chocolate cake, cheesecake, etc)
Sola - All that I can say is that the portion sizes are good and that three courses might be too much. I'm not a huge fan of their desserts. Overall, I think Sola is good, not great, restaurant. Here are some more comments that I previously had about Sola: http://lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?t=9550
Finally, judging by your questions, it sounds like you guys are big dessert fans. Definitely stop in at Hot Chocolate one night for dessert (if not dinner too). That will also give you an opportunity to check out Bucktown. The desserts are amazing and if you can squeeze it in, get one of their hot chocolates too. Mindy Segal's whimsical desserts are not to be missed. I love this place. Here is a link to their website: http://www.hotchocolatechicago.com/
Most of all, congrats and have a great trip!
Looks like you have picked a nice list.
Regarding portion sizes, no where you have chosen is notorius for small portion sizes, so I would think you would be fine with a standard app and entree each. I doubt you'll go away hungry from a tasting menu. In general a 3-4 course prix fixe will have larger portions per course than a 9-10 course tasting menu. And you can always look around the room as you walk in and see what other people are eating.
Re: Gibsons. Huge desserts. Order cake, and you get like a quarter of a cake. I have found them not bad, but not outstanding. I would plan on waiting around for half an hour to be seated even if you have a reservation. They can be packed and have a tendency to favor their regulars. Its all part of that clubby atmosphere. Steaks are very good, although not dry aged from my recollection if that matters. Sides are also huge, but I'd order two just for some variety.
I have run hot and cold on Sola. My last visit, last weekend, was underwhleming, but its been better in the past. I would order the cheese stuffed chops encrusted in mustard - its their specialty and IMO the best thing on the menu by far. Desserts do not seem to be their strong point - I couldn't find anything appealing on our last visit.
Just for your consideration, I would also bring up the idea of Meritage instead of Sola. Similar asian influenced menu, but I think they do a better job. It can be a little cramped inside, but they also have a very pleasant outdoor patio which also opens things up inside when the weather is nice. Other benefits - its a reasonable walk to Hot Chocolate south on Damen (half a mile?) for an amazing dessert, and its in Bucktown which is a fun area to visit. http://www.meritagecafe.com/home.html.
Finally, Spoon Thai is an excellent choice for a local ethnic option to mix things up a little. Its within a five minute walk from the Brown Line Western Ave. El stop, has excellent food, and is very reasonable. It is BYO (they have no liquor license) so make sure to bring wine along if you plan to drink.
I agree with wak that Sola is the one place on that list that could easily be replaced with another. Sola is good, but it is not quintessential Chicago and not so much better than other places that it justifies going up to the Lincoln Square area if you're not already around there. I realize that this is your wife's pick on your honeymoon, so if you choose not to take issue with that, we can all understand. However, if it were my honeymoon, and I wanted to choose a very special place in the "casual contemporary" genre (to go with the genres of splurge, creative Mexican, Italian, Thai, and steakhouse - a nice selection indeed), my choice would be North Pond. It's got great food and a wonderful atmosphere in the middle of Lincoln Park, making it perfect for that special occasion. There are lots of other wonderful casual contemporary places, led by one sixtyblue, Blackbird, and Aigre Doux, as well as Sola and others, but North Pond has the setting that sets it apart from the others as the perfect one for a honeymoon.
Thanks for the advice, everybody. I was thinking I'd skip the desserts at Gibsons (they just don't sound appealing on the menu).
Re: Sola, my wife has put her foot down on this one. For some reason she is fixated with this place (she read an article about this modern food with Hawaiian influence and got very excited). Ditto with Topolobampo. I tried to talk her into Sol de Mexico in Cicero, but seeing as how we will not have a car, she vetoed that plan.
She is also very insistent re: deep dish pizza. I told her most of the posters on this board say Chicago's best is not deep dish or stuffed crust, but she will not hear of it. So we are going to Lou Malnati's for lunch one day (will not be the same day as our Gibson's meal, I can assure you!).
Anyway, I got to pick Everest, Spoon Thai, Gibson's, and Cafe Spiaggia, so the least I can do is let her pick a few places.
By the way, will we need reservations for Spoon Thai? We are thinking about going on a Friday night.
Thanks for the feedback, everyone.
Sola it is! Please let us know how you like it and the other places you're going.
IMHO, your wife is correct about the pizza. Chicago's best is indeed deep dish or stuffed crust pizza, and many, many Chicagoans believe this, including most of the people I know and, from what I've seen here, most of the people on this board and other boards. Some prefer stuffed crust (Giordano's), some prefer pan pizza (Malnati's, Gino's), some prefer burnt crust (Burt's, Pequod's), but all told, more locals prefer deep-dish in some form than thin crust, from everything I've seen, here and elsewhere. Granted, a sizable minority prefers thin crust - and we have some very good thin crust places (e.g. Spacca Napoli) - but from what I have observed, they are still a minority.
Lou Malnati's is a good choice. You will enjoy it. Two tips. The portion sizes on the menu are accurate; a medium pizza for two and you will walk out stuffed. Call your order in ahead if you don't want to wait 30-40 minutes for your pizza to bake.
