Romantic/Fun Night Out - North Pond, Custom House?
My fiance and I will be free in Chicago for one Saturday night and I'm looking for a fun cozy restaurant that also has great food. We're staying near the Magnificent Mile without a car and will be having a late dinner, so I don't want to go too far away from there.
I was wondering what you guys think of North Pond, Custom House and Blackbird (I've seen mixed reviews saying some of those have fallen lately), and whether you have any other favorites. (Sweet & Savories also looked interesting). For reference, years ago, I used to love Jane's.
Wow, these are three of my very favorite places for casual fine dining. All have spectacularly great food, and you really can't go wrong with any of them.
Here's what I can say about what distinguishes each from the others:
North Pond - What really makes North Pond different is the setting, in the middle of Lincoln Park (the park, not the neighborhood). It faces the pond, with the city skyline looming over the far shore. If you get seated at one of the (3?) tables next to the windows, so much the better. (But a couple of weeks ago I sat in the inner dining room, facing the kitchen, and it was equally special in its own way.) The building is charming too when you realize that it was built as the headquarters for skaters on the pond in winter, renting skates, etc. The cuisine emphasizes local and seasonal ingredients more than the other places mentioned. The platings are more varied, i.e. more items on a plate, which means more chances to be "wowed"; for example, I had a special of sauteed skate, and one of the accompaniments was a heavenly mousse of peekytoe crab. www.northpondrestaurant.com
Custom House - It's more focused towards meat, as you can see from their menu. But everything is really good. Maybe the "classiest" atmosphere of the group. www.customhouse.cc
Blackbird - Maybe the busiest, noisiest atmosphere of the group. Not that it is all that bad in that way, but the others are just not as frenetic.
Sweets and Savories - What's intriguing about S&S is that its small, unassuming storefront on a commercial strip strikes a contrast with the fine dining inside. Last time I was there, some of the food was great, but a few of the other items failed to wow me, particularly the desserts. www.sweetsandsavories.com
one sixtyblue - Since you ask for other favorites, the one I would nominate is one sixtyblue. As good as the food at all of these places is excellent - and it is, we're talking about some of the very best places in the city - I think one sixtyblue is as good as any of them, maybe better. It's my favorite place for casual fine dining in the entire city. The atmosphere is very nice, nice decor, great service. When we ate there last weekend, everything was unbelievably spectacular, same as our previous experiences there. My SO and I disagreed on which dessert was more incredible, the banana-mascarpone canneloni surrounded by milk chocolate pudding, or the coconut white chocolate mousse with lemon foam. I was also impressed by the attention to detail by their entire staff; when one member of our party left the table briefly, no less than Executive Chef Noguier refolded her napkin. So if I had to spend one night in a fun cozy restaurant with spectacularly great food, that would be my pick. (Although it still can't compete with North Pond for its setting.) www.onesixtyblue.com
Again, these are all great choices, and I don't think you can go wrong with any of them. So don't agonize too much over your decision!
Nsxtasy really hit the nail on the head - you really cannot go wrong with any of those you mentioned.
But for simplicity's sake, I would recommend, hand's down, North Pond. You really can't beat the setting and the food is local, mostly organic, and spectacular. I've been to each and the one I CAN'T WAIT to go back to is North Pond. It really does have a special feel to it. And it is also very close to your hotel - not more than a 10 minute cab ride, max.
Another place - much more non-descript and tucked away - is A Tavola off of Division in Wicker Park. Wonderful food, incredibly cozy and intimate atmosphere (I think they have about 9 tables in the entire place). It's a small menu (not too many options), but everything we've had there in the past has been wonderful.
Have fun in Chicago!
A quick note about where these places are located...
The Magnificent Mile is the one-mile stretch of Michigan Avenue with its south end crossing the Chicago River at the northwest corner of the Loop, and its north end at Oak Street Beach. All of these restaurants are within a few miles, i.e. a short cab ride, from Michigan Avenue. Custom House and Blackbird are maybe a mile from the Michigan Avenue bridge, so a longish walk would be another option. You can also find bus info at www.transitchicago.com
North Pond is about two miles north of the north end of Michigan Avenue, near the north end of Lincoln Park. Custom House is a couple blocks south of the Loop. Blackbird is about a mile west of the Loop, and one sixtyblue is just under a mile west of Blackbird. Sweet & Savories is in the west end of Lincoln Park (the neighborhood, not the park), about two miles west of North Pond. A Tavola is in Wicker Park, about three miles west of Michigan Avenue.
I think those are all good choices. Of them I would say that Blackbird and Sweets and Savories are my favorites (I'm not a big fan of North Pond even though everyone else seems to like it...I guess I'm just weird like that).
All of those are an easy cab ride from and back to your hotel.
I know many are wild about Custom House, but I'm just not that big a fan. I love all of your other choices, although Blackbird is easily my favorite, especially for a late dinner because the place never dies down. S&S is great but it might get a little quiet later in the evening. And if you're cabbing it, North Pond is not the easiest place to wait for a cab after dinner (even if you have one called, you won't be able to see it from the restaurant which is well off of the road and in the middle of the park). For that reason alone, I'd skip North Pond, although the food is great.
Blackbird will be easy to access from the Mag Mile and the food is always outstanding. It can get loud and a little crowded, but I've never minded that. And if you wanted to grab a drink after dinner, there are many restaurants and bars within walking distance from Blackbird.
I really like the atmosphere of one sixtyblue. It strikes me as contemporary and classy, but not at all stark. Interesting lighting fixtures, an open kitchen along one side of the dining room and windows along the opposite (street) side, the few other interior walls painted charcoal gray. They also have a very nice small private dining room, wine room, and a seating alcove off the bar, all of which you see walking between the main dining room and the rest rooms. Not at all stark!
It's been a while since I ate at Blackbird and I remember the food rather than the decor... ;)
Again, though, if you're really looking for atmosphere, you can't beat North Pond.
You'll enjoy any of these though! Flip a coin if you have to. ;)