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Dinner for Two...

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I'm looking for a restaurant to take my girlfriend to on Friday night at around 8ish, somewhat close to the Water Tower, so Gold Coast, Downtown, Streeterville, but am pretty mobile to Wicker Park/Bucktown area as well. I'm looking for a place that's not too loud and not too expensive that has a nice "seasonal" menu with a good wine selection. We're going to North Pond the next night, so something a little different from that is appreciated. Thanks in advance.

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  1. How about Lula Cafe in Logan Square? It's close to the Blue Line stop and is not too expensive, a little funky (not like North Pond) and they offer seasonal food which is very good.

    4 Replies
    1. re: BRB

      The menu at Lula Cafe is very similar to North Pond, with an emphasis on seasonal and local ingredients. As to cost, entrees are mostly in the mid twenties, which isn't that much less than North Pond, where they're around $30. Lula is good, but it just doesn't strike me as what you're looking for when you way you want something a little different from North Pond. In fact, aside from the exquisite setting of North Pond, I can't think of a place that's *more* like North Pond than Lula. Check out the sample menus on their websites and see for yourself:
      www.northpondrestaurant.com
      www.lulacafe.com

      1. re: nsxtasy

        I agree that a cursory view of the menus show some similarities in terms of cuisine, although I would argue that Lula takes a much simpler approach to its food than does North Pond -- closer to "comfort" food, yet with an upscale, seasonal approach. But the two places are on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of decor, scene and atmosphere in general -- Lula is so much more relaxed; North Pond is a little more formal. The servers, patrons -- far different at the two restaurants.

        However, if you have something else in mind that would fit the OP's request, feel free to suggest such a place.

        On another note, West Town Tavern might be another nice spot to check out, although again outside of the geographic scope. The atmosphere is very relaxed and they do a nice job with upscale comfort and "seasonal" food.

        1. re: BRB

          Totally agree. If the OP is looking for a place with a seasonal menu, but a different "vibe" than North Pond, Lula is a really good call.

          1. re: BRB

            I can think of three other possibilities in that neighborhood, although all are more ethnic rather than seasonal; all with entrees around $20 or less:

            Sayat Nova (Armenian) - www.sayatnovachicago.com
            Le Colonial (French-Vietnamese) - www.lecolonialchicago.com
            Salpicon (Mexican) - www.salpicon.com

            Regarding wine, Salpicon has the best wine list of these; in fact, it's a winner of the Wine Spectator's "Best of Award of Excellence", one of fifteen restaurants in the city to win that award (or higher) for their wine list.

      2. Bonsoiree might work for you. It's a neat little neighborhood spot at the edge of Bucktown/Wicker Park. Probably about a 10-15 minute cab ride from downtown. I know you're looking for a good wine selection, but it's BYO so maybe you could create your own wine selection.

        You might also want to consider Kevin, which is contemporary with Asian influences. It's a really nice spot that not too many people pay attention to anymore, but the food is still really good. Definitely a conversation friendly room and a pretty nice wine list.

        -----
        Bonsoiree
        2728 W Armitage, Chicago, IL 60647

        Kevin
        9 W Hubbard St, Chicago, IL

        16 Replies
        1. re: jesteinf

          Thanks for those suggestions. Does anyone have an opinion on Bin 36?

          1. re: bongo1480

            Obviously they have a nice wine selection, but I've never been that impressed with the food (particularly in the main dining room). I prefer the food up front, which is geared a bit more towards snacks and appetizers.

            1. re: jesteinf

              How about one of our mid-priced* Italian places? I like Vivere a lot; it's in the Loop, part of the Italian Village complex. Pane Caldo is closer to the Water Tower. Both are very good and both are among that group of 15 winners of the "two glass" Wine Spectator award I mentioned. I also like Coco Pazzo (a "one glass" award winner) and Cafe Spiaggia (not a winner - surprising since they share the wine cellar with Spiaggia, one of the top tables in the city). Coco Pazzo Cafe is right off Michigan Avenue and a bit less expensive than its sibling to the west.

              Links:
              Vivere - www.vivere-chicago.com
              Pane Caldo - www.pane-caldo.com
              Coco Pazzo - www.cocopazzochicago.com
              Cafe Spiaggia - www.levyrestaurants.com
              Coco Pazzo Cafe - www.cocopazzocafe.com
              Wine Spectator award winners in Chicago - www.winespectator.com/Wine/Dining/Res...

