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Apr 22, 2009 08:20 PM

4 days in August with a child


My husband is coming to the ABA mtg in July/August and my daughter {5} and I will be tagging along. I'm looking for suggestions for everything! We're staying at the Trump, though I couldn't tell you where that is right this second. During the day, my daughter and I will probably do the usual tourist kind of things, lots of museums, etc. and at night, we'll have a sitter for at least two nights that we're there. Last time we were in Chicago, we ate in the dining room at Spiaggia on a whim and it was great. We would like to try something on the same level of formality and yumminess, but different. That would be for our kid-less night, of course. Our daughter is not picky for the most part and very well-mannered, so we'd like to have good food, not necessarily "kid-friendly".


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  1. The Trump Hotel is at Michigan Avenue just north of the Chicago River. This is the south end of the "Magnificent Mile" stretch of North Michigan Avenue which contains upscale shopping and hotels, and is just northeast of the Loop, Chicago's commercial and historical downtown. It is also the east edge of the area known as River North, which is just north of the river and the Loop.

    Chicago has a handful of high-end "haute cuisine" type restaurants, and among that group, Spiaggia is the only one with Italian cuisine, so any other high-end restaurant will be different (but similarly formal and yummy). The best of these, in addition to Spiaggia, are:

    1. Alinea - Grant Achatz - Lincoln Park -
    2. Everest - Jean Joho - Loop -
    3. Charlie Trotter's - Charlie Trotter - Lincoln Park -
    4. Avenues - Curtis Duffy - Michigan Avenue/Streeterville -
    5. TRU - Rick Tramonto - Michigan Avenue/Streeterville -

    All of these are wonderful, although each is slightly different from the others. Alinea is the "creme de la creme" and this week was named one of the top ten restaurants in the WORLD. It is the most theatrical of our restaurants, with unusual techniques and ingredients. It is in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, two miles north of your hotel. Everest has French-Alsatian food, the best wine list for Alsatian wines in the country (over 1700 choices), and a spectacular view of the city from the 40th Floor of the Midwest Stock Exchange building. It's at the south end of the Loop, a mile south of your hotel. Charlie Trotter has been serving cutting-edge French-American cuisine for 20+ years and is in Lincoln Park, three miles north of your hotel. Avenues and TRU both serve high-end contemporary American food and both are a few blocks walk from your hotel. You can't go wrong with any of them. Alinea and Trotter's are a bit more expensive than the others (figure $250-350/person including moderate wine/alcohol and tax/tip), and Everest is the least expensive (figure $150-250/pp).

    For the other, more casual night(s) and lunch(es), you have many, many excellent choices within walking distance of the hotel. A few of the best include Aigre Doux ( ) and Cafe des Architectes ( ) for contemporary American food in a casual setting; Brasserie Jo ( ) a casual French bistro from the chef-owner of Everest; Cafe Spiaggia ( ), Spiaggia's mid-priced sister restaurant next door; Frontera Grill and Topolobampo ( ) for creative provincial Mexican food; the original Pizzeria Uno and Pizzeria Due ( ) for Chicago-style deep-dish pizza; David Burke's Primehouse ( ) for steaks and an awesome "American dim sum" Sunday brunch; Shaw's ( ) for seafood; and Nacional 27 ( ) for Latin fusion cuisine. It sounds like your child does not need a restaurant that is particularly "child friendly", but if you decide to go that way, I recommend Grand Lux Cafe ( ). All of these are within a 10-15 minute walk of your hotel, except Cafe Spiaggia, which may take 20 minutes to walk.

    One other place worth visiting is Fox & Obel ( ). This is Chicago's premier gourmet food store, with the very best in fresh meats and seafood, prepared foods, etc. Their breads and pastries are the best anywhere! They also have a cafe in the rear of the store where you can order anything from a cup of coffee to a full meal, cooked to order. It's a ten minute walk east of your hotel.

    Feel free to ask more questions, and enjoy your visit!

    1 Reply
    1. re: nsxtasy

      Thanks so much, nsxtasy! We're coming to Chicago at the end of May with our 1 year old and overwhelmed by all of the choices and limitations of dining with a baby.

    2. For your high-end night, i second nsxtasy's recs for Avenues or TRU. Both have really creative cuisine and superb service. Avenues for me strikes the perfect balance between molecular gastronomy and contemporary cuisine. The decor is a little 'high-end' hotel look (ok but boring), but that is easily overlooked. TRU on the other hand is in a serene minimalist setting with priceless modern art. Both are a few blocks from you, and highly recommended.

      Another consideration is Sixteen, right at your hotel. I have only been there twice. Both times i could find no fault. The room screams luxury, but uncharacteristic of Mr Trump, is restrained luxury. The food is one of the best truly global-inflected cuisine i've had. Plus side, it is in your hotel, and that might give you added peace-of-mind with your daughter.

