Going to cash in a free dinner that a friend owes me. Here are the parameters:
No more than $90/person total: food, wine, tax and tip
Good European Wine selection; it can be French, Spanish, Italian German/Austrian or an eclectic mix of the above. Doesn't have to be a huge wine program--just some well thought out Euro wines by the bottle and glass. Overripe, overoaked and overblown "Parker Wines" from CA or Australia are no longer of any interest.
In the city and preferably L and cab convenient. Neither of us do the 'burbs.
Those three conditions aside, I'm open and looking to try something new.
Ugh! Listening to the Wine Dictator is about the same is seeking out places with Parker Wines, as they tend to have similar tastes.
If wine is a priority (of which it always is for me), I'd suggest 3 different wine bars that all have great food - in this order, Avec (West Loop), Volo (Roscoe Village) and Bluebird (Bucktown).
Avec's list is divided in French, Spanish and Italian. All the wines are from small, high quality producers, (read: you find them at Binny's or the Jewel.) They have great Mediterranean small plates to accompany their food friendly wines.
Volo has wines from various regions, with their standouts being the Italian wines. I complimented the wine director on them the last time I was there, and he told me that he had previously been a wine director for an upscale Italian restaurant. They specialize in contemporary, seasonal fare, and have lots of tasty small plates to share, or entrees if you're not feeling like sharing.
Bluebird has had a lot of mixed reviews, but we had a wonderful time there. We also went at 5:30p when almost no one was there, and sat at the bar, where we held a lengthy "wine geek" conversation with the bartender. I even tried a couple of Italian varietals I'd never heard of, (which is quite rare for me!) Most of the complaints I've seen have been with the service during busier hours. We also enjoyed some small plates there - mac n cheese with bacon was a standout.
I was using the Wine Spectator simply to confirm my opinion that the wine lists of the five recommended places are all very good. If you don't like that source, that's fine - but these restaurants still have excellent wine lists nonetheless. The cellar at the Italian Village, of which Vivere is a part, is particularly notable. And they all have spectacular food as well - in the case of one sixtyblue, the best food of any casual restaurant in the entire city, IMHO.
If you plan to go to Avec, you should be aware that (a) they don't take reservations - waiting time for seating can be lengthy at prime times on weekends, so go during the week or at non-peak hours; (b) they have communal seating, so you may be seated with strangers - usually works out fine, but may not be to your taste; and (c) it's REALLY NOISY. The food is excellent, but if these parameters are important to you, you may want to consider Blackbird, its more upscale sister restaurant next door, which accepts reservations, gives you your own table, and, while somewhat noisy, is not nearly as bad in that regard as Avec. (Note - Blackbird and the previously-cited Bluebird are entirely different restaurants.)
Avec, Blackbird, and Volo, like North Pond, show their wine lists on their websites, so at these places, you can judge for yourself in advance.
Great recs so far. Avec would fit in, but I've eaten there more times than I can count. North Pond is one of my favorite restaurants in the city, but I ate there twice last year, and am looking to try something else. Also, I don't know how far $180 will go at NP. Last time, we spent that per person.
Also, I don't see $180 working at as many restaurants as some. The way I figure it,$180 is $150 before tip and $135 before Tax. Take $70 off for a bottle of wine and two martinis beforehand, and we're left with 32.50/person for food. To me, that rules out places like Sepia, Blackbird or North Pond.
I don't want to pitch in because it's a bet I won on the Ohio State-Michigan game, and my goal is to not spend a penny other than cabfare.
Coco Pazzo sounds interesting. How expensive is Mirai for sashimi if we don't go overboard on the Sake? Riccardo Trattoria, Kiki's and Cafe Absinthe (haven't been there in several years) are all under consideration.
re: Sam Harmon
You're right about the pricing, and I like the way you calculate it. $32.50/person for food at places like Blackbird and North Pond will pay for an entree, but no starters or dessert. Assuming you want at least one more course, you're looking for a place with $20ish entrees. That would rule out all the places in my previous post as well as Blackbird and North Pond. It would also rule out Coco Pazzo, but its "kid sister" to the east, Coco Pazzo Cafe, is right in that range. As another possibility, Cafe Spiaggia is borderline, a bit more than Coco Pazzo Cafe but less than Coco Pazzo. As for French bistros, Kiki's and also Bistro 110 are possibilities, although it depends on what you get there; entree prices at both places have a wide spread, from teens to low thirties. All of these places show menus with prices on their websites:
Kiki's shows its wine list on its website. Cafe Spiaggia shares its cellar with Spiaggia and it is one of the very best in the city.
It looks like it's going to be Old Towne Brasserie. It seems to fit the price range, and I've heard nothing but great things.
I will make it up to one of the Coco Pazzos in the very near future.
I did eat at Kiki's on New Year's Eve for the first time, and had an absolute great time. Wanted something low-key without a set prix-fix menu. Food, service and atmosphere were all top notch, which is saying something for the 10PM seating on NYE. Like it so much, that I was willing to break my "new place" rule.
$90/person gets you into most of the "casual fine dining" restaurants in the city.
IMHO the best of these is one sixtyblue, with contemporary American food that is spectacular and a very pleasant place to be as well (contemporary decor). One sixtyblue is also a winner of the Award of Excellence from the Wine Spectator, so their wine list is excellent.
Another excellent contemporary American place is North Pond. Not only is the food excellent, but their location in the middle of Lincoln Park is exquisite. They, too, are a Wine Spectator award winner. And within your budget.
Finally, there are three Italian restaurants that are in your budget and are Wine Spectator award winners: Vivere and Trattoria No. 10 in the Loop, and Coco Pazzo in River North.
one sixtyblue - www.onesixtyblue.com
North Pond - www.northpondresturant.com
Vivere - www.vivere-chicago.com
Trattoria No. 10 - www.trattoria10.com
Coco Pazzo - www.cocopazzochicago.com
Wine Spectator award winning restaurants in Chicago - www.winespectator.com/Wine/Dining/Res...
P.S. Some restaurants show their entire wine list on their website - not most, but a few. Of the group mentioned above, North Pond does. And of these, Vivere probably has the biggest, finest wine list (it's no wonder that it won the higher-level "Best of Award of Excellence").