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May 12, 2008 06:49 PM

Exciting and fun places for dinner

I will be in Chicago again for a week this year, on an unlimited expense account. Could you kind folk please suggest the funnest places with very cool ambience for dinner (or lunch)? We will mostly be a group of 4-6 people.

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  1. If you could narrow your definition of fun, it would be helpful - for example, some of us think Kuma's, a casual metal bar with great burgers is fun, others think Carnivale, a pan-latin restaurant with upscale drinks and a more dressy vibe is fun, while others would much prefer small plates and wine by the glass at Avec, or a whole roasted pig at Mercat a la Planxa....

    1. Leek had some good suggestions that might meet various definitions of fun. You also mentioned an unlimited expense account. You might really like Japanais ( It's a scene, mostly young and hip with really interesting, really good and often rather expensive food and drink.

      Some people might lean toward Grant Achatz's highly acclaimed Alinea, which is widely considered one of the best restaurants in the world. It's really an unforgettable experience. You have your choice between two tasting menus at $145 and $195/person with wine pairings to match. You'll want to book a bit in advance.

      Many people would consider a variety of Greektown or Chinatown options to be fun -- maybe not all that cool ambiance -- but fun nonetheless. Other options might be Blackbird, North Pond, Opera, Vivo, Sushi Wabi ... many others.

      If you could give us a better idea of your definition of "fun" and/or more about the kind of food you might want to try, we could make more suggestions.

      8 Replies
      1. re: chicgail

        Apologies for the thoughtlessness... that really was too general a question from me :P

        OK, so the food must be great of course. I'm looking to entertain a group of 4-6 people since we'll all be in Chicago for the ASCO conference. Building on great food, I'd like the place to have nice comfortable decor and seating, soft lighting, good music (preferably live, any type) and a good variety in the menu.

        Some of the group will not be meat-eaters, but seafood will be fine for them. So if a steak place, for example, there should be seafood or a good selection of vegetarian dishes available as well.

        A good Japanese would be appreciated as well - Japonais looks spectacular ... have either of you been?

        Open to all kinds of food otherwise.

        Not looking for bar-type places - but would like some casual place suggestions for lunch, and more formal places for dinner.

        Based on what I've heard from a few people, I've tentatively booked Alinea, Tru, NoMI, Joe's Seafood/Steak, North Pond and Petterino's so far for dinner dates. Based on my requirements, what can be changed? I dont have any casual places for lunch as yet.

        1. re: houseofchow

          >> I've tentatively booked Alinea, Tru, NoMI, Joe's Seafood/Steak, North Pond and Petterino's so far for dinner dates. Based on my requirements, what can be changed? I dont have any casual places for lunch as yet.

          I think those are good choices. The only thing I might consider changing is maybe mixing it up a bit more - i.e. not do three similar splurge places (Alinea, tru, NoMI) and not do TWO steakhouses (Joe's, Petterino's), but choose some other categories so as to give the itinerary more variety. What would I switch dinners to instead? Maybe one of our upscale ethnic places (see ) or possibly Italian (see ). Even within the splurge category, Alinea and tru and NoMI are so close; you could mix it up by choosing Spiaggia instead of one of these (Spiaggia is a splurge place but it's Italian) or Everest instead of one of those (Everest is more distinctly French and it has that wonderful view).

          As for lunch, there are lots of choices, not all of them upscale. For upscale options downtown, you'll find some suggestions at But lunch is where I'd mix in a few other choices that are not so upscale, again to provide additional variety to your itinerary. One day do deep-dish pizza at Giordano's or Pizano's, another day maybe burgers at Boston Blackie's or Cajun food at Heaven on Seven, that sort of thing.

          1. re: houseofchow

            To speak to some of your questions:
            If you want good seafood for the non-meat-eaters, Joe's is a great choice.

            I have been to Japanais. The food is excellent and discussion-worthy as we were eating/sharing it. The environment is spectacular, the drinks interesting, the crowd worth watching.

            I would add to Nsxtasy's recommendations with Naha (not to be confused with NoMi). It's a casual fine dining (nice jeans ok -- not torn t-shirts and shorts) and one of my perennial favorites.

            1. re: chicgail

              thank you all+++ you chicago foodies will be helping me make a great impression on my clients second year in a row!

              1. re: houseofchow

                Delighted that it went well. Where did you take them?

                1. re: chicgail

                  heh... hasnt happened yet...its the week of may 29- june3.

                  what is your opinion about Geja's Cafe and Vermillion?

                  1. re: houseofchow

                    No to either...hopefully you went to Japonais, Alinea, et al..pls let us know where you went and how you liked them!

                    1. re: ljero

                      Ended up going to:

                      5/29 - North Pond - excellent cozy ambience, probably better for a couple. Food was well introduced and explained, and they have a crepe/mushroom/parmesan dish (the name of which I forget) that is truly exquisite.

                      5/30 - Vermillion - Loud place, PACKED to the gills, very lively and good fun for a small group. Some very interesting combo dishes featuring the best of Indian and Latin cuisine.

                      5/31 - Zed 451 - this one was a surprise... no menu! My people were visibly puzzled (in a good way). Excellent cuts of meat, chicken and fish, and what a superb salad bar - good enough for vegetarians by itself.

                      6/1 - Alinea - holy $#%@ !! This was the talking experience of the whole trip. I had reserved the 12 course tasting menu for 6 people. Took a good 4 hours till we were done. Excellent presentation and introduction to each dish, and we had some very detailed discussions with our host about how the food was prepared. And they catered to everyone tastes so well, I am most impressed by that... they managed to build the same dish for vegetarians, for seafood eaters, and for meat/chicken eaters as we had 2 of each in the group. Well impressive indeed. And you can't stop talking about the dishes inbetween each presentation- fantastic!

                      6/2 - Japonais - Excellent bold decor, atmosphere. I unfortunately didnt have much to eat since the last 5 days had taken their toll, haha. Good selection of drinks though.

                      6/3 - Lunch at Joe's Steak/Seafood/Crab - this was crab goodness for me. found the sauces and salads particularly good.

                      Then off to the airport, back to Boston!

                      Thank you all for your suggestions!