With the exception of those who have more than one location/restaurant to tend to, most of the executive chefs tend to be found on the premises of our fine dining and finer dining restaurants. Not necessarily every night, of course - everyone is entitled to have a vacation from time to time - but at most such places, the big name is there way more often than not.
Here are some of them where I've seen the name behind the reputation while dining there. I'll start with places where I've had the very best meals and work my way down.
The best meal I've had in Chicagoland in the past few years was at Tallgrass, in Lockport. Robert Burcenski was not only on the premises, but spent quite a bit of time at our table, chatting with our dining companions and giving them some travel tips. www.tallgrassrestaurant.com
A close second for best meals is Michael in Winnetka, where I've been on several occasions and it has always been superb. I have always observed Michael Lachowicz there, and his ample presence is part of its charm. Heck, when a guy shows his own picture on his website, that's a sign you can expect to see him there! www.restaurantmichael.com
Martial Noguier was always around when he was running one sixtyblue, and IMHO it was the best casual fine dining restaurant in the city. Now that he has moved over to Cafe des Architectes, I'm sure he is still on the premises there, watchful of every detail. www.cafedesarchitectes.com
Paul Virant is usually at Vie in Western Springs. www.vierestaurant.com
Mark Grosz is at Oceanique in Evanston pretty much every night. www.oceanique.com
Bruce Sherman can usually be found in the kitchen at North Pond. www.northpondrestaurant.com
Rick Bayless is usually around at Frontera Grill and Topolobampo. www.rickbayless.com/restaurants
Bruce Sherman and North Pond are absolutely amazing. Be sure to check out the menu and the description before you go to make sure it's what you're looking for. Amazing view of the city at night on the pond in Lincoln Park. The setting is superb and fantastic for a winter night. The food, in my opinion, was unbeatable. My pheasant was delicious and the recommendations from the server were all amazing (including the cocktails and wine). North Pond's philosophy resonates throughout Bruce Sherman's cooking. I can't wait to go back when the new menu changes.