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Special-occasion dinner advice?

t
theannerska Sep 25, 2007 02:20 AM

Bear with me...I see a lot of anniversary/out-of-town threads on this board, and this is sort of a combination of the two. My boyfriend and I will be celebrating our first year together in mid-October; I'm in Evanston but originally from NYC, while he's a definite out-of-towner (NYC as well). I haven't done enough exploring downtown yet, but the ideal dinner would involve:

- Great food, of course (he's willing to indulge my chowhounding enthusiasm, but is a steak/potatoes kind of guy and won't eat seafood)
- A little dressing up, but nothing too fancy -- enough to wear a little black dress, but no tie
- A well-priced wine/cocktail menu
- We'd like to get out for under $150/person before tax and tip, but a little under/over would be fine
- Some "scene" -- I know, I know, but we're essentially tourists and in our 20s...we usually prefer lively places.
- Here's another curveball: while I refuse to be deterred by a cab ride, we're probably going by el, so it would be great to find a place near a stop. We don't mind a short walk, but we don't have a car (and will be drinking anyway), so there's that.

Here are some restaurants that look like they may fit the bill:

- Hugo's Frog Bar: this looks like a happy marriage of my seafood obsession and his love for steak; any comments on the service? Also, I've experienced the "45-minute wait even though you have a reservation" game at Gibson's -- does this happen here?
- Lux Bar (is this too casual?)
- Topolobampo or Frontera Grill (we both love Latin cuisine)
- Tavern on Rush -- though even I am cringing a bit...

Thank you very, very much in advance!

  1. jpschust Sep 25, 2007 06:07 AM

    OK- here's a few that we've done lately that we love. Check out Otom- you'll get out for far under that, it's wonderful and certainly a scene. Also check out Blackbird or Avec- we got out of blackbird with 3 glasses of wine between 2 of us and a cocktail plus 2 apps and entrees for about 150 with tip (so 75/pp). I'd also look at Spring in Wicker Park. While it has a heavy seafood focus, it does have quite a few meat dishes all of which are good.

    1. s
      swsidejim Sep 25, 2007 06:15 AM

      I am not a big fan of Gibsons, or Hugos, or the neighborhood they are in.

      I would recommend Joes Seafood, Prime Steaks, and Stone Crab. Especially if you are arriving anfter Oct. 15th when the stone crab season begins. The steaks at Joes are top notch(2nd best steak I have had in Chicago next to the steak i had last week at Saloon Steakhouse), and they have alot of fresh fish, and other seafood items on the menu.

      Enjoy your trip back to town.

      Joes Stone Crab
      www.icon.com/joes/

      1. b
        BRB Sep 25, 2007 06:22 AM

        Lux Bar is way too casual for what you're looking for. Both Joe's and Hugo's would match your steak and seafood desires -- I'd choose Joe's. I have not been to Tavern on Rush. I love Blackbird and Avec . . . just not sure that's what you're looking for.

        I'm thinking you might like David Burke's Primehouse at the James Hotel. Yes, a NY guy but IMO the best steaks in Chicago, hands down. They also have amazing shellfish platters (as well as some other seafood options). It's pretty upscale, but definitely geared for a little younger diner with an additional emphasis on the bar -- in other words, not your typical, clubby steakhouse. Check out the info and see if it fits the bill:

        http://www.brguestrestaurants.com/res...

        1. nsxtasy Sep 25, 2007 06:29 AM

          First things first, your budget is VERY generous. The only places that amount rules out are the very high-end "splurge" places - and, based on what you're looking for, those aren't the closest to your needs anyway. Most of the places we're talking about are likely to come in in the $80-120 range per person AFTER tax and tip.

          I think one question you face is whether to go to a "steak and seafood place" or some other kind of place. Steakhouses and many seafood restaurants have a certain atmosphere, big, bustling, and boisterous. The better ones serve excellent food in both categories. Their cuisine generally isn't all that creative, but there's nothing wrong with "meat and potatoes cuisine" if it's done extremely well. Hugo's - more in a moment - is basically one of these restaurants. The alternative is to go to a place (you mention Topolobampo/Frontera) where they have steak and seafood items on the menu, but that's not what they're all about. So this is something for you to think about.

          I would suggest considering places in several categories:

          1. Steak and seafood restaurants - Hugo's is an excellent choice for both, and there are many others as well. You can find recommendations for steakhouses at www.chowhound.com/topics/359377 and for seafood restaurants at www.chowhound.com/topics/370202 Again, either type usually does pretty well at the other type of food too.

          2. Ethnic - Topolobampo and Frontera Grill are good choices. Other places worth considering - although they aren't *that* close to el stops - include Carnivale, DeLaCosta, and Cuatro, all of which specialize in Latin fusion cuisine and have a very young, hip energy to them.

          3. Contermporary American - Places like Aigre Doux (right near the Merchandise Mart and its el stop) also fit the bill. (I would normally also mention Blackbird and one sixtyblue, as they are equally-excellent examples in this category, but they are not as convenient to the el. I would not recommend Avec, Blackbird's sister restaurant, and its long communal tables, for an anniversary celebration dinner.)

          I think you've got some good choices here. If you're looking for an outing in the city, they're fine. I wonder, too, whether you've considered restaurants in Evanston, rather than going into the city? For example, Pete Miller's, in downtown Evanston, is an outstanding steak restaurant that also offers excellent seafood. Last time I was there, I had a sauteed skate that was phenomenal. Oceanique, in Evanston's Main Street shopping district, is exceptional, and offers a seafood-oriented menu (but they also always have several meat dishes, usually including a steak item). Everything I've had there - appetizers, soups (ahhhh), mains and their sauces, desserts (wow) - has been absolutely outstanding. It's rather casual in atmosphere, and the food is as good as you'll find anywhere. (It's similar to Spring, with its excellent food and an emphasis on seafood, but it's a whole lot more convenient to get to from Evanston.) Chef's Station, in downtown Evanston, is also outstanding, in the "contemporary American" genre. However, Oceanique and Chef's Station aren't loud, boisterous places - not quiet, exactly, but not steakhouses either - so if that's what you're looking for, you might be better off at Pete Miller's. Which would probably be my top recommendation (but keep Oceanique in mind when it's *your* birthday).

