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Aug 30, 2007 02:39 PM

Dinner for Husband's 30th b-day

Hi, I'm trying to decide where to take my husband for his 30th birthday. Here are his choices:


Now, my question is, for those who have dined at these types of places before, where do you get the most bang for your buck so to speak?
We probably will not do something crazy like a 20 or 25 course meal, just something in between. Will we get full that way? And who has the best meal right now for that in between option? I know plenty of people have posted on this topic before in the past, I'm looking for a fresh answer, not a date one, and for the person who has dined at one of these places RECENTLY, as I know menus change. He is not a picky eater, by the way.

Thank you!

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  1. I've dined at Moto, Alinea, Tru and Trotters.

    I say go to Moto for the wow factor- Moto and Alinea had the best service and most interesting food. Tru had the worst service but very good food (a complaint letter to management has gone forever unanswered), Trotters food is woefully bad considering the hype but the service was solid.

    1 Reply
    1. re: jpschust

      I basically agree with all that. I also had a wonderful meal at Avenues, much better than Trotters IMO, but the atmosphere was a little stiff. FYI, it was my 40th B-Day and I swear we were the youngest in the room.

      My real recommendation, however, would be Schwa which was not on his list. Its a little quirky, but definitly the best bang for the buck, partly because of the BYO policy. Very hard to get reservations, but amazing food. Very creative. Less formal than many of the other options. Get the 9 course menu.

    2. Nice list! I'm sure you're aware that those are five of the very best places in town. Also five of the most expensive. I wouldn't really speak of any of these five as giving more "bang for the buck" than the others; they all range from very expensive to extremely expensive, with the big variables being the size of the menu you order (there are several options at each) and the quality and quantity of alcohol you consume. Within this group, these two factors are far more important in determining cost than which restaurant you choose. Just to give you some idea of prices, Moto (the least expensive of the five, also the most cutting edge) offers 5-, 10-, and 16-course menus for $70, $105, and $165; Alinea offers 12- and 24-course menus for $135 and $195; Avenues offers 5-, 10-, and 15-course menus, I'm not sure of the price but when I was there in March, they had 3-, 5-, and 10-courses for $90, $120, and $160; and Tru and Trotter's will be similar. The fact that menu prices of $70-195 turn into per-person costs that are typically $250-400 (or more) speaks to the alcohol factor previously mentioned.

      If you're really interested in "bang for your buck", then you might want to consider a few other choices. Everest is somewhat less expensive than these five, yet is still one of the very best places in Chicago IMHO. Another choice that's equally creative and worthy of such a special occasion, if you don't mind going for a drive, is Tallgrass, in Lockport; read my report at And, there are some mighty fine places that, while not at quite the level of these other seven, can provide a wonderful birthday experience - for example, places like North Pond and Custom House, just to name two that offer a suitably celebratory experience without the more boisterous personality of some other casual places.

      But, getting back to your specific questions about these five, yes, you will get full with a smaller number of courses. The larger the number of courses such as on those "grand" tasting menus, the smaller the portion sizes. You should leave full with any of the menu choices at any of these places. As for which is "best", again, I would hesitate to declare one better than another; all offer wonderful food and a wonderful experience.


      1. All of the places you listed are wonderful. Trotters, Tru and Avenues are quite traditional in the atmosphere department

        I would choose Alinea or Moto from your list just based on the overal experience

        You might also want to consider Northpond or Pane Caldo- which are very romantic and wonderful places to celebrate a birthday

        1. You're husband's turning 30, not 60, so I'd scratch Tallgrass off your list in a hurry. We found the atmosphere very old school, and food heavy and laden with a lot of cream and butter, (and that was in JULY).

          What I think is a much better 'burb selection is Vie in Western Springs. My husband and I are addicted to that place lately. The food is fresh, local, seasonal, and always prepared creatively and more importantly, deliciously. The service is attentive, and very knowledge about all the unique food and wine they have to offer. The layout and design are sleek and modern. Food & Wine magazine recently named the chef/owner, Paul Virant, one of its Best New Chefs for 2007. It's steps away from the Metra station, so no need to drive either!

          6 Replies
          1. re: naperwino

            If you're looking for modern glitz, go to Tallgrass and ask to be seated in their downstairs section, which is ultra-modern. If you prefer traditional architecture, sit upstairs in the main dining room, lovingly restored with fruitwood wainscot, gas chandeliers, cut crystal and polished silver. Choose the decor that you prefer.

