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Aug 6, 2008 10:17 AM

Please help me with my dining choices in Chicago

We are coming to Chicago form Orange county, ca on Labor day for the first time and it is my husband's birthday on that day. We are staying for four nights and already made reservations at Alinea for our anniversary(had to talk my husband into it) on thursday. We are staying at the Trump tower and I have been searching the Chicago board for a while. I am interested in finding a few lunch places and have a few questions.

Breakfast- Since our hotel has a little kitchenette I was thinking of picking up stuff form Fox& Obel a couple of times. Any other ideas?
For lunch I am interested in the following:
If you had to choose between Frontera and Topo which one you choose? I know about the reservation situation and the fact that Topo is more formal. When it comes to food which one shines?
French gastro bistro or bistro- I read about Kiki's and Vivere
Great modern Italian- I have read about Coco Pazzo and Cafe Spiaggia, but they both had some mix reviews.I also read about Follia. I don't want to spend lot's on money on so-so food.
Is there any modern greek restaurants like Kokkari in San francisco? All the greek menu's I checked from a few places in greektown sound's the same and nothing exciting.
I also read about Blackbird, Aigre Douxe, Mercat A la Planxa(open on labor day) among others. Since we arrive on labor day in the afternoon, not many places are open, is Mercat a good choice for that day? Is there any other places that are open that day that serve great, creative food. I was thinking of checking out Hot dougs , but it is too far.
Finally is there any great french bakeries, gelato shops, real Italian bakery in the area?
I know, I have asked a lot of questions and hope to get some answers. Thank you.

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  1. A couple of thoughts:

    Mercat seems to be a good choice for Labor Day. If it's open, you can also get some good homemade gelati (marscapone, grapefruit, pistacchio) at Canady's, just down the street from Mercat. Good place for artisanal chocolates, too, if you're looking for gifts.

    I think you've got Greektown pegged.

    I think most people would agree that Spiaggia (Cafe Spiaggia is the less expensive offshoot) is one of the best modern Italian restaurants in the Midwest, if you're willing to pay the price.

    There are no great bakeries in the downtown area, but Pastoral on Lake Street has good loaves of bread, as well as fine selections of cheeses and charcuterie.

    Kiki's is ok, but my favorite French bistro at the moment is Old Town Brasserie (altho it can be crowded and uncomfortable at prime dining times). Also take a look at La Sardine, and Le Bouchon (a little bit further North) for the traditional French bistro experience. Vivere IMO is hit-and-miss, depending on who's in the kitchen, but in the past I think it's been at its best when it's doing Tuscan.

    1 Reply
    1. re: jbw

      Good call on Pastoral. I couldn't think of the name and tried looking it up for Mrs. Joujou but "lake street cheese" wasn't giving me the result I was looking for. Although Fox & Obel will be okay too.

    2. Fox & Obel = good choice. You'll find lots of fun stuff there.

      I absolutely ADORE Coco Pazzo. There are two locations, 300 West Hubbard and 676 No. St. Clair. I've only been to the latter, and it was divine, but I'm told either is great. The Hubbard location is larger and more boisterous.

      Kiki's always gets the nod.

      Difficult choice between Topolobompo and Frontera. I think you'd do fine in either.

      For modern Greek, try Venus, 820 West Jackson. It was just reviewed on "Check, Please!" (local restaurant review show hosted by a female master sommelier), and all three diners RAVED about it. A bit off the beaten path from the usual Greek fare you find in Greektown (i.e., Greek Islands, everyone fav, but losing its luster).

      Trump has a place called 16 (on the sixteenth floor) that is supposed to be outstanding for dinner (and costly, as you might imagine).

      I'm totally jealous you're going to Alinea. Grant Achatz is a freaking genius.

      And I'll tell you, if you miss Hot Doug's, you'll be sorry. Best and most creative sausages you'll ever find. But check the website before you head out, if you do take my advice. Doug usually closes for a week around most holidays, as the website will tell you (but sometimes for no reason at all, which he can afford to do, as the guy makes money hand over fist). Don't get there a minute past 4p or they won't let you in. And expect a line out the door.

      Have fun. I hope you and hubby enjoy the city as much as I do. Best place in the world.

      1. Avoid Vivere. The advertise in evey airline magazine that exists, but it's really not very good. If you want Italian, go to Coco Pazzo. I end up there every few weeks and rarely have a miss.

        A good French Bistro option within 5 min walk of Trump is Brasserie Jo.

        Mercat I love. Blackbird wonderful. Aigre Doux I tried twice and see no reason to go back. Duck was overcooked and chewy. Service questionable. Sommelier took a good half an hour to get to our table. Pasta dish just OK.

        As far as Alinea goes, I would go all out and to the Tour, not the tasting. Yeah, it takes 4 hours, but you're not likely to do it again and I find it jsut fascinating what they come up with. As much an art exhibit as a meal. ( And do the wine pairngs. The whole experience will cost you a grand, but you only live once. Or twice, if you're James Bond.

        1. Thank you for all the great ideas. I think I will pick Topo over Frontera. We rather eat a heavy lunch and something light for dinner, That is why I ask for lunch options. So far Coco Pazzo sounds good. I have read some mix reviews for Blackbird, Agire Douxe, Venus and others. I guess, I have to read more and come up with a few options and ask the board later on.