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Visiting from SF, need Father's Day restaurant rec

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Hi All. I'll be visiting Chicago for the first time with my family on Father's Day weekend. We are all from the SF Bay Area. I wanted to see what you fellow chowhounds recommend in terms of nice restaurants for dinner on a Saturday night. I'm not looking to go all out at a place like Alinea, Moto, L2O, etc. San Francisco is full of great restaurants at the level right below that top echelon and this is what I would be looking for. We are staying near E Chicago and N Michigan avenues, so something in that general area would be ideal. In terms of cuisine preference, we are open to anything. Thanks in advance for your recommendations! Cheers.

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  1. We too have some wonderful "casual fine dining" restaurants, particularly those serving contemporary American cuisine. IMHO you'll find the very best food in this group at Cafe des Architectes ( www.cafedesarchitectes.com ), located in the Sofitel hotel two blocks from Chicago and Michigan, and Aigre Doux ( www.aigredouxchicago.com ), across the street from the Merchandise Mart about 3/4 mile southwest of Chicago and Michigan. You can find links to detailed reports on both restaurants, and additional recommendations, in the discussion at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/602985

    One more very unique place is worth considering, and that's North Pond ( www.northpondrestaurant.com ). North Pond offers excellent contemporary American cuisine too. What makes it unique is its setting in the middle of Lincoln Park - the park itself, not just the adjacent neighborhood of the same name. It faces its namesake pond, and the city skyline looms over the opposite shore. The renovated building formerly served as the warming shelter for ice skaters on the pond during winter.

    But wait, there's more! Those recommendations cover our contemporary American restaurants. We have other kinds of restaurants that are also upscale with great food, yet casual and not overly pricey.

    Some of these are our upscale Mexican restaurants - and I'm not talking about conventional Mexican food (which we have, just as you do), but places that specialize in creative provincial Mexican food. Rick Bayless was very influential in this country when he started Frontera Grill and Topolobampo here twenty years ago ( www.rickbayless.com/restaurants ), and both are still excellent under his direction. They are also under a ten minute walk from Chicago and Michigan. We have many more such places; for additional recommendations, see http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/463572

    We also have many French bistros that do a fine job. Bistro 110 ( www.levyrestaurants.com ), right at Chicago and Michigan, does a very good job, and Brasserie Jo ( www.brasseriejo.com ), half a mile south, may be even better. For more French bistro recommendations, see http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/602957

    We have quite a few upscale ethnic restaurants - pan-Asian, Latin fusion, tapas, French-Vietnamese, Indian-Latin, etc. For recommendations, see http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/437740

    We also have plenty of mid-priced Italian restaurants - as does SF, of course - the best of which is probably Cafe Spiaggia ( www.cafespiaggia.com ), under five minutes up Michigan Avenue from Chicago Avenue.

    And, of course, we have steakhouses ( http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/359377 ) and seafood restaurants ( http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/370202 ) and storefront ethnic restaurants of all stripes. But I think the previous mentions are more along the lines of what you're looking for.

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

    4 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      wow great, thanks! i'll take a look at all of those links, i'm sure i will be able to find something.

      1. re: sk4sk4

        by the way is it just me or do the prices for these casual fine dining restaurants seem significantly higher than comparable places in SF? Aigre Doux, Blackbird, Naha, etc., I feel like I've looked at them all and the average price for an entree is well above $30, I would say around $35. In SF I would say the sweet spot is $25, and not much higher than that (i.e. A16, Town Hall, Bacar, Coco500, Zuni Cafe, Delfina, etc.).

        1. re: sk4sk4

          Our casual fine dining restaurants span a variety of price points, with dinner entrees from mid-teens to mid-thirties, and overall are no more expensive than comparable places in San Francisco (a city I visit often); you happened to have named three here towards the high end of that range (Aigre Doux, Blackbird, and Naha), which are all in the low thirties. Cafe des Architectes is significantly lower, with their three-course prix fixe menu for $42, and a special three-course "neighborhood friends" menu for $29 also offered on Sundays through Tuesdays. Aigre Doux also offers a limited three-course $35 prix fixe menu. With the economy in recession, many restaurants are offering similar deals, especially for weekdays (not Saturdays), and a few have lowered their prices significantly. For example, Spring, a seafood-oriented contemporary restaurant in Wicker Park from Shawn McClain, recently lowered its entree prices, formerly in the low thirties, to the high teens. And Sweets and Savories, another contemporary American restaurant in Lincoln Park, also recently revamped its menu, with entrees now in the high teens rather than their former high twenties. Custom House, Chef McClain's meat-oriented restaurant in the South Loop, still has entrees in the high twenties. At Atwood Cafe, another contemporary American restaurant in the Loop, entrees are mostly low to mid twenties, with a couple for $19 and a steak for $35. one sixtyblue, another contemporary American restaurant in the Randolph Street corridor, revamped their menu last fall with a change of chefs, and entrees are now mostly low to mid twenties. Lula, in Logan Square, averages low twenties as well.

          The same overall range - mid-teens to mid-thirties - covers our more ethnic oriented casual fine dining restaurants. Italian restaurants range from Coco Pazzo Cafe (high teens) to Cafe Spiaggia (mid twenties) to Merlo (around forty). French bistros are mostly in the mid to high teens. Among Mexican restaurants, Topolobampo is the outlier, with dinner entrees in the high thirties; Frontera Grill, its sister restaurant next door, has them in the low twenties, they're in the mid-twenties at Mexique (where I ate this past weekend), and I think they're around twenty at Mundial Cocina Mestiza, still my favorite of that bunch.

          1. re: sk4sk4

            Funny you should notice the price differential, I had the same thought when I was looking for restaurants in Chicago a year ago. I'm from San Francisco too, so I have the same perspective. I find it interesting how the economics vary in different cities (e.g. I thought Chicago restaurant prices were more similar to NYC prices, but Chicago real estate prices are much lower than in NYC or SF). I do think Chicago restaurants are "nicer" than SF restaurants in that they spend more on their interiors (like NYC).
            I'll be in Chicago in a few weeks, and will definitely be trying out some of the casual fine dining restaurants nsxtasy has recommended (thank you for providing such great information on the chicago board!) in addition to our finale "tour" at Alinea. We ate there several years ago 2-3 weeks after they first opened, so it will be nice to see how things have changed since then.