            The food - ah, the food! - is absolutely superb. Not at all heavy, quite the contrary, and of course you can select the menu choices that most appeal to your taste, including fresh, local, seasonal ingredients. Try Tallgrass (either for this occasion or some other time) and you'll understand why it gets a 28 for food in Zagat. In fact, my dinner at Tallgrass was the best, most delicious meal I have eaten so far in 2007, even better than excellent meals this year at some of the best restaurants in the country (including Avenues in Chicago and Le Bernardin in New York).

            The chef/owner, Robert Burcenski, has been turning out some of the very best food in the Chicago area for years; chances are he will stop by your table and be happy to chat, as he did with us, sharing his knowledge about food and wine and even giving us recommendations for an upcoming trip to France.

            Tallgrass is located just steps away from the Lockport stop on Metra's Heritage Corridor line, so no need to drive either!

            1. re: nsxtasy

              Most of the food I had was quite good there, but serioiusly, there was creme fraiche in the gazpacho. Why weigh down the bright, fresh taste of summer?? And, sure, it did look more "modern" in the basement, but I'm not sure "glitz" is how I would describe a basement...
              An admirable defense of your favorite place, though, certainly! I'm still not going back. Have you been to Vie yet? I had the best lamb of my life there last weekend, and I don't even like red meat, (usually, except for the rare instances it's in the hands of a chef I trust - even then, almost never beef.)

              1. re: naperwino

                Vie is very good indeed. IMHO (as well as that of Zagat voters), Tallgrass is even better.

                I don't think the OP can go wrong with *any* of the restaurants mentioned in this topic. In the Chicago area, we are fortunate to have so many excellent restaurants to choose from.

                1. re: nsxtasy

                  Zagat is a very imperfect rating system. I think people are duped by dumping serious cash at a restaurant like Tallgrass and feel they better rate it highly. Because if you look at all the highest rated restaurants in Zagat they are fancy looking and very expensive. Really? There isn't a place that has a high food rating that you don't have to drop a few hundred bucks? Go figure. William Grimes of the New York Times cited this as the "Zagat Effect". Popular opinion is not a great indication of excellence (ie. chains!).

                  Oh, and yes I'd take Vie (or any on the list) over Tallgrass in a New York minute!

                  1. re: SirEatsALot

                    AMEN! Zagat is a nice resource, but that's it. Some of the finest restaurants in Chicago are not even listed, and it has often taken the editors one or more editions to add in lesser-known gems.

                    As for the Vie/Tallgrasss debate, I like both but I'd take Vie any day of the week over Tallgrass.

                    As to the original question, I've been to all of the places listed and my favorite might not be another's. I think you'll be full no matter which menu you choose and wherever you go. And note, last week's menu might not be tonight's (although Tru's changes least frequently, sadly).

                    If you are looking for the most original and creative food and items that you will not find elsewhere (and place creativity slightly above taste), choose Moto, then Alinea and Avenues. If you want the creativity but want the best food possible, then choose Alinea or either Moto or Avenues (I'd take Moto slightly over Avenues). The latter would be my choice, and I'd take Alinea over any of the others . . . it's that good. Don't get me wrong, Moto and Avenues would be close behind. I like the offerings at these restaurants because of the way they alter one's approach to dining (i.e. vapors, burning stems, pop rocks -- simply put, ultra-creative). That's not to say that the tastes alone do not make it worth the trip. But I find the difference between Alinea and Tru to be much greater than the difference between Tru and Blackbird (I even prefer Blackbird)

                    Compared to Alinea, Moto and Avenues, Tru and Trotters are far more conservative. Tru is for someone looking for slightly more traditional food (generally contemporary French). Trotters is certainly not traditional French . . . the emphasis is more on natural flavors (i.e., less creams and less butter). I find Trotters feels a bit more "old" too in terms of the crowd . . . more conservative. That's not necessarily a negative.

                    Anyway, I hope that helps some.

                    1. re: SirEatsALot

                      I agree. The Zagat is a resource, an opinion poll (and probably can be bought- just my opinion) and shouldn't be read as definitive

            2. Wow - what a nice 30th birthday meal! Unfortunately I haven't been to any of these but I have a friend that went to Alinea in July and raved about it (it's also rated the top restaurant in America of 2006 for your information!)

              I know that Alinea offers 12 courses on their tasting menu, and 24 on their tour menu. Hopefully this information helps you out a bit!