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Apr 21, 2009 07:51 AM

3 days in chicago (river north)

My friend (no romantic dinners) and I will be spending 3 days in Chicago in early may. We will be staying in the really nice James Hotel, corner Ontario and Rush. These are four places that I've read about on Chowhound:
Mercat a la Planxa
Café Iberico

What we really LIKE is good food, young upcomming chefs, local products, classic european style quality bistro, and what we really LOVE is wine, wine and wine...

We don't mind walking a few blocks or even taking a cab ride if necessary for a good glass of wine and the great food that comes with it. We have a medium budget but don,t mind paying for a great meal if it is worth the cash. We are both from Québec City, which is north of Montreal, so we are used to live in a french/european style city where the food reflects the town.

Not so much into dogs, Lavazza, chains, pizza, anything fried...

Thanks for all your help

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    1. re: MahiMahiFish

      Yes, i second the recommendation for Avec. Also, what was the 4th place you listed? Have not heard of Knowit.

      1. re: ms. chow

        Soory for that. I meant Rockit.

        1. re: QcQc

          RockIt is ok in terms of bar food and drinks. But not the 5 criteria you are looking for. Actually for that matter, Cafe Iberico too. Food is good and solid, but wine list so so, no young up coming chef.

          Don;t get me wrong, i go to both places, and they are good for what they are. Just not the criteria you mentioned.

    2. Hi Patrick,

      I don't see any questions, so I'm guessing you're looking for general feedback on your plans. So without further ado...

      >> These are four places that I've read about on Chowhound:
      Mercat a la Planxa
      Café Iberico

      What is "Knowit"? I'm pretty sure it's not a restaurant in Chicago.

      The other three restaurants are all very good. However, they are all quite similar to each other; all three feature Mediterranean cuisine in "small plates" (tapas). If that's what you REALLY want to do, go ahead! However, I think you could experience more of what Chicago's restaurant scene has to offer by trying to incorporate a bit more variety into your itinerary. (And for the same reason I would not recommend adding Avec to your itinerary, since that would be your FOURTH Mediterranean small-plates restaurant, LOL!)

      Here are a few examples of terrific, not-terribly-expensive restaurants near your hotel that do NOT feature Mediterranean small plates. You might want to consider going to Cafe des Architectes ( and ) for lunch or dinner, to experience the fine contemporary American cuisine of one of the city's top chefs, Martial Noguier. Another possibility is David Burke's Primehouse ( ), right in your own hotel. Burke's is one of our very best steakhouses and also has a lot of other foods on the menu. Their American dim sum brunch on Sundays is also awesome; for a detailed report, see the brunch topic at As a third suggestion, Chicago has some wonderful creative provincial Mexican cuisine; within walking distance of your hotel you'll find Frontera Grill/Topolobampo ( ), or for more Mexican recommendations see Latin fusion restaurants serve dishes from throughout Latin America in a fun atmosphere, and Nacional 27 ( ) is close by. We have lots more restaurants serving all types of cuisine; these are simply a few of our best places within a few blocks of your hotel.

      In terms of your budget, keep in mind that lunch is less expensive than dinner, and all of these places serve lunch during the week and brunch on weekends. There are also some special deals you'll find on the restaurants' websites, such as the $29 "neighborhood friends" dinners at Cafe des Architectes on Sunday through Tuesday evenings. As another option, you can take public transportation ( ) or cabs to inexpensive ethnic restaurants in their neighborhood enclaves, such as Chinese food in Chinatown ( ), Vietnamese food along Argyle Street, Indian/Pakistani food on Devon Avenue, Mexican food in Pilsen (see link above), and Greek food in Greek Town ( ).

      >> What we really LIKE is good food, young upcomming chefs, local products, classic european style quality bistro, and what we really LOVE is wine, wine and wine...

      Then in addition to the above suggestions, you should probably also plan a trip to Bin 36 ( ), which is a wine bar and restaurant just a few blocks from your hotel.

      Also note that May 10 is Mother's Day, for which many restaurants have special brunch plans, and book up in advance, so reservations that day are essential. Most of our nicer restaurants accept reservations on the website. (Neither Cafe Iberico nor Avec accepts reservations for small parties.)

      Feel free to ask questions and all of us will be happy to provide more recommendations to you.

      4 Replies
      1. re: nsxtasy

        Thank you for the American Dim Sum suggestion. I checked out the menu and since my birthday is coming up, I think my daughter and I will be checking that out in early May.

        Your post was, as usual, extremely informative and well-written. That's a phenomenal deal for a bit of a splurge.

        1. re: Pete Oldtown

          Thanks for the kind words!

          Here are some insider tips about the American dim sum Sunday brunch at David Burke's, just a few things to keep in mind.

          The brunch does a pretty good business; there have been times when I've checked for reservations and they were not available, or were only available earlier or later than I wanted. So making an advance reservation (which they accept on is a good idea, especially if you need a specific time.

