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High End Intimate Dinner Suggestions

My wife and I will be in Chicago for a weekend in April and I am trying to settle on a restaurant for a nice Saturday dinner. I know this topic has been covered before, but I seem to get a different answer with each search.

I am interested in a somewhat intimate setting with great service. No molecular gastronomy. Creative American or French inspired food. The ability to bring one's own wine for reasonable corkage is a plus, but not essential. Reasonable cab ride from River North.

I was initially set on North Pond, but since then I have heard from several locals who have had recent bad experiences.

thoughts ? Thanks in advance.

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  1. Bonsoiree fits the bill perfectly. It is in a neighborhood, not in the tourist area, but not a bad taxi drive.

    One of my favorite restaurants, it's small, intimate, very smart kitchen, good service. On Saturdays they have "underground" tasting dinners (they send out emailed menus for the tasting, but anyone can go). You will need a reservation. And it's BYO.

    I will say that their prices seem to have gone up a bit -- the tasting menu has more courses and a higher price than it did recently.

    Check out their website www.bon-soiree.com.

    -----
    Bonsoiree
    2728 W Armitage, Chicago, IL 60647

    1. First, there's "high end" and there's "high end". What I mean is, there are basically two tiers of high-end restaurants. The top tier are the fancy and expensive places, where gentlemen wear jackets and dinner typically costs $200-300+ per person including wine/alcohol and tax/tip; service within this group is uniformly exceptional. The other group consists of "casual fine dining" restaurants, where business casual attire (no jackets, no blue jeans) is the norm and dinner is typically $80-100 or so per person, inclusive. It's not clear from your post which type of restaurant you would be looking for.

      These are our fancy, expensive "top tables":

      1. Alinea - Grant Achatz - Lincoln Park - www.alinearestaurant.com
      2. Everest - Jean Joho - Loop - www.everestrestaurant.com
      3. Charlie Trotter's - Charlie Trotter - Lincoln Park - www.charlietrotter.com/restaurant
      4. Avenues - Curtis Duffy - Michigan Avenue/Streeterville - http://chicago.peninsula.com
      5. TRU - Rick Tramonto - Michigan Avenue/Streeterville - www.trurestaurant.com
      6. Spiaggia - Tony Mantuano - Michigan Avenue/Streeterville - www.spiaggiarestaurant.com
      7. NoMi - Christophe David - Michigan Avenue/Streeterville - www.nomirestaurant.com
      8. Carlos - Carlos Nieto - north suburban Highland Park - www.carlos-restaurant.com
      9. L2O - Laurent Gras - Lincoln Park - www.l2orestaurant.com
      10. Schwa - Michael Carlson - Bucktown/Wicker Park - www.schwarestaurant.com
      11. Les Nomades - Chris Nugent - Michigan Avenue/Streeterville - www.lesnomades.net

      These are our best casual fine dining restaurants in the city:

      1. Café des Architectes - Martial Noguier - Michigan Avenue/Streeterville - www.cafedesarchitectes.com
      2. Aigre Doux - Mohammed Islam and Malika Ameen - River North - www.aigredouxchicago.com
      3. North Pond - Bruce Sherman - Lincoln Park - www.northpondrestaurant.com
      4. Blackbird - Paul Kahan - West Loop - www.blackbirdrestaurant.com
      5. Custom House - Shawn McClain - South Loop - www.customhouse.cc
      6. Spring - Shawn McClain - Bucktown/Wicker Park - www.springrestaurant.net
      7. Naha - Carrie Nahabedian - River North - www.naha-chicago.com
      8. Sweets and Savories - David Richards - Lincoln Park - www.sweetsandsavoriesrestaurant.com
      9. MK - Michael Kornick - River North - www.mkchicago.com

      All of the above are excellent restaurants where you can have a great dinner, so I'll state up front that making distinctions among them is somewhat arbitrary and certainly not easy. However, if you are really looking for great service, I recommend choosing from the first group, but you're going to be paying more for that service.

      Now, which one to choose?

      Since you want to avoid the places that lean towards molecular gastronomy, I would rule out Schwa and Alinea. And Schwa is the only one of these (AFAIK) that allows BYOB with no more than a modest corkage fee. Since you would like a place that's intimate, I would eliminate Aigre Doux (large dining room), Blackbird (noisy and cramped), Custom House (large-ish dining room), and MK (noisy and rushed service).

      Of the rest, the two places (one from each group) that are my top picks for intimacy, as well as fine food, are Everest (among the top tables) and North Pond (for casual fine dining).

      I think the most intimate and romantic restaurant in Chicago is Everest. It is one of our very finest restaurants, specializing in contemporary French/Alsatian food. The food is absolutely superb, and the service is the finest I have experienced in any restaurant anywhere. The view is thrilling; it's on the 40th Floor of the Midwest Stock Exchange Building, with the entire city spread out below. Everest is also one of the least expensive of the "top tier" group. (Alternative choice: NoMI.)

      North Pond is my more casual pick. I haven't heard any negative reports lately, only the usual raves, which are consistent with my own dining experience there, which is fairly recent. North Pond has a unique setting in the middle of Lincoln Park (the park itself, not just the surrounding neighborhood of the same name). It faces its namesake pond - the building formerly served as the warming shelter for ice skaters in winter - and the city skyline rises above the opposite shore. The view from the outer dining room, with its full-length windows/doors, is magnificent (but I've enjoyed it even in the inner dining room, with the open kitchen along one wall). The contemporary American cuisine from James Beard-nominated Chef Bruce Sherman is excellent. (Alternative choice: Cafe des Architectes.)

      All of the above listed places are good choices, but I think Everest and North Pond meet your stated desires most closely.

      1. Thanks for the replies. Nsxtasy - thanks for such a thorough overview. Some friends have strongly recommended Naha. Any thoughts ?

        1 Reply
        1. re: taiwegian

          Naha is very good indeed. Aside from obvious differences (like North Pond's setting in Lincoln Park, or the few places I ruled out for the stated reasons), choosing one place over another becomes a matter of splitting hairs. Try it! (I mean, try Naha, not try splitting hairs - LOL!)

        2. If you are in River North, consider Crofton on Wells. Creative American cuisine. They have been around for years, and it is as good as ever.

          If price is no object, NoMi or Avenues are good choices.

          5 Replies
          1. re: ms. chow

            I don't recommend Crofton on Wells. The food is good, but the service is dreadful. I had the worst service experience of my entire life there, and will never return. There are plenty of other places with excellent food AND excellent service.

            1. re: nsxtasy

              Wow! Really? In the last ten years we've eaten there about every two years with the last time about two years ago but we have never had bad service. I'd say the service was equal to the type of restaurant they are. They are not Everest and the service is not equal to Everest but they aren't a White Castle either. The only problem I had with the place was the decor. I just hated the color scheme and the ridiculous gilded mirrors on the wall. I hear that they remodeled so I gotta go back. I would love to hear about your service problems.

              1. re: hoppy2468

                Without going into all the gory details, it wasn't just one problem; it was one problem after another after another, involving not just lack of attention, but outright rudeness. Following the dinner, I wrote a letter to Ms. Crofton to make sure she was aware of the problems we experienced, and she never even had the courtesy to reply. (FWIW, I don't do that very often; I can only remember three times that I have written a letter to a restaurant owner after a meal, and I received sympathetic and appropriate responses in the other two cases.)

            2. re: ms. chow

              I vote no to NoMi: Great view; impeccable service; decent food, but at those prices, view and service don't make up for food that is only decent.

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