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Dec 29, 2008 09:43 AM

New Years Eve Recs

Hello Chowhounders,

My boyfriend and I will be in Chicago for New Years Eve. We're staying at the Indigo (Gold Coast) and will be attending a concert at Schuba's Tavern in Lake View. I'm hoping for recommendations for restaurants between the two locations. My boyfriend is a vegetarian, although I'm an omnivore and love meat. We are looking for extremely delicious food, an interesting ambience (fitting for the holiday), and general value.

Thanks in advance!

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  1. There are two places with listings of who's doing what on NYE. Metromix is the entertainment website for the Chicago Tribune. They have an article at
    and their NYE listings at
    are searchable by neighborhood, type of food, etc. Opentable is a reservation service for 400+ restaurants in the Chicago area, including most of the better ones, and they have a listing showing NYE arrangements for their restaurants at

    Below are a few specific recommendations. I have eaten at these places but not on NYE. Also note that "general value" is something that is often lacking on NYE. If that is a concern, you may be better off going to an ethnic restaurant (e.g. TAC Quick in Lakeview for Thai, Lao Sze Chuan in Chinatown for Chinese) that just serves their regular menu at everyday prices (I'm guessing that's what they do, you'd need to verify with them).

    Salpicon is a Mexican restaurant between the Gold Coast and Lakeview. Their NYE menu is on their website at and you'll see it has vegetarian options on it.

    Shawn McClain is one of Chicago's top chefs. Each of his three restaurants has a NYE special shown on the Opentable listings. Green Zebra is almost entirely vegetarian (typically has at most one non-vegetarian item, usually poultry), so your boyfriend will be happy, but you might not be. You might be better off at Custom House, his restaurant emphasizing meats; they have various vegetarian dishes that show his skill in that arena as well. (Spring is his third restaurant and emphasizes seafood.) All of the restaurants are a short cab ride away, although not exactly between the Gold Coast and Lakeview.

    2 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      Thanks for your thoughtful response, nsxtasy! TAC Quick looked a little too casual. Can you recommend an exquisite Thai restaurant?

      1. re: mctoft

        Yes, TAC Quick is quite casual; it's your typical ethnic storefront restaurant, with simple unupholstered seats, no tablecloths, etc. The food is pretty good, though.

        I know of two good Thai restaurants which offer a more upscale environment and experience. One is Vong's Thai Kitchen ( ) in River North, which I consider also pretty good, and a big step up in decor/service from the storefront places. Opentable does not show them with a special menu - which may be a good thing, to the extent that "special" translates to "higher prices" - and they (Opentable) do show VTK with availability tomorrow night, which means they're open NYE. The other is Arun's ( ), on the far north side, which I don't recommend because the prices are exorbitant even when it's not NYE.

        As another choice, I also see that Red Light ( ), in the West Loop, has availability on Opentable tomorrow night (although not between 6:30 and 9:00) and does not have any special menu posted there, so that might be another possibility. Red Light is pan-Asian, with Thai items on their menu as well as Chinese and other Asian cuisines. The food is very good, and it too offers an upscale (and contemporary) environment and experience. So that might be worth considering also.

        Again, it's a good idea to call ahead to verify whether places are offering their regular menu, since cost/value is a consideration.

    2. not far from your hotel and easy to get a cab on clark to get to shubas. french/asian, sexy/elegant atmosphere, several choices for vegetarians(mostly appetizers and side dishes) you could probably call a head to enquire about entrees.

      5 Replies
      1. re: amaliax

        if you call ahead or a head(bad typo) ask if they(le lan) are serving their regular menu. i see on opentable that they have a 5 course nye dinner($80). you may want to take nsxtasy's advice about dining wherever they serve a regular menu. lakeview has a number of ethiopian restaurants that have a lot to offer to vegetarians if you feel like being adventurous!

        1. re: amaliax

          For what it's worth, we ate at Le Lan last years for NYE and were underwhelmed. It was a special tasting menu (7 courses?). There was nothing affirmatively wrong with the meal but it reinforced my prejudice that NYE is one of the most disappointing nights for eating out -- a production line ambience, with perfunctory attention from the staff. (We're staying in this year and cooking something special.)

          1. re: masha

            I've had some similar experiences to masha, where places were much worse than normal on NYE, and also a few where places were serving the same quality as always. So NYE can really be hit or miss. (We're doing the same thing as masha this year.)

            1. re: masha

              New Year's Eve.
              Valentine's Day
              Mothers' Day Brunch

              In my experience these are all really good dates to stay at home and cook something special, but the OP is from out of town and looking for a place to go.

              1. re: chicgail

                I've had bad food and jacked up prices on New Year's Eve, and jacked up prices on Valentine's Day (although the food's been decent). I haven't had any problems with Mother's Day brunch; in fact, we did that at one sixtyblue this year (the only brunch they serve all year) and it was spectacular.