          Nothing against the places in the city - they're excellent - but if you haven't tried the places in your backyard, and you'd prefer the convenience of dining close to home, you're not giving anything up by doing so.

          Web links:
          Hugo's - www.hugosfrogbar.com
          Topolobampo/Frontera Grill - www.rickbayless.com/restaurants
          Carnivale - www.carnivalechicago.com
          DeLaCosta - www.delacostachicago.com
          Cuatro - www.cuatro-chicago.com
          Aigre Doux - www.aigredouxchicago.com
          Pete Miller's - www.petemillers.com
          Oceanique - www.oceanique.com
          Chef's Station - www.chefs-station.com

          1. t
            theannerska Sep 25, 2007 08:39 AM

            Thanks, everyone, for all your feedback -- I really appreciate it!

            Now that I re-read my post, I've realized that perhaps 4:20 a.m. is not my most coherent time of the day -- I actually meant $150 for the two of us (before tax/tip) -- but it's good to hear that most of these places are still doable!

            We are torn between Hugo's and Topolo, though Pete Miller's sounds like a great backup. I've enjoyed my dinners there (twice) and I can't believe I still haven't been to Oceanique, but that one will definitely have to be saved for a birthday ;) I love good steak/seafood and I can't resist good Mexican, so maybe we'll flip a coin? I'm leaning towards Hugo's, since that seems to be more "scene-y Chicago" and that was one of his requests.

            At any rate, I will be sure to report back, and thanks again for the help!

            1. blondie60614 Sep 25, 2007 08:43 AM

              Hugo's and Tavern both have the scene you're looking for. Tavern's menu isn't very sophisticated, however. Lux Bar would probably be a bit too casual for what you're looking for. I would recommend going to Lux Bar or Tavern after your dinner elsewhere for a drink.

              Topolobampo doesn't really have a scene. If you want to go with a Latin menu and still stay within walking distance of an el stop, I'd recommend DeLaCosta or Nacional 27

              If you are open to different suggestions, I would recommend going to Japonais. It isn't that far from an el stop- and has the scene you're looking for. It is modern Asian cuisine with an emphasis on sushi, but they also serve steak and "regular" fish dishes. After dinner you can go downstairs to their sexy outdoor lounge along the river with cabana's. Happy anniversary!

              http://www.japonaischicago.com/

              1. t
                theannerska Oct 20, 2007 01:14 AM

                Hi all,

                Just reporting back: because of time constraints, we ended up going to somewhere local -- Pete Miller's, in fact -- and really enjoyed our evening. He got a blackened NY strip with mashed potatoes, which was a rather ordinary steak but phenomenal mashed potatoes; I'm still thinking about them...seasoned perfectly and very creamy. I got a marinated tuna fillet, served with a sweet soy sauce and wasabi cream, which was cooked perfectly medium rare and very silky-smooth (even got him to try a bite -- and he liked it!). It came alongside sauteed mushrooms (kind of a strange combination, but I do like mushrooms). We also shared a side of creamed spinach, which was more like a sauteed spinach with light cream sauce. This is actually the way I like spinach cooked, but it was definitely not the creamed spinach I'm used to eating in restaurants, so that was a little unusual.

                We started with a "colossal shrimp cocktail," which was not THAT colossal but served with a good horseradish, and a caesar salad that was pretty ordinary, though it came with optional anchovies, a very nice touch (the boyfriend opted out, in any case). We enjoyed a Marqués de Cáceres Rioja Reserva 2001, which I thought would be a friendly introduction to reds for him; riojas seem to go well with everything... Dessert was mango sorbet, which was served a bit too frozen but very light and refreshing.

                Our server was a bit too schmooze-y and cheesy for me, but I've waited tables for three years and have a very good idea about what I like in service. Maybe I'm too picky, but I was not a fan. The boyfriend enjoyed the show. The maître d' was very friendly, professional, and gave us a great table -- far enough from most of the noise, but overlooking the stage where live music was playing.

                Overall, I have to say that I wasn't wowed by Pete Miller's, but it is a solid steakhouse and prepares food well. We had a great evening, and will make it to Hugo's someday... But more importantly, thanks for all your help! I'll be sure to keep those suggestions in mind for next time. :)

                2 Replies
                1. re: theannerska
                  h
                  heathdre Oct 20, 2007 09:06 PM

                  I'd say Joe's is about as good as you can get just one block off the el... BUT it doesn't have the scene for two 20-somethings.

                  I'm surprised nobody proposed Nine yet: www.n9negroup.com. You'd get off the red line at Randolph and cab west a few blocks. But he'll have a fabulous steak and you'll love the seafood. The scene is stimulating and perfect for little black dress. (Actually, Blackbird is a great reco, too - all I said of Nine applies except it's a smaller place, more intimate setting.) Assuming you'll seek an after-dinner cocktail lounge, there are a few options nearby. Try Lumen, a couple blocks north: www.lumen-chicago.com.

                  Japonais (mod, lively) and Spring (mod, romantic) are both great suggestions. I've never been to Hugo's.

                  I'm just now realizing your anniversary came and went - obviously didn't read the whole thread. Save my suggestions for next time. :)

                  1. re: heathdre
                    t
                    theannerska Oct 21, 2007 11:12 AM

                    Thanks heathdre. :)

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