Alright, I have researched this to death and the consensus seems to be that Arun's is nothing special at all (and I have to cancel my reservation tomorrow if I decide against it!).
Now then, I'm trying to figure out what that means exactly...
I'm hoping that Arun's is NOT traditional Thai. What I want Arun's to be is Thai fusion. Is that what it is? And, if it is, is it good? Are the flavors interesting? Is it a fun place to eat? This is for my birthday and I just wanted to try something a little different from the norm.
In an ideal world, I'd go to Alinea or Moto for something fun and crazy, but we can't drop 600 bucks (for 2) right now. Instead, I am opting for two nice meals this weekend for a total of 400-500. I was thinking Arun's would be the adventure and Perennial sounds really good and the restaurant, itself, looks really cozy.
However, if Arun's is bland and uninteresting, I do not want to go there. I would love to leave the restaurant wondering what I just ate (in a good way)...is this possible or is it just not good anymore?
I have always thought the Beard nominee list is a good way to try restaurants, and it really hasn't let me down for the most part. Arun was nominated this year...but I do realize his nomination may be the result of some active campaigning on his part.
If there is anyone who likes Arun's, and has been there recently, speak up.
If not, does anyone have any recs for another "fun" restaurant, with a tasting menu, I could go to?
Thank you so much!
In all honesty, if what you want is fancy Thai Fusion, then I suppose the only logical choice would be Arun's. However, if you are instead looking at an up-scale dining experience and don't care on the cuisine, you could do a lot better (even for $400-500). I'm assuming you want to do one more casual place and one upscale? You don't have to spend crazy amounts for awesome food in Chicago! I'm not sure about your feelings towards wine, but you could go to Everest, Tru, Spiaggia, Trotters, or L20 (my current favorite for fine dining). Some of Chicago's more reasonably priced fine dining (Blackbird, North Pond, etc) have excellent food, so don't think that price equates directly to quality in a 1:1 ratio. Maybe mix it up a bit? Chicago has great Mexican, so maybe do some research on a cheap place for Mexican, and a special night at L20? Or maybe small plates at Perennial and a nice dinner at Spiaggia for some Italian? Also, I wouldn't put Moto in the same league (price or experience) as Alinea, Trotters, or any of the above I named. In fact, if you are looking for a "fun" place to go, even though it is a somewhat objective term, Moto would be great for you. It's not expensive in the least when compared to Alinea, and the chef there is doing some creative stuff! So many choices! Maybe let us know some cuisines? Not sure, but hope that I helped somewhat to get you started!
I'll refer you to an excellent help on these topics - nsxtasy. In the link I'm posting, she posts links to other posts about different types of cusine. Hope this helps, too!
I don't think that you will be disappointed with Arun's. I certainly think that it is a special place and that the food is outstanding. It is not typical Thai food. Chicago Magazine gives it 3 1/2 stars out of 4 and has this to say:
Imagine yourself in a cozy palace dining room surrounded by exquisite Thai Buddhist art and eating artistic culinary creations. That’s how it feels at Arun’s. The chef/owner, Arun Sampanthavivat, provides no printed menu: Dinner is a 12-part array of superb dishes ($85; $135 with wine pairings), which may be designed around dietary issues, spice levels, and old favorites (ask when booking). Sublime openers may include a bite-size salad of fresh betel nut leaf to enfold ginger, shallot, peanuts, and toasted coconut, and a delicate spring roll filled with pork, Chinese sausage, and crab drizzled with tamarind sauce. Entrées might bring fried striped bass with three-flavored chili sauce and savory Mussaman beef curry. For dessert, a dainty pastry cup of lychee sorbet with poached baby pear and raspberry coulis.
Arun's is not fusion. It is pretty pure Thai and it is rather authentic and upscale looking. That being said, you can get authentic Thai is much less expensive (albeit plainer settings) in Chicago.
I ate at Arun a few years ago and the only thing that really impressed me were the prices -- and I'm not someone who is unwilling to spend money for good food. In all fairness I ate there before I visited Thailand and got a sense of real Thai food, but I was not blown away by what I ate.
I suppose I should try it again, but these days when I want authentic Thai I head to TAC, Spoon or Sticky Rice (Norther Thai -- e.g. Chaing Mai).
I know that some people love Arun. I'm just not one of them. Perhaps I'll try it again and see what I missed, but I would have to be willing to spend a significant sum for another "so what?" experience.
I'm with pastry34 in suggesting that you try one of our many extraordinary culinary palaces before you to try Arun.
don't let others decide for you. There's a reason's Arun's charges what they do and has been around for a while. Try it, then go to a Tac, Sticky, or Spoon and have a 30.00 meal for two (with leftovers) and see for yourself what YOU like more. Arun's might be your ideal. That being said, I'd go to TAC before Arun's for Thai.
If you are thinking Arun's will be bland or uninteresting, you don't have to worry about that. If you eat a LOT of Thai food, you might be left thinking you could do better for the price. I think that's what the drawback for folks may be. I don't wanna knock Arun's at all, but maybe just because a eat a LOT of Thai food, and make it at home a lot, I think I could have a great meal at a better price point elsewhere. YOU might think Arun's is the best ever though. Personal preference. Try it. It's definitely an experience, especially if you like ambience.
Well, did you go? I haven't been in years but it remains as one of the most amazing meals I've had. And I've been to Thailand and taken Thai cooking classes. I really hope you went for it!