How are my choices - Chicago next weekend?
Hi Chicago Chowhounders,
We are heading to Chicago from Montreal Thurs-Sun next this coming week and we have chosen BBQ, Thai, Mexican and once fancy night out. Please let us know if our choices are ok. We are staying in the loop and we have no car, so we will be relying on the El and our own two feet.
BBQ: Honey 1
Thai: TAC quick
Mexican Nuevo Leon (though I would love a high end Mexican suggestion - is Bayless our only option?)
fancy: Blackbird or Avec (same owners right?)
Lunch: Bombon bakery, Pastoral, Fox and Obel.
No problem with most of your plans.
For Mexican, another higher-end place convenient to downtown is Adobo Grill, either location. But gleam's recommendation of Salpicon is a good one, and probably my next choice after Bayless for a place convenient to public transportation from the Loop. (My personal favorite is Flamingo's Seafood in Mount Prospect, near O'Hare, but like Sol de Mexico, it too is not at all convenient to get to without a car.)
For high-end, Avec and Blackbird are very different places, despite the common chef and ownership. Avec is casual, does not accept reservations (not a problem for weekdays and off-hours, can be horrible on weekend evenings), it's VERY LOUD, the wooden seating is uncomfortable IMHO and I've not always been pleased at some experiences sitting with people I don't know. But that's all part of the Avec experience. The food is excellent; I just find that it tries my patience, considering how good the food is (and I usually cut a place a lot of slack when the food is good). For these reasons, it wouldn't be my choice for "one nice meal while in town", but it's a good place for something more casual during the week, such as if you feel like going out for a light meal later in the evening. Blackbird, OTOH, is excellent, and more conventional - they take reservations, loud but not excessively so, and just a nicer all-around experience. Also, if you decide to go to Blackbird, particularly for a weekend, make reservations well in advance. I was thinking of going there last weekend, so I called on the previous Wednesday, and they had nothing between 5:30 and 9:30; I then called one sixtyblue and got the time I wanted, and had a spectacular dinner there. Personally, for contemporary American food, and for a nice evening out, I strongly recommend one sixtyblue even more than Blackbird, although both are excellent in every way and they are my top two picks. Other places for excellent contemporary American food, convenient to the Loop and to public transportation and suitable for "one nice dinner while in town", include Custom House, North Pond, and Aigre Doux. All of these, including Blackbird and one sixtyblue, are excellent choices and you'll enjoy any of them.
One more note - I don't mean to quibble with your use of the word "fancy", but just so you know, none of these are "dress up" places (i.e. business casual attire is fine, no jacket required for gentlemen, etc).
My experience, less than two weeks ago, says that reservations at one sixtyblue aren't particularly difficult to come by. I was making a reservation on Wednesday for four for the following Saturday evening and they were wide open on opentable.com Right now, I see on opentable.com that availability is pretty easy for this Saturday night; even the coveted 7:30 pm two-top is available (although nothing for two between 6:00 and 7:30).
Of course, any time you're planning to go to a particular restaurant, it's wise to make reservations in advance if you can. And never rule a place out without actually *trying* to make a reservation, either by phone or over the internet. opentable.com makes it especially easy to check availability for many restaurants at a time, for those restaurants listed. (And even if a place appears booked on opentable.com, sometimes you can find availability by phoning them.)
Take me with you! haha -- that's a great list. Honey 1, TAC Quick (I prefer Spoon Thai, but TAC is excellent) and your lunch spots sound great. Make sure to bring along your own translated menu to TAC Quick because it offers the real gems.
I love Blackbird -- make sure to get a reservation. Avec is more casual and very different . . . leaning toward small Mediterranean bites, whereas I think Blackbird leans toward local and seasonal American presentations (if you like pork, especially pork belly, don't miss out on those dishes from Blackbird). You'll find Blackbird more mature and a little more relaxed.
Nuevo Leon - You know, I like it . . . I don't love it. I think Salpicon is excellent and you can take the Brown Line El to the Sedgwick stop, and walk 15 minutes through Old Town to Salpicon (or take the Red Line to Clark/Division) or take a cab -- it's easy to get a cab in Old Town. Check out their website: salpicon.com.
If you don't want your Mexican meal to be as upscale, take the Congress branch of the Blue Line (now called the Pink Line) to the California/Cermak stop, walk about 5 minutes to La Casa de Samuel (on the north side of Cermak, just west of California). The food is outstanding, particularly the venison and the goat if you choose to be so adventurous (those are my two favorites, but everything is excellent), and the service could not be any more friendly. Here's some more info on LCdS: http://www.lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic....
Fonda del Mar is very good, but it will put you in a similar bind to Sol de Mexico. It's not real close to the El and a cab ride will be pricier.
Ultimately, for Mexican, I think Salpicon would be very convenient and the food is excellent.
Have a great trip!
Since you are leaving on Sunday, consider Salpicon for brunch. they really do a fabulous job and it's an excuse to have a morning bloody mary or Bellini.
For dinner, we loved Adobo grill, but I think that Bayless is in another league from the rest of the field. It's probably too late to make reservations to Topo, but if you get to Frontera after 9 PM you can just walk in without waiting on a weeknight.
Bayless is in another league than.
I believe that many of the Mexican chefs in Chicago are in the same league as Bayless when it comes to Mexican food. I think Bayless brought a lot of attention to the cuisine and does it so well, but there are some who do it as well as or better than him. I like what Freddy Sanchez has done at Adobo, but I can't help but feel that someone forced him to dumb down his menu a bit. I have always thoroughly enjoyed Salpicon, probably more than Frontera/Topo.
> It's probably too late to make reservations to Topo
If that's where you want to go, don't assume you can't get reservations without at least trying (which applies to any place, not just Topolobampo). And for places that accept reservations on opentable.com - (including Topolobampo and Salpicon) - it's easy to look up availability for a whole lot of places at a time with just a few clicks on your keyboard.
Well - I have reservations for Blackbird on Friday night. I let my partner choose the fancy place since it is his birthday. We'll divide up the other places over the other nights.