Chicago Dinner for June 9th week
I'm taking my wife to Chicago the week of June 9th, and want to expand our dining horizons from Frontera, Gibsons, Lawrys, Moto, and Harry C's. I'm good on the beef stands, burger stops, dog places- what I need is a higher end alternative.
We are looking online at MK, North Pond, Avec, Carnival and Cafe Spiaggia. Any recommendations for one over the others of these? Or other suggestions?
Carnivale is not quite in the league with the others. If you want a higher end Latin/Mexican, I would recommend Salpicon.
Avec is a mixed blessing. The food is very good, but it is a more casual dining affair with people seated at long communal wooden benches. The menu is also limited, although I've never had a bad dish. It's an entertaining experience, but not quite the refined white table cloth meal of MK/North Pond/Cafe Spiaggia. If you are looking for something more formal, you might consider Blackbird run by the same owners as Avec.
Personally, I'm not a fan of MK, but others seem to like it. For that same hip contemporary American feel in a similar price range, I would go to Naha, 160 Blue, or the aforementioned Blackbird.
I haven't been to North Pond recently enough to comment with any insight, but it certainly has its fans and is high on my To Go list. Its set in a very peaceful, almost pastoral refuge in Lincoln Park that really has no equal in the city. A much different feel from MK and it's ilk.
Cafe Spiaggia is very good Italian food tucked up on the second floor of an office building next to the more formal Spiaggia. Very good and very convenient to Michigan Avenue, although if you are spending the rest of your time in that area you might want to try a different neighborhood.
One place you did not mention that I love is Mercat a la Planxa - Spanish tapas, but unlike any tapas I have had before. A very contemporary cuisine with intriguing presentations in a huge warehouse-like room that overlooks Grant Park.
One final idea - one of Chicago's best chefs - Graham Elliot Bowles - most recently of Avenue in the Penninsula hotel - is about to open his own restaurant called Graham Elliot. He's my favorite local chef and I can only imagine the food will be wonderful. The restaurant opens in June, so you're taking a bit of a gamble since there won't be any reviews to prepare you, and sometimes it can take a while for a new place to get their act together, but a risk worth taking if you really want the new new thing. There is a number on the web site for reservations, or you can use OpenTable.com. No prices on the menu, but I'd guess its around the same as Blackbird, Naha, etc.
Unrelated to these, but inspired by your username, there is a great new Pizza restaurant called Coal Fire Pizza. When Sicilians first came to the US and lived in Manhattan, they could not find sufficient wood for their pizza ovens so started using coal to fire traditional wood burning ovens. The method stuck, primarily as a NYC specialty, but we now have our own rendition at Coal Fire Pizza. Thin and crispy like a wood fired pizza, with a bit more char on the edges and a smoky tast to the crust. They specialize in very fresh toppings. Its a limited menu, mostly pizza, and it's BYO, but an option for a more casual evening. I recommend the pesto pizza (with half the normal olives) and the white pizza, although everything there is quite good.