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Oct 15, 2008 05:40 AM

Need Spot for a "Working" Dinner - Downtown

I'm coming to Chicago with a friend on Friday to do some field research for a new business we are opening at home. We are women in our late 30s and we will be touring stores all day. We will have a lot to discuss when we finally pause for a meal at the end of the day and we need a great place to relax, unwind, and rehash the day, Cuisine can be just about anything, but we need to be able to hear each other and make notes without disturbing the experience of other diners (although we'd like a somewhat lively atmosphere). We will be staying on North Michigan Ave. but we have a car or will cab it. Also, we prefer a place we can go without a reservation because we don't known what time we'll be done (although a short wait at the bar would be fine).

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  1. Actually, this is not as easy a request as you might think. Most of the downtown restaurants I would recommend usually are either fairly lively (and often dark) on a Friday night, or they're high end and require reservations. Lockwood's one, tho, that you might consider. It's a bit high end, but certainly appropriate for business, and it doesn't seem to have taken off, so you should be able to get in (altho since it is a hotel restaurant, I'd give them a call just to ensure that it's not booked up for a special event). Here's more:

    1. You might consider Trattoria No. 10, as long as you arrive after the pre-theatre rush has departed (i.e., 7:30 or later). I've never had a problem just walking in there without a reservation at that hour, the tables are reasonably large (if you need space to take notes) and spaced apart, and the food (Italian) is good -- and there is a nice bar if you do have to wait a short bit.

      1. May I ask where you are staying on North Michigan Avenue? After walking around all day, I would think that proximity to your hotel would be a huge convenience/relaxation factor for you! It will be a lot easier for you if you don't have to walk a mile or worry about catching a cab. There are plenty of places in that area, and I'm sure we can make a few suggestions within a few blocks of your hotel.

        3 Replies
        1. re: nsxtasy

          We are staying at the Four Seasons, but don't let that fool you -- we are most definitely not on an expense account. On the other hand, at least catching a cab won't be hard! As for what jbw said, I'd rather go lively than quiet and business-y as long as we can hear each other. We are, after all, two girls out celebrating the beginnings of a dream -- we aren't meeting with investors or anything like that. Before I posted here, I was thinking of trying The Gage -- drop in, supposed to be good food, can order as big or small a meal as you'd like -- but now that seems a bit too ambitious.

          1. re: jaschultze

            Gotcha. I was just thinking in terms of location, not price (although it's helpful to know that price is a factor).

            Before I get to restaurant recommendations, just a few words about reservations. If you have a laptop with you, is very helpful in making last-minute reservations. Most of the better restaurants in Chicago are listed there. With a few clicks on your keyboard, you can see which places have reservations at any particular time. You can even do this on the spur of the moment, for immediate reservations, to see what's available. Also, the best hotels (obviously including the Four Seasons) have concierges who are familiar with all the nearby restaurants. They can use opentable as well as making phone calls and can provide recommendations that are exactly what you're looking for. They also often have connections that provide the ability to get you a reservation at a place that might not be available on opentable and might not offer an opening to the general public over the phone. So don't be afraid to use the concierge. Now, on to the recommendations...

            I'll start with places that are closest and work my way out.

            Just to rule out the obvious - Seasons is the high-end restaurant in the Four Seasons. It's very, very good, but it's also quite expensive; I would call its atmosphere elegant, but I really don't think it's the "lively" place you're looking for. (If you're still around on Sunday, they do a very nice high-end brunch.) I understand there's also a more casual place in the hotel called the Cafe, but I've never been there and don't know anything about it.

            Cafe Spiaggia is very close by and fits your criteria, although it leans towards "lively" rather than quiet. They serve excellent mid-priced Italian food.

            Pane Caldo, also Italian, is also close by and fits your criteria, but is a bit on the pricy side. They don't show prices on their website menu ( ) but entrees are in the upper thirties and higher.

            Bistro 110 is a mid-priced French bistro. I find that it's rather intimate, because even though it's upstairs in a downtown high-rise building, it's arranged as a series of small rooms, so you can definitely carry on a conversation.

            Le Colonial may be the best place of all, if you like Asian food. It's Vietnamese and pan-Asian, and is in an old mansion. Perfect for conversation, but lively too. If you like that kind of food, then it's exactly what you're asking for.

            Cafe Des Architectes is the French restaurant in the Sofitel. I haven't been there. However, I'm dying to try it because a month ago they hired away Martial Noguier as executive chef, formerly of one sixtyblue, which at the time was (IMHO, of course) the best of Chicago's casual fine dining restaurants.

            NoMI is an expensive contemporary French-American restaurant in the Park Hyatt. I know, you don't want expensive. However, this is a wonderful restaurant, with big picture windows along the side of the main dining room, looking out on Michigan Avenue (the restaurant is on the second floor, if I recall correctly). Perfect combination of quiet and lively and elegant.

            All of these places are within about a three block walk from your hotel. And all of them except Seasons accept reservations on ... which means you can get a quick idea of last-minute availability by checking now for this Friday evening. As of right now, if you search for a table for two for the peak hour of 7:30 pm this Friday, ALL of them are wide open, with 7:30 and surrounding times, with the exception of Le Colonial (6:30 and 8:30 but nothing in between) and Seasons (which isn't on opentable but hotel restaurants go out of their way to accommodate guests staying in the hotel). Also keep in mind that sometimes restaurants hold some tables back from opentable, but will offer them either over the phone or to a hotel concierge). But that gives you some idea of the likelihood of finding an opening at these places. (In Chicago, Fridays are much, much easier to get desirable reservations for than Saturdays are; this example is a perfect illustration of that.)

            Regardless of where you want to go, it's best to call ahead (or use opentable), even at the last minute, than to take your chances and risk finding an unacceptably long wait.

            Enjoy your stay, and good luck with your research!

            1. re: nsxtasy

              Thanks for all your help. As with many plans, things change and we never made it back to the Four Seasons neighborhood for dinner. We ended up at Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba for a drink and just ended up having tapas at the bar, which was perfect. We had another glass of wine in the Four Seasons lounge, which was lovely.

              The real surprise was breakfast the next morning. We headed out to the Oak Tree, only to find it closed for renovations. Tempo was too busy so we went to Cafe Des Architectes based on your suggestion above. It was really good -- great coffee, fresh, creative breakfast entrees, and a delicious pastry basket that came with our entrees. It was very reasonably priced, too, for such an upscale-looking spot. I think our breakfasts were $16 each for all of the above. I'd definitely return.