          Allow at least two hours for the brunch. That's how long it took me as a solo diner (which generally means a slightly faster pace than a group) without getting any seconds on anything. I arrived at 1:00 and finished at 3:00. They were definitely winding down at that point, so I would avoid being seated any later than that.

          The portion sizes are somewhat small, as you would expect with ~22 items. I arrived hungry and left feeling full (not overstuffed/bloated, but definitely full) after eating each of the plated items, and some but not all of the items on the carts used for 2 of the 8 courses.

          The price and menu is different on special occasions. For example, the brunch is normally $35 for adults, but it's $48 with a different menu for Easter and Mother's Day. The menu says that serving is family style, which is not necessarily the same as the dim sum approach.

          Several of the drinks - bloody marys, mimosas, etc - are offered at $10 with unlimited seconds. This is a great deal; just don't overdo it, and consider transportation arrangements or a designated driver if appropriate.

          It's really a very special and unique experience - enjoy!

          1. re: nsxtasy

            Thanks for the tips. I will use them. I emailed my daughter the dim sum menu and she emailed back, "can we go THIS weekend?"

            1. re: Pete Oldtown

              Today's Wall Street Journal has a feature on David Burke. Very clever fellow.

      2. For good food, up & coming chef, and reasonably priced wine, I would also recommend Perennial, which is in the Lincoln Park neighborhood.

        1. Since you mention Wine in caps (I would type it that way too) I will point you that way.

          My absolute favorite wine bar in the city is the Tasting Room (and Randolph Wine Cellar) on West Randolph. This is MUCH better than Bin 36 for wine selection. An aside, if you do go to Bin 36 (and I do go there frequently) be sure to ask for the reserve list. Their standard menu is quite pedestrian and their servers don't know wine. Back to the Tasting Room, the upstairs room has a wonderful view of the entire skyline and the wines are always great. Food is also very nice, but not a destination in itself for dinner. I have had hit or miss with the servers knowledge, but the bartender and somalier are great to chat with.

          Another very nice wine bar in the LIncoln Park neighborhood just north of downtown is Websters. About a 10 minute cab from your hotel. Great ambience, a phenomenal list and superb servers that know the list.

          Quartino is great for food, but only above average in the wine department. I go there at least a couple times a month for dinner and have never had a bad glass, but have never been blown away.

          Just had a great meal at Mercat and I would 100% pick that over Iberico. Don't do both.

          Rockit! is another place i frequent for drinks and the late night burger. Food is excellent for a bar and the drinks are not (that) overpriced for a downtown bar.

          Totally agree with NSXTASY that you should try some of our gourmet mexican at Frontera or latin (and SUPERB cocktails) at Nacional 27. This is something you cannot get in Quebec.


          3 Replies
          1. re: jbontario

            Great recs jbontario. Webster is my favorite. Their knowledge of wine can only be described as encyclopedic.

            Agree re Bin 36. Lately too seems like because of Brian Duncan (wine director) doing all those collaborations with wineries, they are definitely pushing those products.

            Try Bluebird too, which is owned by the same folks at Webster. It is their take on the gastropub craze. Great wine selection. Beer selection too. Food is better than what they have at Webster. It is about a 15 minute cab ride into Bucktown. 1749 N Damen.

            1749 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60647

            1. re: ms. chow

              I've only had a quick look at a few pictures from the Bluebird web site and I know I want to go there. Exactly the ambiance I am looking for, young but professional. Thank you so much for your help

            2. re: jbontario

              Thank you so much, both really interesting... I think The Tasting Room will get my attention, I was really impressed by the wine list and I will be there on monday and/or tuesday so they have great specials for both days.

              Mercat cought my attention a lot also. Café Iberico was recommended by tourists from Chicago that I served last week.

              Places like Rockit and Nacional 27 will get us going for the evenings.

            3. I love the James Hotel and stay there quite frequently. One of the reasons is that David Burke's Primehouse is right off the lobby. Outstanding steaks and "Burkers," and salads. They are the in-house restaurant so the room service menu is also really good. I have not tried their breakfasts but I am certain they are excellent too. There are a lot of fun places to dine within walking distance. Topolobampo and its sister Frontrera Grill, Roys, to name a few. I know you don't like pizza but I would be remiss if i did not mention that the original Due's is on the same block and the original Uno's is a block away. Due's has a lively bar and a great garbage salad as well as chicago style italian beef. Lawry's the Prime Rib is across the street but seems soooo dated -- but they do have some nice things at their lunchtime carving station -- prime rib sandwiches on onion roll are very tasty.

              2 Replies
              1. re: biga290

                Next time you plan to stay at the James, make a reservation for David Burke's "American dim sum" Sunday brunch - basically a 22-dish, 8-course meal, most of which is cooked to order. It's really special, and quite unique! Also a great bargain at $35 with unlimited seconds (even more so with the $10 unlimited mimosas, bloody marys, etc).

                1. re: nsxtasy

                  The dim sum sunday brunch will be on our list for sure. Lets just hope they have some places left for us. Thanks