Best tasting menus under 80 dollars?
My beau and I have 200 dollars to spend and we would like a fun tasting menu (contemporary american, french) priced under the common 85 dollar mark (this price with wine and tip put the meal over budget). We just went to Avec for a birthday which was fun, although the no-reservation policy is decidedly not. I would love to hear about your favorite places - cool ambiance a plus. My potential list includes Spring, Sweets and Savories, and Bonsoirée...any confirmations or alternatives would be great.
The fact is, there really aren't a lot of tasting menus under 80 dollars. On the other hand, for $200 you can have a great dinner at any restaurant in town, except for the top dozen or so temples of haute cuisine. If you would consider restaurants that don't have tasting menus, I think the very best places in town right now in that price range are Cafe des Architectes, Aigre Doux, and North Pond.
FYI: Schwa has a smaller, three-course tasting menu for $55. It's BYOB. The chef would probably throw in another course or two, though, for fun.
If location and day is not an issue, try the Monday night Farm Dinner at Lula, 2357 N Kedzie. $28 per person for an app, entree, and dessert from one of the most creative neighborhood restaurants in the city, how cool is that? Lula also has a no-reservation policy, so be forewarned. Monday night though, the vibe there is decidely less frantic than the weekend.
re: ms. chow
I was pretty excited about the Lula farm dinner on Monday. The menu was: "klug farm asparagus soup with jonah crab and hazelnut, wood grilled spring chicken with mushroom, sardine, and rapini "panzanella," and smoked garlic puree, chocalate roulade with preserved sweet cherry ice cream and black pepper." The wine that the waiter recommended was fantastic, a cote du rhone blanc that smelled like bananas (an odd flavor for me to like in a wine.) While the service was great, but the food was really off the entire time. The asparagus soup tasted thin and watery, the hazlenuts were a nice burst of flavor. I don't normally order chicken at restaurants for the precise reason that this dinner disappointed me, it was dry, a little tough, and only slightly flavored. I also did not spot a scrap of sardines on my plate, and at least the vegetables were well cooked. The best part of the whole mediocre experience was the dessert: the chocolate roulade looked like a swiss miss roll and tasted better than the Little Debbie variety. The cherry ice cream was decent but wins no prizes over Cherry Garcia. Over all, I was disappointed, maybe I'd return to Lula for a non-prix-fixe menu.
I'm not sure I would describe a three-course meal as a tasting menu; I generally consider tasting menus to be ones which have lots more courses (6-10 or more) and correspondingly small portion sizes.
However, I don't mean to quibble over semantics. If three-course meals are eligible, there are many many such menus, including some of the better dining bargains in town. Some of the best include the three-course pre-theater early bird menu at Everest ($50), the "Neighborhood Friends' dinner from locally farmed ingredients" which Cafe des Architectes recently extended to Sunday, Monday, and now Tuesday nights ($29), the three-course special at La Sardine and Le Bouchon on Tuesdays ($25), etc.
Schwa describes it as a tasting menu. And it's different than an early bird menu or some other prix fix menu in that it *is* smaller portion sizes and there is no choice in the matter: either you get the 3-course or the 9-course set menu (the 3-course being a brief version of the 9-course set menu). It's designed for people who want to try the food for less money. I can't imagine it would be considered more than a "taste," though.
I definitely recommend Bonsoiree. We were there recently and did one five course ($55) and one seven course ($85). With corkage on four bottles, tax and tip we were hovering at the $200 mark. It was really a delightful evening. The food was great, the service was fabulous and the atmosphere was elegant, but not stuffy at all. There's only one server who serves as maitre'd, host and servers; I'd say for 75% of our plates the Chef actually delivered them and explained them.
Not sure what the current price is, but Mercat a la Planxa in the Blackstone Hotel had a "chef's table" menu for $55.00 a while back and one could pair it with wines for a set price as well. It was great, very varied, full of delights, and all very tasty. If you have never been there, check it out.
Vie in Western Springs has a $70 tasting menu which changes weekly. I am not sure if it is offered on the weekend. I deleted the most recent e-mail describing this week's menu, but I am sure they will send you one if you ask. Vie is excellent.
It is one block from the trains, and there are trains out frequently, and trains back in hourly, so it is quite easy to get to from downtown. I don't remember what the wine pairings cost, but Monday if half price wine, and Tuesday is free corkage.
Vie is weeknights only. Here is this week's menu.
Amuse--marinated great lakes smelt, arugula, pickled tomato vinaigrette
04 Von Buhl, Riesling Spätlese, Pfalz, Germany
First--country paté, housemade preserves, werp farm baby greens, wood-grilled bread
06 Prieuré De Montezargues, Tavel, France
Second--braised burgundy snails, parisienne gnocchi, local morel mushrooms, spring garlic
06 Demetria, Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills
Third--braised and wood-grilled faith farm fresh bacon, creamy three sisters grits, pickled genesis growers cherry bomb pepper vinaigrette
03 Château Caronne Ste Gemme, Haut Médoc
Fourth--prairie fruits farm "little bloom on the prairie" housemade black mission fig jam, toasted honey wheat
07 Orsolani, La Rustia, Erbaluce Di Caluso, Italy
elderflower and pear sorbet
To Finish--warm sweet crêpe, preserved klug farm strawberry jam, mint chocolate chip ice cream
H M Borges, Madeira, Old Reserve Malmsey, 10 years aged
$70 Matching wines optional $30
Menu changes weekly and is subject to change
$7 to charity for each menu ordered
I'd bet that you could get Chef Noguier to do something very special at Cafe des Architectes.
I ate there last night and the place is a) delicious, b) glamorous, and c) a steal. Really, the 3-course menu becomes a lovely 5-6 when you consider the exquisite bread basket (many variations, right amount of crumb, and an olive tapenade), the amouse-bouche (last night, unoriginal but quite good salmon and creme fraiche), and the mignardines that follow dessert.
Considering that the "Neighborhood Dinner" can be had for $29 and the 3-course prix-fixe for $42, I'd imagine that the chef could put together a more elaborate multi-course meal that would stay under your budget. My number one rule with restaurants (and clothing stores and yoga studios and anything else, really) is that it doesn't hurt to ask. Thanks, nsxtasy, for singing the praises of Cafe des Architectes -- it lived up to your hype.
Chef's Station on Church St. in Evanston has a six-course tasting menu for $60. If you want a wine flight with the meal the price is $85.