eating alone and expense account
Hello -- I'm a NYC Chowhounder coming to Chicago for a conference next week. On my final night, I will be on my own so wanted to get your suggestions for the best place to eat alone -- even at the bar, which I love to do -- while on an expense account.
I'll be staying at the Drake, though will have a car so could possibly drive. And am open to any cuisine.
First, I think it's okay to eat *anywhere* alone. And it's up to you whether to do so at the bar or at a table; any restaurant should welcome you, either way.
As for where, it all depends on what you're looking for. If you want the absolute best food experience - comparable to Per Se or Le Bernardin back home - then I would suggest Alinea ( www.alinearestaurant.com ), the best restaurant in town (and in the country, according to Gourmet). I'm not sure whether you could get a reservation at this point, but it's worth calling to find out. Beyond Alinea, our best places are Everest ( www.everestrestaurant.com) , Charlie Trotter's ( www.charlietrotters.com/restaurant ), and tru ( www.trurestaurant.com ), all of which accept reservations on opentable.com
If you prefer a more casual restaurant (for example, where jackets aren't required for gentlemen), we have some wonderful contemporary American restaurants. IMHO one sixtyblue ( www.onesixtyblue.com ) is the very best of these; also excellent are Aigre Doux ( www.aigredouxchicago.com ), Blackbird ( www.blackbirdrestaurant.com ), and North Pond ( www.northpondrestaurant.com ), just to name three more.
We have lots of other places as well, including steakhouses, ethnic restaurants of every stripe, and just about anything else you can imagine. So if you have a specific preference for something, just mention it and I'm sure we can come up with something.
One other possibility, if you would prefer not to "eat alone" - Avec (sister restaurant to Blackbird) is a restaurant that features communal seating (consisting of a bar and eight-tops). So if you're looking for a restaurant where you'd like to socialize with strangers here, Avec is one place where it's expected. It's not particularly expensive. They feature Mediterranean-influenced cuisine. They don't accept reservations (although waiting times, which can be excrutiating on weekends, tend to be much shorter for a solo diner since they can seat you anywhere) and FWIW the seating is somewhat uncomfortable. www.avecrestaurant.com
Incidentally, we have a great system of public transportation as well as taxicabs, so you probably won't need the car. It depends on where you choose, of course, but most of the expensive places are close to the downtown areas where you're probably better off leaving the car at the hotel.
As a road warrior (sounds like you are too) I would stay away from the higher end restaurants (Alinea, Trotter, tru, etc) that were suggested. I just find it too boring to sit through a long dinner by oneself, regardless of how great the food is.
I would suggest a couple of the more sceney (is that a word?) places where one could stike up a conversation with the ladies/guys in the bar areas while dining. Japonais, Brasserie Ruhlman, and Avec fit the bill. I also like Lux Bar or Hugo's Frog Bar which are both quite the scene on the Viagra Triangle. All (except Japonais) have high-tops in the bar areas that you can dine and be social if you want. Japonais does have a couple communal dining options in the green room and has a great river-side lounge that my crew frequents.
>> As a road warrior (sounds like you are too) I would stay away from the higher end restaurants (Alinea, Trotter, tru, etc) that were suggested. I just find it too boring to sit through a long dinner by oneself, regardless of how great the food is.
Obviously, this is something *you* need to think about, which is why I mentioned this as one of several different kinds of places to consider. It's up to you to decide whether an experience like Alinea, where you choose either 10-course or 23-course tasting menus, is something you would, or wouldn't, be interested in as a solo diner. You should also be aware that, while some of our high-end top tables primarily feature these extensive (and time-intensive) tasting menus, others offer a more conventional a la carte menu in addition to their tasting menus. For example, Everest has an a la carte menu and, in fact, they feature a 3-course pre-theater special, 3 courses for $50 at 5:00/5:30 every night they're open except Fridays. NoMI and Spiaggia are two other "top tables" offering a la carte selections. And the high-end restaurants can adapt to your needs; if you're interested in a more expeditious (or a more leisurely) pace, just tell them and they should be able to accommodate you.
Go to Onesixtyblue, where you can eat in the dining room, bar or lounge area. The staff is always so friendly and I always seem to chat up a conversation with the bartender, waiter or manager - and have done so on several occasions.
Avec would also be a great place to go and is a little more casual. I have had the opportunity to meet people sitting next to me - but just because the seating is communal, often they slit up the tables and/or either party is engrossed in their own conversations. The staff is also less likely to be chatty.