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Jan 24, 2008 07:59 AM

I Think I've Exhausted most "casual fine dining" in Chicago! Need new ideas...

Although I feel very fortunate to be able to (almost) claim this, I really need some ideas! We have visitors coming to town in a few weeks and I'm at a complete loss for dinner ideas for them (they've also tried some of the top tables in town)...

I wold love for something new (for both nights) and have already tried such places as: North Pond, Cafe Spiaggia, Spiaggia, Custom House, Aigre Doux, Sepia, Spring, Green Zebra, Everest, Les Nomades, MK, Kevin, Chalkboard, Bistro Campagne, Frontera Grill/Topolo, etc., to name a few...

Is there anything really new - and excellent - out there that I may be overlooking or do not know about? Exceptions will have to include Alinea, Tru, Trotter's, etc... not looking for something THAT over the top this time around. Most types of food welcome, although the genre of "contemporary American," etc., is probably preferred. To make it easier, I would probably steer away from Thai, Greek, Mexican, and/or Chinese.

Please help! TIA...

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  1. What about Old Town Brasserie? I haven't been there yet, but the people I know who've been have raved about it.

    1. Well, I can't speak from personal experience, since I haven't been able to get a reservation until next month (I'll be going the first week of February), but the below review of Old Town Brasserie might whet your appetite (as it did mine):

      1. Well, you haven't mentioned my absolute FAVORITE casual fine dining restaurant in the city - one sixtyblue. If you haven't been there, GO! It's not brand new, but it's just superb in every way. Similarly, you also haven't mentioned Blackbird, my second favorite in this genre, also a longtime favorite and just excellent. If you ask me, these are the two best casual fine dining restaurants in the city. Other excellent places you haven't mentioned include Naha, Sweets and Savories, and two relatively recent entries, Boka and Takashi.

        If you would consider traveling away from downtown, places in outlying city neighborhoods include Magnolia Cafe (in Uptown) and Sola (in North Center), and in the suburbs, Oceanique (Evanston), Tallgrass (Lockport), Michael (Winnetka), and Vie (Western Springs). Don't pooh-pooh these last four because they're in the suburbs; these four are as good as any four contemporary American restaurants in the entire city, IMNSHO, and I've had some of my very best dinners of the year at all of them.

        You've mentioned Cafe Spiaggia, so you can also consider other Italian places (e.g. Coco Pazzo, Vivere, Trattoria No. 10, Pane Caldo, Merlo on Maple). Similarly, you've mentioned Bistro Campagne, so you can also consider other French bistro places (Bistro 110, Kiki's Bistro, Brasserie Jo). And you've mentioned Frontera Grill/Topolobampo, so you can also consider other Mexican places (Salpicon, Adobo Grill).

        One more possibility... by any chance, are your friends big fans of chocolate desserts? If so, the Lobby restaurant in the Peninsula is a unique experience. I've had dinner there several times and I've found that the food (contemporary American) is excellent, the service is exemplary, and the setting is very nice, with huge windows on one side of the dining room. (I haven't seen it since their recent remodeling, though.) What makes it unique is that, Thursday through Saturday evenings, they serve their Chocolate Bar. This is an all-you-can-eat buffet of 30-40 different chocolate-based desserts, in smallish portion sizes so you can try a lot of different ones. Many are just okay but any chocolate lover will find at least a few that are absolutely superb. Not cheap, around $32, but unique, and wonderful if that happens to be something you would enjoy.

        3 Replies
        1. re: nsxtasy

          Thanks for all the recs, everyone!

          nsxtasy, I left many out of my list and I have in fact tried onesixtyblue, all the Italian places you listed (2 exceptions), as well as the French and Mexican places! I was just trying to give you an idea...

          But I certainly will keep in mind the Lobby at the Peninsula (you don't mean Avenues, do you?) and I've ALWAYS wanted to try the Chocolate Bar! At some point I will also trust your judgement on the suburban places - but for this particular weekend, that won't fly. The MIL is very much into "see and be seen" and she would not take kindly to traveling OUTside of the city!

          Blackbird, on the other hand, is NOT a place we've been but it's always been on my list. however, for some reason the last time I looked at teh menu, it didn't really call out to me. I will have to look again...

          Thanks again for the wonderful feedback!

          1. re: DKS1

            Glad to hear you've tried so many. Of course, that makes it more difficult to find ones you haven't mentioned! Definitely check out Blackbird.

            The Lobby is not Avenues (the expensive dress-up splurge restaurant in the Peninsula). The Lobby serves contemporary American food, and is a "casual fine dining" restaurant (i.e. jackets or ties not required), with pricing typical of such restaurants (I don't recall exactly how much I've paid, but most such places typically go somewhere in the $70-100 range per person for several courses including moderate alcohol and tax/tip). I've found the food there to be consistently excellent (while not nearly as unusual as Avenues, of course). You can read the menu on their website (no prices, sorry) at

            1. re: nsxtasy

              I stayed at the Peninsula a couple years ago and the bar by the lobby offered glasses of Krug champagne. I've never been anywhere else that had my favourite Champagne available by the glass.

        2. How about Bonsoiree?

          2728 W Armitage, Chicago, IL 60647

          1. West Town Tavern is always great.