              *Among finer dining options I consider a restaurant to be "mid-priced" when dinners are commonly in the $75-110 range per person including moderate wine, tax, and tip or, alternatively, when most entrees are priced from the high teens to the mid thirties and high-priced tasting menus are not the norm.

              1. re: nsxtasy

                Pane Caldo is very good, but certainly not "mid-priced". In fact, it's actually pretty expensive. Appetizers are in the mid to high teens (some $20's) and mains are in the mid and high $30's (some $40's).

                1. re: jesteinf

                  Adjectives like "mid-priced" and "expensive" can be interpreted subjectively. Among finer dining options I consider a restaurant to be "mid-priced" when dinners are commonly in the $75-110 range per person including moderate wine, tax, and tip or, alternatively, when most entrees are priced from the high teens to the mid thirties and high-priced tasting menus are not the norm. That range includes all the places I mentioned as well as the ones you recommended. I consider a place to be "expensive" if it's above that range (e.g. Spiaggia). The ethnic places I recommended above all have typical entree prices in the $17-20 range. Most mains at Pane Caldo are in the low thirties, prices virtually identical to Kevin, one of your recommendations.

                  I believe all of the restaurant websites for which I included links above show sample menus with prices, with the exception of Pane Caldo, whose menu with prices can be viewed at http://chicago.menupages.com/restaura... As I noted above, Coco Pazzo Cafe tends to be a bit less expensive than the others.

                  1. re: nsxtasy

                    Actually, there are entrees in the 40's. I've been there twice over the last couple of months. The menupages menu is not entirely correct. On the actual restaurant menu there are no "mid-courses". The pastas on the actual menu are presented as full portions (main courses).

                    My issue is not with the recommendation of Pane Caldo, it is with the characerization of it as a mid-priced restaurant. I wouldn't consider Kevin to be mid-priced either. I think they're both good spots.

                    1. re: jesteinf

                      Well, it's unfortunate when a restaurant doesn't include prices on its own website, and you have to go elsewhere to look up prices (if you haven't been there recently or don't remember how much you paid), and those other sites aren't always as up to date as they should be.

                      I've edited my earlier post to note how I define "mid-priced". Just for you, Josh. ;)

              2. re: jesteinf

                In agreement here re Bin 36. Excellent for snacking or a light, relatively inexpensive meal, but most of the other restaurants listed on this thread are preferable for full-course dinners.

              3. re: bongo1480

                Like jesteinf, I like the bar at Bin 36 and the appetizers, but see this post for a disappointing time at Bin 36

                http://www.chowhound.com/topics/453778

                1. re: mike_d

                  what are people's opinions of vivere?

                  1. re: bongo1480

                    I like Vivere a lot. They often have a dish of braised short ribs served over polenta and it's really fabulous. It's not on their regular menu but they usually have it as a special.

                    1. re: bongo1480

                      And not to bombard people, but while I'm at it...thoughts on Meritage?

                      1. re: bongo1480

                        That's okay, we don't mind being bombarded. :)

                        It's been a few years since I was at Meritage, but I liked it when I was last there. I remember it as being more wine-focused than some places, kind of like a combination of a wine bar and restaurant. Similar in that respect to Bin 36.

                        1. re: bongo1480

                          I've always liked Meritage quite a bit. However, they have announced that they will be permanently closing at the end of the year, so if you plan to go, go soon.

                          1. re: BRB

                            What a shame. I've always been quite fond of Meritage. I've been there several times and never had a bad meal, although for whatever reason it doesn't seem to pop up too often on recommendation lists. Lots of competition out there I guess. But I would recommend it.

                            I'd also give a meh recommendation to Bin 36. The idea of Bin 36 always appeals to me more than the actual execution. I like the wine flights but have never really had a good meal there. The best thing I ever had was a macaroni and cheese on the cafe menu a couple years ago that I never saw again. Might be good for drinks before going somewhere else.

                            Otherwise, of the places listed I tend to go to Coco Pazzo frequently (on Kinzie St., not the cafe on St. Claire) and generally have a very good meal. Merlo on Maple is another good Italian option right in the Gold Coast that was not mentioned above. Either one would be a good contrast with North Pond.

                            1. re: wak

                              It sounds like I should give Meritage a try considering it'll soon be extinct. Although I have to admit, I look at Vivere's menu and my mouth started to water.