Not to nitpick, but statistically speaking about pizza in Chicago, it is a known fact that thin crust pizza is overwhelmingly the favorite here with thin crust outselling deep dish by a huge ratio, something around 10-1 depending on the news source..
IMO; It's not because it's better, it's just that deep dish is more "special", "unique", and expensive to make. It also takes about an hour to make vs. 15-30 for a thin crust.
That sounds like figures that include places like Pizza Hut and Domino's, and maybe even the pizza sold in the frozen food aisle of the grocery store. Sales figures don't mean it's what people like better; it's more an indication of what's convenient and/or cheap. (Which, come to think of it, sounds like what you've already said, sorry to be repetitious.)
Just curious, does anyone have any real stats on any of this? Personally, I'm in the minority (or is it majority?) that perfers thin crust, although maybe I've just never had a really good deep dish. Its really the wood burning oven cooked pizza that I like the most.
Just wondering if anyone has ever actually studied Chicagoan Pizza leanings. Must be a PhD dissertation in there somewhere...
Why is it that I can never find a source when I really need it? Sorry folks, I googled to find that stat and cant seem to find it again. Suffice it to say though, thats not the first time I've heard it before.
Anyway, I cant say for sure if the mass chains and frozen pizzas accounted for part of that stat or not, it may be, people like to bend numbers, so it is possible. But whatever the case, as we all know, popularity does not always equal quality!
I know there are many worthy Chicago pizzas out there; be they thick, thin, pan, stuffed, wood fired or even NY! The beauty about Chicago, is that they are all available here for unlimited eating ! I have even discovered that in most cases, they are either some of the best in class of any given style, or a really good representation of the style. I guess thats why they call us the pizza capital.
Pretty much everyone is dead on with the advice already;
Gibson's: yes, the bone-in ribeye is called the WR cut, had it once again about two weeks ago, always amazing!! One note here; reservations are next to impossible at Gibson's call well in advance to get a seat, other wise you'll get the standard next seat at 11 PM response. A great second option is Hugo's Frog Bar next door, it is the same kitchen and they offer the Gibson's steaks on the menu (at the same prices too)
Topolobampo; I'm glad your not going in with unrealistic expectations, in fact, that might allow you to even be pleasantly surprised! I'm admittedly one of the detractors, my opinion being that in fact, the flavors here are unquestioningly subtle or even muted for Mexican food. In other words, I wouldn't worry too much about strong spicing. As to beer vs. wine; beer is OK, but my advice would be for wine, believing that with most Latin foods, the old world or old world style Latin red wines generally pair up best, as such, I would suggest trying either a Spanish Tempranillo, Argentine Malbec or Chilean Cabernet to complete the experience. The Wine list at Topo is actually pretty decent.
Last thing: the pizza, you may want to make that a dinner item as it is very dense and heavy and could leave you overly full for the rest of the day. Many can attest, Chicago deep dish is not lightweght, 1 or 2 slices can really stuff you. As to Lou's, I'm not a huge fan of it, but since the foot was put down, just be sure to get the .50 cent buttercrust upgrade to the standard pie, it makes a world of differance.
I too honeymooned in Chicago when I got married many years ago! We had the time of our life! As it turned out several years later we moved back to Chicago, but we both still remember that trip fondly.
Congrats on the marriage, have a great honeymoon here.
I don't like to plan in advance what I'm going to eat at any restaurant. Conversely, in truth, I often like to just ask the chef to "feed me." and go with whatever is on his/her mind that day. However, I will mention that on two visits to Everest, we very much enjoyed the seafood tasting menu.
After your dinner at Gibson, I'd like to suggest dessert at Tru. The restaurant is one of the top in the country, and Gale Gand's desserts are offered separately, after dinner. It's a less expensive way to get to sample the restaurant. Before I was there last spring, I wouldn't have thought that, but now I do!
Sola has taken a beating on this board. I've been there once, and I really enjoyed it. If the weather cooperates, try to sit outside, it is lovely out there (and people seem to complain it's too loud inside).
I had a wonderful cocktail (something involving pear), a soft-shell crab appetzier (a special) that was outstanding, and a fish entree, which was good. My friend and I then split dessert. That was plenty of food for us (and we both were full enough, even without dessert). My friend and I both enjoyed our appetzers better than our entrees, so splitting three apps and a main course sounds like a good idea.
I agree with whoever recommended Northpond - this place is wonderful for a special occasion. In the middle of Lincoln park, with an amazing view of the city. In the summer, they open the windows so you are essentially dining outdoors. My boyfriend took me there and it was one of our most romantic and special nights to date
Haven't yet been to Sola- but if your wife is interested in something with a Hawaiian flair, you could also check out Roys- it is a chain, but the I was so pleasantly surprised, it was my favorite restaurant for about 3 months and made all my friends go there with me. The deserts are amazing, as their pineapple martini. You can't go wrong with anything there
Gibsons- pass on the deserts. Everything here is "supersized". They are good with steaks and thats about it. Also in a very "see and be seen" part of town. Gene and Georgetti's is also a wonderful Chicago landmark steakhouse that is quite cozy
Everest- We went ala carte with 3 courses (if I remember correctly) and it was a great experience. Very romantic, your wife will love it!
Topo- Go with a white wine