      1. With respect to some lunch suggestions, near museums, etc., that you might consider:

        1. Among the restaurants close to the Art Institute & Millennium Park are:
        (a) the Gage, a British-style gastro pub with offerings ranging from burgers and fish & chips to very sophisticated offerings. It is almost directly across the street from the Art Institute, on the west side of Michigan Ave.
        (b) Park Grill, which is in Millennium Park on the North Side of Michigan Ave., at about Washington St.

        2. Near the Museum Campus, where the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, and Adler Planeterium are located:
        (a) Lou Malnatti's for Chicago-style pizza at 8th & State St., a few blocks north of the Museum Campus;
        (b) Chinatown is just southwest of the Museum Campus, but beyond walking distance
        3. In Hyde Park, near the Museum of Science & Industry,
        (a) You might consider Valois, a very simple cafeteria, which was famous for its diverse customer base even before one of its patrons was elected to the White House;
        (b) the Medici, a Hyde Park institution, that serves pizza, burgers, and other offerings.

        For dinners with your daugher, if she is well-mannered and not picky, you've got a huge range of choices. You might want to give us a hint as to what kinds of cuisine you'd like to try -- for example, you could go out for Greek, tapas, Indian, Thai, not to mention American, Italian, etc.

        6 Replies
        1. re: masha

          Thanks Ms. Chow and Masha for the recs.

          Masha~ We love pretty much anything, but my daughter is not a huge Asian food fan. She always thinks she's going to love it and then ends up not eating and gets bored, so I'd like to stay away from Asian and probably Indian since she's never tried it before and might not be the best time to start. She loves all pastas, of course! She is also a big seafood and meat eater, so Greek would be good as well as tapas I think. We also love Mexican food, so Rick Bayless is on our radar, of course. We went to one of his places last time, but I can't remember which...we sat outside? It was very good!

          On our last trip, we went to this place {no idea where the neighborhood was now} who's name was a number? 25, 26, 27? Maybe another word too? It was Latin American food, tapas kinda thing. Very good back then. I've been curious if it was still open. She would like that. It was very lively and fun, but not cheesy.

          As far as Aliena goes, I'm just not sure I will "get" it. Does that make sense? I just don't want to waste the $$ if I'm not going to really understand what I'm eating. My husband would LOVE it and has always wanted to go. I was thinking about going, just so I can make another friend very jealous. :) I think I'm just afraid. I would love the experience, if I took a chance I think. How are they with allergies? I'm allergic to tree nuts and everything I seem to hear about there has some sort of nut in it! Now, I've only known two people to eat there, so I wouldn't say I'm well versed in their offerings.

          1. re: KateMW

            I suspect that the Latin American restaurant you went to was Nacional 27, which is listed in Nsxtasy's post. It is in the River North neighborhood, close to the Trump. Another lively, Latin American restaurant you might consider is Carnivale although that is not as close to your hotel.

            My personal favorite for Greek food is Greek Islands, but there are a huge range of choices in Greektown.
            For pasta with your daughter, if you liked Spiaggia, you might want to go to its sister restaurant, Cafe Spiaggia.

            And, on your comments on Alinea, I feel the same way. Just have not been; it does not appeal to me, and maybe I'm missing out but ... For a splurge meal on par with Spiaggia, if it was me, I'd go to Everest or Tru.

            1. re: KateMW

              Yes, Nacional 27 is very much around. The long time chef Randy Zweiban has left to open his new place (Province). The quality of the food hasn't suffered though because of that.

              As for Alinea, here's my thoughts on molecular gastronomy. It is definitely worth the $$$$, but.... It takes a certain mindset both physically and psychologically to go to Alinea. Last time i was there, it was a 5-hour event. Granted, we got the 20+ course tasting (can't remember what they call it now). Everything was so mind boggling and true marvels. Every dish is 1 or 2 bites. If you're the kind of person who will be left wanting more, then it could get frustrating. I mean, you get 2 bites out of something really good. Your mind is thinking 'i want more', but the staff is already clearing plates away. BTW, the table wares are specially designed for all the dishes. How amazing is that!

              I said it can be physically daunting because (1) You are at the place for 3 - 5 hours. Management should consider setting up a stretching room for in between courses lol. (2) Your mind could get exhausted as well. I find myself still analyzing what the previous course was when another one comes. It could be a constant barrage.

              Not really sure how they handle considerations for food allergies. Might be good to inform or ask them while making reservations. My thought is since everything has to be so precise, they probably need to know before hand to make allergy free dishes.

