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Jul 9, 2008 11:03 AM

A cry for HELP!

please please swoop to my rescue with some restaurant recommendations for me!

this monday night my parents and my boyfriend's parents are meeting for the first time at dinner downtown. they are from minneapolis and my parents are from the burbs.

both his and my parents are no-muss no-fuss and don't like to pay a lot, so i am hoping for something reasonably inexpensive (no TRU). i was hoping for something in the loop or nearby since we may attend the chicago olympics event in milennium park before or after dinner, but the only spots i could think of were
sepia: which is just the type of cuisine i think they would appreciate, being reasonably health-conscious and preferring the familiar in terms of food (salads, interesting chicken, but no offal or raw whatsoever)...i'm worried it may be a bit too stuffy though, and that it is a small space for 6 people
mercat ala planxa: which i was excited about until i read it has clubby music (in the metromix first look)
and the gage: which is also usually really loud and likely a bit greasy/anti-health-conscious for their tastes.

any other ideas for relatively low-volume (it will be monday!) dining rooms in places that serve new american or italian/european cuisine? i may go to west loop as well, but we cant do sushi or indian because of taste and they would liekly balk at upscale chinese as well since in my experience it is not much better than chinatown at red light. we also have been to marche and carnivale so those are out.

sorry for the lengthy post, but i am hoping for a tip! we would even be willing to travel (probably) within about a mile, but no lincoln park or bucktown (where i live: i thought takashi might be amazing, but its too far/not sure about the fusion) becase of accommodations being downtown. river north would be fine.

i love graham elliot but i also think it'd be a bit pricey, and all 4 parents ate at avenues so also not new for them.

thanks for any tips you send my way

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  1. What about the Atwood Cafe in the Burnham Hotel, or Petterinos?

    1. have you been to gage? i was there a few weeks ago on a saturday night even, and i didn't find it that loud. and i certainly wouldn't call it greasy... half their menu is fish! i was hearing it billed as upscale bar food, but my experience was a lot more upscale than bar. i enjoyed it alot, although it wasn't cheap either.
      that doesn't really help, but a defense at least.
      re mercat: would you eat outside? that may take care of the clubby music.

      1 Reply
      1. re: lp veg

        oooh i didnt realize the had a porch at mercat! amazing tip!
        and i have eaten at the gage 3 times to date; the first time, on a thursday, my boyfriend got a headache because of the bawdy drunks next to us, also the most recent time we tried to sit in front to avoid some of it, but were still finding it difficult to hear one another. maybe it's because it was late night (post 9pm) every time, but i just don't think its may parents' scene.

        to the food: i guess maybe we were just indulging our appetites for the rich, but i had pork belly and crabcake, and he had fish & chips/some other fried...i will take another look at the menu. thanks for getting me back on course on that point.

      2. Here are a few of my opinions:
        I've eaten at Sepia and thought that the food was great, and I saw them accomodate a party of 10, so I feel as though 6 would not be an issue. Also, I didn't find it to be terribly stuffy, so if you can get a table for 6, it might be worth a shot.

        As for Mercat a la Planxa, I didn't notice that there was clubby music, perhaps because of the noise of the dining room. I think it would be an interesting choice because the food was good and the dining room is funky, but in my personal experience, it was definitely at the high end of the price range compared to other tapas places so I'm not sure if it qualifies as "reasonably inexpensive." I think that I paid around $55 a person and there were not full pitchers or sangria or bottles of wine involved.

        Quartino is a pretty inexpensive place to get Italian in River North, but when I've been there, it's had an intense hustle-and-bustle type of atmosphere. Depending on what you're looking for, that could contribute or detract from a nice night out with the family.

        Another idea, while not American or European, is Le Lan, which is a nice French-Vietnamese place I ate at a while back and liked a lot. If you're looking to push the ethnicity envelope, it might be a nice choice.

        1 Reply
        1. re: jn2001

          oh ha, thats so funny. we just ate at quartino about a week ago but we always eat on the porch so i was thinking it was too tight. i have never even eaten inside! awesome rec.
          i have not been to le lan, but a coworker visited in the fall and told me it was nothing to write home about. i should reconsider. i think my college is doing something there in a few weeks, i think i read that one of our alums is a co-owner or manager or something. thanks for the reminder not to be closed-minded.

        2. How about Custom House. Always reliable and a place that won't scare parents.

          4 Replies
          1. re: ferret

            i have actually never been to custom house! i think he went once with his brother and wasn't impressed. i am super curious though, the only shawn mcclaine (sp?) restaurant i have visited is green zebra. we usually go to like mortons or ruth's for steak, is it similar at all to the typical steakhouse or is it actually like new american fare?

            1. re: kathleen rose

              More of the new American. Quartino's is a personal favorite, especially for large groups (we usually order everything on the menu) but it is pretty loud. Custom House is pretty quiet.

              Rhapsody is not a bad option, but it's been a couple of years since I was there (although it's very close to my office) so I can't vouch for the current quality.

              1. re: ferret

                if you think the gage is loud, quartinos is much, much louder. It is better if you are seated upstairs, but the main floor is so loud and packed, you can't have a conversation past the person next to you. I have also been there twice with groups over 8 people, and been seated the same table both times, mashed up against the deli-counter type thing in the middle of the main room. it is what it is, but doesn't sound right for the occasion...

                1. re: lp veg

                  okay, thanks for the input! like i said i have never eaten indoors there, but i know even where there are 3 of us at a tbel on the porch it is squeezing, so i will probs skip that spot.

            1. re: lp veg

              i'll call over there and see what they've got. we got sepia at 9pm but thats much too late. i will see if theres any way they can take us early.
              thanks for all the feedback! if you have any other thoughts at any point...!