Unmissable fine dining, chicago?
I am heading with a colleague to Chicago in July. We are staying in the W hotel (lakeshore). The last time we went to Chicago we had just one night free from work duties, so only had one place to try. We chose Alinea that evening and loved it.
This time around we will have two nights (sat/sun) free and would like to try some new places. We are looking at the high end places mainly. We aren't particularly looking for another alinea, the molecular gastronomy thing is fun, but we equally like more traeitional dining experience.
Key for us, is that the food is memorable. Chicago is a culinary hotspot so we want to try the best of the best. Price isn't so much an object, neither do we have a preference of cuisine. Any suggestions would be very appreciated!
Those will be two very fine meals.
Everest is located on the 40th Floor of the Midwest Stock Exchange Building and looks out over the city. In making your reservation, you may want to choose a time when you arrive when it's light out and watch the city darken at sundown (probably around 9 pm in July). On the other hand, if you're interested in their pre-theater special (3 courses for $50), you'll need to dine early; it's offered at 5:00/5:30 every night they're open except Fridays. www.everestrestaurant.com
In case you're not aware, Spiaggia and Cafe Spiaggia are sister restaurants next door to each other. Spiaggia is the upscale, expensive one; Cafe Spiaggia is mid-priced. Both are excellent for what they do, so it just depends on what you're looking for. www.levyrestaurants.com
Everest and Spiaggia are dressy (e.g. jackets appropriate for gentlemen); Cafe Spiaggia is casual.
Here's how I would approach planning your dinners.
When you say you would like a more traditional dining experience, you might be interested in an expensive splurge type restaurant, like Alinea, or you might be interested in a more casual type of restaurant. Or, of course, you might splurge one night, and do something less elaborate the next night.
We have nine great places that I consider in the splurge category. Of those, you've been to Alinea, Moto and Schwa both lean towards the molecular gastronomy end of things, and Avenues is a bit of a question mark with its recent change in chefs. Of the other five, I agree with gymp that Everest is simply wonderful, for its food and service as well as its setting looking out over the city. Charlie Trotter's and tru are both excellent and creative, as is NoMI (which is slightly more casual). Spiaggia deserves inclusion, and is the only Italian restaurant at that high end of things.
For casual fine dining with contemporary American cuisine (with global influences), my two favorites in the city have already been mentioned above - one sixtyblue for its spectacular food, and North Pond for its spectacular setting (with excellent food too). There are lots more excellent places in this genre, but these two are my absolute favorites.
If you really want to mix it up, you can even consider one of our many ethnic restaurants, which include hundreds (if not thousands) of small storefront type places, and also a small number of upscale ethnic restaurants (see http://www.chowhound.com/topics/502320 ).
All in all, the places mentioned by others above - one sixtyblue, Everest, North Pond, and Frontera/Topolobampo - are excellent choices and you can't do wrong with any of them.
One more consideration is that one of your dinners will be on a Sunday evening. Many of our finer restaurants are closed on Sundays, including some of the places mentioned above. Those that are OPEN on Sundays include splurge places (e.g. Alinea, NoMI, Spiaggia) and casual fine dining places (e.g. North Pond, Custom House, Spring, Sweets and Savories, Coco Pazzo).
I settled on Schwa when Alinea was closed during my last visit, and I wasn't disappointed. I've never found any other place as laid back as Schwa with the same level of food. The dishes are mostly about crazy flavor combinations, but they're very well conceived and executed. You can check out a more detailed recollection, but no pictures unfortunately, at my site.
Also, the pork belly sandwich at Blackbird is worth the trip.
My wife and I were at Everest last night (Saturday). The last couple of times we thought they had slipped a bit, but this time (in the newly renovated room) everything was at the highest level, right where it used to be for so long. The very best place for traditional French cooking.
Can't go wrong with North Pond in Lincoln Park. Seasonal tasting menu with matching wines is an excellent way to go. Also, beautiful views of the lagoon, with the skyline as a backdrop.
Spiaggia is the only four star Italian experience in Chicago. Beautiful setting with beautiful food.
For a fine dining Mexican experience go to Topolobampo of Rick Bayless fame. Hard to get into, so make reservations well in advance.
That's three very different experiences and menus. So many more one could suggest, but so little time!!