Dallas Hound - 1 Night for Business
I'm in for 1 precious night in Chicago for a convention out near O'Hare. I'll be dining with a few business contacts (four guys in the 35 to 45 year old range) of whom like good food, but are definitely NOT foodies like myself (a.k.a - they've likely never heard of Foie Gras and would say "Bless You" if you said "Achatz"). They'd probably stick with a steakhouse - but I'm gonna drag them somewhere cooler.
We won't have a car, but we can cab it into town. We can't splurge - looking for entrees in the $20-$28 range. As an example, we had a convention in Cleveland last year and went to Lolita and it was perfect. Cool vibe, great food that didn't bust the bank and made the foodies and not-so-much foodies all happy.
One other catch, we'll be dining on a Wednesday night around 10:15pm or 10:30pm - so we'll need a place that stays open late and has a good vibe at that time (tough on a Wednesday - I know).
I've done a bit of research and come up with the following places and was hoping to get some help to narrow it down to a definitive winner. I tried to keep the selection of places to cater to a wide array of palates (i.e. American or Italian menus with some casual Bistro style places thrown in).
- Coco Pazzo
- Custom House
- Brasserie Jo
- Blackbird (budget blown - is it that amazing?)
- Sweets and Savories
Thanks for your help with this. Please feel free to slice, dice and add as needed.
My vote would be for:
1. Quartino- would be, as you say, "a good vibe" even on a Wed. My concern for a bunch of guys is small plates may seem like not alot of food and you would quickly hit $28/pp.
2. Custom House- atmosphere probably not as much on a Wed night, but would fit your bill for food- more contemporary steakhouse-ish
3. Brasserie Jo- solid choice, probably dying down at 10pm on a Wednesday though.
4. Sepia- would be a perfect choice for hipper meat, but at the upper end of your budget
I would not go to Sweets and Savories- very small, quieter place fairly north of downtown.
1) skip Custom House. The service is spotty and the menu will be too sophisticated for your gang. It's not a steakhouse, per se, but a meat-focused restaurant with steaks, sweetbreads, pork belly, etc. (You would enjoy it, but even then, the service is spotty.)
2) also skip Coco Pazzo -- it is the equivalent of any big city Italian contemporary place..
3) I love Brasserie Jo, and there should still be activity on a Wednesday night. It will probably be emptying out as you are finishing up.
4) Blackbird is definitely my favorite on the list, but again, it is going to be a little edgy for your group, and it also isn't a good place to have a conversation.
5) How about Rosebud? http://www.rosebudrestaurants.com/
Or, if you want a truly classic/kitschy but good Italian restaurant, how about Italian Village? The decor is smile-enducing and the food is actually very good.
I'd go with Custom House. It's got lot's of meat dishes and looks reasonable conventional, but the cooking is excellent. I took a group of 8 there and the service was perfect. I think it's a great "meeting ground" for foodies and meat eaters.
One other thought is Keefer's, which has the reputation of the steak house with a real chef.
Quartino is probably your best bet; get a few of the small pizzas to fill up on and you'll all be happy. Great atmosphere and I think the food and service are terrific. That 10:30 thing is a killer; some places might be barely open, but I don't think a tired cook dying to get out and have a few drinks is going to deliver his or her best.
BTW, wine and sangria at Quartino is a very good deal. If you skip the pricier items you can eat very cheaply there.
re: Pete Oldtown
Don't expect huge portions, but the pasta dishes at Quartino are also quite good. Try especially the ravioli and the potato gnocchi -- some of the best flavors I've had in a long time.
I'm also very positive about Custom House, and have never found their service to be anything but very professional. It has a pretty wide selection of American--primarily meat-based--foods, altho it might stretch your budget a bit. Anyway, you be the judge; here's their site:
Half Shell is even better than advertised. However, they have a Chicago attitude that you would not believe. Show up too late, no food for you. The crab legs are the best I ever have had outside Vancouver. Huge, sweet and lots of it. About 2 lbs or so for $27.
I went in there late one night and they were sold out. Not a good option. Save the rec for next time. Get there early and you will eat like a king.
One virtue of Brasserie Jo that I think people sometimes forget is that it has a wide choice of excellent beers. The wine list is fine, too, but if some of your friends like beer more than wine, and want to try some brews they won't find everywhere, Jo's is great. There is one waiter in particular (sorry, can't remember his name, but he looks like a beer lover) who always has good suggestions.