Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Chicago Area >
Nov 23, 2007 07:18 AM

Recs needed for creative / progressive spot in Chicago

I'd like to give a gift certificate to my parents for an exciting place in Chicago. My parents enjoy the more progressive chefs (my mom is a fine non-professional chef in her own right) and my budget is open since it's a once a year treat. They've already been to Avec, Charlie Trotter, Alinea and Moto. Can I get suggestions for something else? Thanks!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Well, Alinea and Moto are perhaps the most creative/progressive places in town. So it's tough topping that. The one other particularly creative/progressive place that immediately comes to mind is Avenues, in the Peninsula Hotel. I'm sure you could arrange something there. Note that Avenues will be closed for the month of January. (One of the other restaurants in the Pen is having its space remodeled and will be using the Avenues space for the month.)

    Three other suggestions provide added flexibility (and value) and will enable your parents to choose whatever place appeals to them most:

    1. Lettuce Entertain You ( ) is a group of several dozen restaurants, mostly in the Chicago area. It includes some of the very best high-end creative places (Tru, Everest) as well as mid-priced and other places. You can get them gift certificates good at any of their restaurants. They run a deal every year between Thanksgiving and New Year's in which, for every $100 of gift certificates you buy, you get a $25, lightly-restricted bonus certificate.

    2. Levy ( ) is another group of restaurants in the Chicago area. They only have a few restaurants in the Chicago area, but they are excellent - Spiaggia, an extreme high-end Italian restaurant (I believe Tony Mantuano, their chef, is a James Beard award-winner, and it's easily the most creative/progressive Italian restaurant in town); Cafe Spiaggia, its mid-priced sibling next door; Bistro 110, a French bistro; Fulton's on the River, a seafood restaurant; and Jake Melnick's Corner Tap, for American food. They, too, offer a deal with a $25 bonus certificate for each $100 in gift certificates purchased.

    3. American Express offers gift cards that are good at any restaurant that accepts their credit card. Which gives them a huge array of options, letting them decide what place most appeals to them.

    4 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      Although I like some of the Lettuce and Levy retaurants, I can't think of any that are particularly progressive. Avenues is a good recommendation - similar to Trotters in their creativity (and price). Blackbird (run by the same group that runs Avec) might be good. Maybe Tru?

      1. re: wak

        Tru is part of the Lettuce Entertain You group.

        1. re: nsxtasy

          That's right. Spaced out for a minute there.

      2. re: nsxtasy

        The Peninsula does indeed offer the ability to purchase gift certificates. I don't know if they are property-specific (i.e. whether they would be valid at their properties in other cities), but they would certainly be accepted at all the restaurants in the Peninsula Chicago. These include Avenues, the creative splurge restaurant run by award-winning Chef Graham Elliot Bowles; the Lobby, their mid-priced contemporary restaurant which also features the "Chocolate Bar" (an all-you-can-eat dessert buffet served Thursday through Saturday evenings); and Shanghai Terrace, an upscale Chinese restaurant. You can purchase the gift certificates from the Pen's website at

        Many individual restaurants offer the ability to purchase gift certificates on their websites, including excellent places like one sixtyblue ( ), North Pond ( ), etc. But those gift certificates are only good at that particular restaurant.

        Of course, an American Express gift card would be accepted at all of these restaurants (as well as most other nice restaurants throughout the Chicago area). One other advantage of the AmEx cards is that, if there is any amount left over after their splurge dinner, it doesn't force them to go back to the same place to use it.

      3. Thanks for your replies. After reading your suggestions, I am strongly considering Tru. Have any of you eaten there? It seems like people used to talk about it a lot, but not so much anymore.

        6 Replies
        1. re: Henrietta Stackpole

          Blackbird might be a good choice and issues gift certificates. While it's not in the same league as Trotter's, Tru, etc., it is an excellent restaurant. It's owned by the same group as Avec but much more formal food.

          1. re: Henrietta Stackpole

            Tru is very good, but not as good as it used to be. I would recommend getting your parents an AMEX gift card and getting them a reservation at Alinea. It's a truly unique experience and is the epitome of creative/progressive.

            1. re: jesteinf

              According to the original post, they've already been to Alinea. Not that they couldn't go back, of course, but I think the OP was looking for alternative recommendations.

              1. re: nsxtasy

                I would go there for every special occasion if I could (especially if someone else was picking up the check) :)

            2. re: Henrietta Stackpole

              Tru was founded by Rick Tramonto and Gale Gand, who were previously associated with Trio in Evanston. From what I've heard lately, they are spending most of their time at their newer restaurants in suburban Wheeling, and not much time at all at Tru. However, recent reports on this and other forums from those dining at Tru are still very positive. (I haven't been there lately.) Tru's website is

              I mentioned that the Lettuce Entertain You gift certificates are good at any of their restaurants. Prices at Tru are generally around $200-300 per person including alcohol/tax/tip. The regular LEY gift certificates are good for everything, including tax and tip, and are good at any time. The free $25 bonus certificates ($25 given for each $100 purchased) are not good on Saturday evenings, and are good at Tru and Everest only on Tuesdays. You can read the rest of the details about these at

              An AmEx gift card would be accepted at Tru, too, but they wouldn't get the added benefit of the free LEY bonus certificates.

              1. re: Henrietta Stackpole

                I think Tru is excellent, but I agree that it is not as good as it has been. A much better bet would be Avenues. On the other hand, simply because your parents have been to Alinea and Moto does not mean they would not want to return -- both of those restaurants likely have all new dishes on their menu since your parents dined there, so I wouldn't rule them out. But if you want something similar in concept to Alinea and Moto, you should consider Avenues, which is outstanding.

              2. How about Table 52? I just ate there and it was just a beautiful setting, excellent food and service. The wine list was quite nice as well although not huge which made things easier - easier to order the $90.00 pinot at lunch.......Had to do it though, the food really came through on it's own and was dynamite with that wine! That's my suggestion anyway.

                2 Replies
                1. re: manomin

                  I do not consider Table 52 to be particularly creative or progressive. It's quite conventional, with traditional old-fashioned Southern cuisine.

                  1. re: nsxtasy

                    Well of course sorry to have added my idea.. I was just offering a nice atmosphere and good food. Thanks for your correction.