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Dec 21, 2008 06:58 PM

$75 dinner for two?! (help a NY hound pick a place in Chi-town)

I want to treat my sister-in-law and her husband to dinner for a x-mas present but have a $75 limit. I used to live in Chicago, but am drawing a blank on moderately priced restaurants.

Am currently thinking Le Bouchon, but it leaves them either paying tip or buying their own bottle of wine.

Bonsoiree seems great, and I love that it is BYOB, but at $55 per person it is out of the price range of the gift exchange.

Lula is my favorite restaurant that I always return to, but I am sure they have been.

Nothing downtown or too far east. Hoping to find something in Wicker Park, Bucktown, NW-ish area.


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      1. If you can stretch your limit to $100, you will have a lot of choices. The reason is that, through December 30, you can buy gift cards at several of our restaurant groups and, thanks to special deals for the holidays, they will have $125-150 in gift certificates to spend, which will buy them a nice dinner at a variety of places. Although even at $75, the groups of restaurants have enough variety of prices to offer that they can find a place for dinner.

        There are many restaurants in the Chicago area that offer gift cards/certificates. However, rather than getting certificates for one restaurant at a time, I recommend getting them for one of the several groups of excellent restaurants in town. This offers several advantages over a certificate that's only good at a single restaurant: (a) the recipient has a choice among at least several different restaurants with several kinds of food at various price points; (b) any unused balance after the first dinner can be used elsewhere without forcing the recipient to return to the same restaurant; (c) in these uncertain economic times, any individual restaurant may close before the certificate gets used, whereas if one restaurant in a group closes, the certificate can still be used elsewhere; and (d) many of the restaurant groups offer extra bonus certificates this time of year, which stretch your gift dollars further. Such restaurant groups in the Chicago area include:

        1. Lettuce Entertain You ( ) is a group of several dozen restaurants, mostly in the Chicago area. Its offerings include several high-end creative places (Everest, TRU, L2O), as well as mid-priced and lower-priced places. The gift certificates, which you can buy on their website, are good at any of their restaurants. This group offers the widest variety (by far) of the four restaurant groups mentioned here.

        2. KDK Restaurants ( ) has four restaurants: Red Light (Asian fusion), Gioco (Italian), Opera (Chinese), and (French bistro).

        3. Levy ( ) is another group of restaurants in the Chicago area. They only have a few restaurants in the Chicago area, but they are excellent: Spiaggia, an extremely high-end Italian restaurant; Cafe Spiaggia, its mid-priced Italian sibling next door; Bistro 110, a French bistro; and Jake Melnick's Corner Tap.

        4. The Clean Plate Club ( ) is a restaurant group in the suburbs that includes Pete Miller's (steakhouse, in Evanston, Wheeling, and Schaumburg), Davis Street Fishmarket (seafood, in Evanston and Schaumburg), and Merle's (barbecue, in Evanston).

        All four restaurant groups offer free, lightly-restricted bonus certificates with the purchase of gift cards between now and the end of the year. Lettuce Entertain You, Clean Plate, and Levy give $25 in bonus certificates with each $100 of gift cards, and KDK gives $50 in bonus certificates with each $100 of gift cards. The bonus certificates enable you to stretch the value of your gift.

        As another option, American Express ( ) offers gift cards that are good at any restaurant that accepts their credit card. Which gives them a huge array of options, letting them decide what place most appeals to them. However, there are no bonus certificate deals AFAIK.

        $75 at Lettuce Entertain You will give them a dinner at R. J. Grunt's, Vong's, etc.; at the KDK places that will buy dinner on the discount night that their places feature. Stretch to $100 in gift cards and that gives them $125 at LEY, enough for a nice dinner at most of their places, or $150 at the KDK restaurants so they can have a nice dinner at Red Light and have enough left over to go to one of the other restaurants on their special discount night.

        You can buy the gift cards from the restaurant group websites, so you don't need to go out in the cold to buy them, either. And Wicker Park is located close enough to downtown that it would be easy for them to get to restaurants in any of these groups except the Clean Plate Club.

        1. The Bristol is a great, recently-opened restaurant that has both small plates and reasonably-priced entrees. It is very comparable to Lula in terms of creativity/quality.

          I went w/ two others recently and we only spent about $25/person with beers for a few appetizers.

          I believe they have gift certificates.

          4 Replies
          1. re: rubinow

            Thanks rubinow, The Bristol looks great! They are going to have to get a babysitter and I don't want them to have to wait an hour for a table...know if it's crazy packed all the time?

            And thanks nsxtasy for all of the info. Do you work for Chicago?!?! Unfortunately, we can't stretch the budget (Secret Santa rules) and the smaller, less corporate, places are more up their alley.

            1. re: ruthie_1000

              If they go early and/or during the week the Bristol is entirely manageable.

              1. re: ruthie_1000

                Well, these restaurant groups specialize in one-of-a-kind restaurants, often created in partnership with chefs who then own/manage the restaurant, and they don't "feel" corporate. Most of those groups started when an individual entrepreneur opened his first restaurant. Nothing against other small restaurants (and no, I don't work for Chicago), but in today's economy, many businesses are failing, and these include new restaurant startups as well as long-time favorites. I would hate to see someone receive a gift certificate that turned out to be worthless because a restaurant closed. But I've stated my opinion to help you, and the ultimate decision is yours. Happy holidays and I hope it all works out well for you.

                1. re: ruthie_1000

                  I went early on a Saturday night (around 530) and got a table, no problem. There were available tables when we left as well, though it will fill up.

                  For a similar experience at another relatively new restaurant in the neighborhood, you might check Mado. The food is simple, but very good and similarly priced...though the chalkboard thing (as seen at the Bristol, Mado, and other places) is getting to be a bit overplayed.

              2. How about Hopleaf in Andersonville. It's a little further north than you specified, but the mussles and frites and fabulous -- in fact the whole menu is unusually notable for a bar -- and they have the biggest and best selection of beer and ales in the city.

                If sushi is an option, there is also Coast on Damen in Bucktown. Easy to do at $75 (it is also BYO) and really good sushi. Not BYO, and in Wicker Park is Hatchi's Kitchen. Tough to choose between the two for me.