              That said, Avenues i think might be a good happy medium. Mr Duffy, who worked at Alinea prior to Avenues, definitely mixes up molecular gastronomy and more contemporary cuisine. For example, seared wagyu beef with coconut powder. At home, i have made braised short ribs with coconut milk. So flavor wise wasn't anything strange for me. So now with coconut poweder, it's like, ok, i get it.

              Another more casual option is Otom, which is the sister restaurant to Moto, another of Chicago's molecular gastronomy 'temples'. Otom has very creative and inventive dishes. Chef Nash's dishes has the spirit of molecular gastronomy, but is more approachable than printed paper with seaweed flavor.

              1. re: ms. chow


                Otom Restaurant
                951 W Fulton, Market Chicago, IL

              2. re: KateMW

                >> She is also a big seafood and meat eater, so Greek would be good as well as tapas I think.

                Greek Town is just west of the Loop, so it's not exactly near the museums and hotel, but not that far away either (a bit over a mile). For a discussion and links to all the Greek restaurants in Greek Town, see

                For tapas, there's a new restaurant called Mercat a la Planxa that has been getting consistent raves. It's very close to the museums - just south of the Art Institute and not far from the "museum campus" (which really aren't far from each other). And it's open for lunch and dinner, whatever fits best with your plans.

                >> As far as Aliena goes, I'm just not sure I will "get" it. Does that make sense? I just don't want to waste the $$ if I'm not going to really understand what I'm eating. My husband would LOVE it and has always wanted to go. I was thinking about going, just so I can make another friend very jealous. :) I think I'm just afraid. I would love the experience, if I took a chance I think. How are they with allergies? I'm allergic to tree nuts and everything I seem to hear about there has some sort of nut in it! Now, I've only known two people to eat there, so I wouldn't say I'm well versed in their offerings.

                Based on what you say, I think you would enjoy Alinea. They can easily work around specific allergies, and tree nuts is perhaps the most common food allergy. You can (and should) discuss it with them over the phone, but I seriously doubt that this will be a problem.

                As for your other remarks, I know exactly what you mean, because I felt the same way before going there. Like you, I had heard all about Alinea. I thought to myself, I don't care about smoke and mirrors, I don't care about meals on pillows, I only care about how good the food tastes. I went, and here's what I found that I didn't expect: (a) Almost every dish tasted absolutely delicious. While there were one or two misses, the other courses ranged from excellent to sheer bliss. (b) I didn't need to worry about the obstruse cooking techniques, because anything that looked or sounded odd, was well explained by the wait staff in a straightforward, friendly manner. (c) While those "special effects" didn't really do anything for me, the cumulative effect was that the entire meal was FUN! So while I was somewhat fearful that I would regret going (and spending the money), I'm really glad I did.

                Regarding the length of the meal and the pacing, I had the smaller of the two menus, with 12 courses, and the pacing and portion sizes were perfect! The meal took three hours, and it wasn't rushed at all, yet we were never left sitting for long periods of time between courses, either. The portion sizes were all ample - not huge (I don't know about you, but I couldn't eat twelve huge courses) but we were never left feeling bad that we couldn't have more of anything. I suspect the large (23 course) menu may be slightly different, that the additional courses may be ones that consist of only a tiny bite or two, but none of the 12 courses were comically tiny. And if the price is a consideration, the smaller menu is less expensive, and - needless to say, I suppose - what you do regarding wine/alcohol plays a big factor in your total cost.

                Comparing Alinea to other high-end restaurants in the Chicago area... well, you can have a great meal at any of them! And each is unique in its own way. In contrast to the others, what Alinea offers is a huge dimension of ENTERTAINMENT, where you will be amazed the way you can be amazed by a magician's performance, but by delicious and unusual food. Nothing against Avenues or Everest or Spiaggia or the others, but the others are exactly what you expect from a high-end restaurant - excellent food and impeccable service and a perfect experience. But not really DIFFERENT. Hope that makes sense.

                EDIT: That's a great description that chicgail posted below. And exactly consistent with my own experience.

                1. re: KateMW

                  I really get your point of view about Alinea. For a long time I refused to go saying, "I want to eat my food, not play with it." And then I gave in for a special occasion. I was, no kidding, blown away. By far, the best food, the best service and some of the best wine I have ever had. Because of the cost, it's not something I plan on doing often, but it remains a "silver box" experience: one I will keep in a special place to take out and recall from time to time.

                  Regarding allergies, they're very good about making substitutions if there is something you don't or can't eat. I was there with a vegetarian (she eats birds and fish, but no mammals) and they were wonderful. She was delighted.

                  Since Alinea has recently been named one of the top 10 restaurants in the WORLD, if you have the opportunity, you might want to take it.