          2. Thanks for the recs so far! What do you guys think of Pane Caldo or La Scarola?

            5 Replies
            1. re: mctoft

              Pane Caldo is very good; the only quibble I have is that it's rather expensive. (They don't show prices on their website, but most entrees are in the low forties.) If price is a factor, I prefer Cafe Spiaggia (where entrees are in the low twenties), and if price isn't a factor, I much prefer Spiaggia. But you can get a very fine meal and overall dining experience at Pane Caldo.

              Haven't been to La Scarola.

              1. re: nsxtasy

                The Spiaggias are booked, unfortunately, but it sounds like Pane Caldo is a reasonable choice. I see that Red Light is also open tomorrow. Both are interesting to us. Is one clearly better than the other?

                Btw, Green Zebra topped my BF's list but they are booked. It looked wonderful!

                1. re: mctoft

                  I wouldn't say that one is better than the other; they're just different (and both are very good). Pane Caldo is a classy restaurant serving fine Italian cuisine; Red Light is a bit more contemporary/hip serving pan-Asian cuisine. Pane Caldo is typically significantly more expensive. Assuming they're both serving their regular menus, I suggest taking a look at the menus posted on their websites - and - and seeing if one catches your eye (and/or your BF's eye) more than the other.

                  1. re: nsxtasy

                    Hi nsxtasy, I'm a little concerned about your portrayal of Pane Caldo as significantly more expensive. Open Table shows both restaurants as between $31 and $50 per dinner, but as you know, Pane Caldo doesn't show prices on their menu. I currently have reservations at Pane Caldo, but I don't want to be shocked when the bill comes....

                    1. re: mctoft

                      You can view the Pane Caldo menu WITH prices on Menupages at

                      I believe the version there is several years old; if you add $5 to each of the main courses, it will be approximately equal to current prices.

                      The menu on Red Light's website shows current prices.

            2. Thanks, nsxtasy, for all your help. We ended up going to La Scarola. I had sent a dozen or so options to my boyfriend and, for whatever reason, La Scarola was second (after that vegetarian restaurant). So, we went there. It was in an out of the way neighborhood, small and bustling. It was more casual than Pane Caldo, which worked out because our concert was casual as well and we didn't want to go back and change. As for the food, it was quite good. I had escarole soup (could have used a little nutmeg, but otherwise delicious and healthful), broccoli salad (very bright and fresh tasting), crabbed-stuffed shrimp over a bed of spinach (this was highly flavorful with some kind of lemon cream sauce). My boyfriend had the risotto primavera and he was extremely happy with it, which is saying something since "primavera" dishes tend to suck imho. I'm glad we went. Tonight we're thinking about Cafe Des Architects.... Actually, we wanted to book a table at Red Light, but they seem to be offline at the moment...

              2 Replies
              1. re: mctoft

                Glad it worked out!

                That's odd about Red Light (although I see what you're saying, about their Opentable availability). I would try calling them 312-733-8880.

                Please let us know how tonight goes. I'm particularly interested in Cafe Des Architectes. As you may already know, a few months ago they hired a new executive Chef, Martial Noguier. He had previously been in charge at one sixtyblue, where he made it IMHO the very best casual fine dining restaurant in the entire city of Chicago. I read a favorable report about CDA on another board and I'd love to hear more feedback. That's right at the top of my list of places to try in 2009. (So is one sixtyblue under their new executive chef, Michael McDonald.)

                1. re: nsxtasy

                  Hey, I just wanted to let you know how it went. I loved the ambiance and the service was fairly attentive (except the water refills, which is a big deal for my bf). As for food, I loved the presentation, but give my dishes an 89%. I have to qualify it, though. I have a cold and it was getting the better of me last night, so I expect I wasn't able to taste as much as I like. I got the pork belly appetizer and the tenderloin entree. The pork belly was exquisite at first, but lost it's appeal as it cooled. The beef was not as tender as I would expect. Could be my fault again since I asked for it to be cooked medium rare. I actually gave most of it to my dog later. (steaks are always a disappointment to me. I don't know why I order them. The truth is, I prefer a pan-fried strip-steak prepared at home to most steaks I get at restaurants) But, the sauces that came with the entree were incredible, not really sure what they were made of. But, my boyfriend was feeling fine and he said his mushroom soup was "sublime" and that his eggplant entree was perfect. He was dismayed at the portion initially, but ended up bowled over by the perfect union of all ingredients and general deliciousness. As for portions, I ended up not finishing everything (we ordered a cheese flight as well) and neither one of us left hungry, so I think the portions were fine. The cheese flight was alright. I didn't love it, although I did enjoy the accompaniments (fig-something, apricots, grape). Again, I need to qualify my opinions with my stupid cold. They were kind enough to offer a free glass of Bordeaux with the cheese flight, so that was a nice gift. The entire bill came to $160, including everything. I would definitely recommend it and I hope to return some day when my appetite is better and ability to taste is normal.

                  Thanks again for your help! We're back in Michigan now, but I can't wait to come back to Chicago and continue the adventure. :>