Romantic Holiday Dinner Out
I'm going to be coming back to Chicago for the holiday's and looking to take someone out to a romantic restaurant. I've heard (and read) just about everything about Everest, North Pond, Alinea, Blackbird, Nomi, etc. And while I'd like to try all of them, I want to find someplace that's romantic but doesn't look like I'm trying so hard. I like the little neighborhood spots (cafe matou, etc). Can anyone give me some recommendations around the city? Much appreciated...
There are neighborhood places like that all over the city and suburbs. Some of them are French bistros (like Cafe Matou), others are Italian places, and still others offer contemporary American food. There are literally dozens and maybe even hundreds of such recommendation-worthy places all over the city and suburbs. Can you help narrow it down by preferred type of food and location where you'll be staying and/or spending time (city neighborhood or suburban town)?
I know this probably doesn't help, but anywhere from the loop up to lincoln park would work. I'd like a spot near a relatively main street where there might be a good spot to walk to see come Christmas lights afterwards. Other bars near by wouldn't hurt either. I'm more interested in the right location (view would be nice), than the type of food.
Thanks! Then I would suggest the following as places to consider...
Cafe Spiaggia is at the north end of the "Mag Mile" (North Michigan Avenue), so it's perfect for walking before and afterwards, and seeing the holiday lights. I consider it the very best mid-priced Italian restaurant in the city, and it's less expensive than some others. It's not what I would exactly consider a neighborhood restaurant, just because it's close to Michigan Avenue, but it gets plenty of local business as well as visitors from out of town.
There are a bunch of other excellent mid-priced Italian restaurants in the vicinity of Michigan Avenue, and worth dining at. These include Coco Pazzo, which is the furthest from Michigan Avenue (only about half a mile away, near the Merchandise Mart); Coco Pazzo Cafe, its sister restaurant right off Michigan Avenue; Pane Caldo; and Merlo on Maple. All of these have a local customer base as much as out of town visitors, and their proximity to Michigan Avenue gives you the strolling location. Pricewise, they really vary, with Pane Caldo the most expensive, then Merlo on Maple, then Coco Pazzo, and the least expensive are Coco Pazzo Cafe and Cafe Spiaggia. You can see their menus on their websites (see below); if I recall correctly, all but Pane Caldo show prices (entrees at Pane Caldo are $40ish).
For French bistros, I like Kiki's, Brasserie Jo, and Bistro 110. All are reasonably close to the Mag Mile, with Kiki's several blocks to the west and the other two very close. Bistro 110 probably has the biggest out-of-towner portion of its customer base, due to its location at the Water Tower, but you are trading off convenience to see the lights when you move away from Michigan Avenue with Kiki's.
For contemporary American, here are several recommendations. I really like Aigre Doux, which is near the Merchandise Mart (near Coco Pazzo, about a half mile from the Mag Mile), as maybe the best such place in the city. And most of its customer base consists of locals. MK is several blocks away from the Mag Mile and it's good too. I'll make one more recommendation which is admittedly absolutely does NOT meet your request about being near other places and a spot to walk, but if you want a real "hole in the wall neighborhood place", this is it. Sweets and Savories probably has as high a percentage of locals among its customers as any restaurant we're talking about here. It's at the west end of Lincoln Park, not really convenient to anyplace to walk or to other places. The storefront exterior is non-descript, but inside is one of our better contemporary American restaurants. They also have BYO on Mondays (also a discount on their tasting menu on Mondays). So although it doesn't have the location you're looking for, it's the most "hidden away" and "local neighborhood-ey" of all these places.
Also, if you're walking around the Mag Mile on a clear day or evening, consider grabbing a drink at the Signature Lounge, the bar at the Signature Room on the 95th Floor of the John Hancock Building. The view is the big attraction, and it's magnificent.
Cafe Spiaggia - www.cafespiaggia.com
Coco Pazzo - www.cocopazzochicago.com
Coco Pazzo Cafe - www.cocopazzocafe.com
Pane Caldo - www.pane-caldo.com
Merlo on Maple - www.merlochicago.com
Kiki's Bistro - www.kikisbistro.com
Brasserie Jo - www.brasseriejo.com
Bistro 110 - www.levyrestaurants.com
Aigre Doux - www.aigredouxchicago.com
MK - www.mkchicago.com
Sweets and Savories - www.sweetsandsavorieschicago.com
Signature Room - www.signatureroom.com
Based on your rec, we chose Sweets & Savories for my birthday on Monday. We did the BYOB thing, my husband phoned ahead and had flowers delievered, and we did the tasting menu. It was really great, WAY more low key than our other tasting menu experience in Chicago (TRU). The short rib course was wonderful, and I loved the squash soup. Doesn't hurt that we brought a great bottle of wine that they uncorked for free. That was a hot tip! Thanks for the great suggestion!
I'm so glad you enjoyed it! Yes, Sweets and Savories is a real neighborhood gem. I'm sure you felt the same way I did the first time I approached the exterior - "This is it?" - and when I entered - "Oh, this is nice!" It immediately came to mind when the OP of this topic said that he/she was looking for a place like that, one that wasn't quite so glamorous but still offered excellent food and a thoroughly enjoyable dining experience.
I don't know if you are local, but there are some other excellent upscale neighborhood gems all over Chicago and the suburbs, and they don't always get a lot of visibility on these boards like the better-known places around downtown. I'm thinking of places like Sola in North Center, Magnolia Grill in Uptown, Chef's Station in Evanston, Michael in Winnetka, and Bistro 22 in Lake Zurich, just to name a few.