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May 26, 2009 08:43 AM

Food Trip Questions

Hey all. I've had posts on here before asking for suggestions and whatnot for places to go in Chicago. Well, we finally have the dates down and a tentative itinerary. Our choices are listed below, along with some questions. Thanks for all who reply and any suggestions!

Lunch: Kuma’s Corner

Dinner: Avec - We will hopefully be going to the taping of Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me tonight at 7pm. If we get to Avec early enough, will we have enough time? I see they open at 3:30, so does that mean that we can order anything at that time? Or is some parts of the menu off limits until later in the night?

Lunch: Blackbird - Too much Kahan? I know his places are renowned for their excellence, but will doing Avec and Blackbird back to back be too much of the same thing?

Dinner: Topolobampo - We would both get tasting menus. Is it as good as the praise it gets? Would we be better off somewhere else for the price (I think the tasting menus are $75 each)?

Lunch: Hot Doug’s

3324 North California, Chicago, IL 60618
Dinner: Alinea

Brunch: DB Primehouse Dim Sum Brunch

Dinner: Burt’s Place - Was tossed between this or North Pond. I know that they are 2 COMPLETELY different places, but I'm not sure (1) how hungry we will be after our brunch and (2) it might be nice to have some variety in our dining. Also, we will be going to a Jersey Boys matinee at 2, so we will be eating around 7ish. Will Burt's Place be too busy by then? I've read that it's better to call in your order, but I've also heard that if it gets too busy, Burt just decides to not pick up the phone :/. Would it be better to have a reservation at a restaurant instead of just crossing our fingers for Burt's?

Lunch: Café Spiaggia

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  1. A couple of responses for you..

    Avec - As far as I know, the entire menu is available whenever you go (The Publican has a shorter menu until a couple of hours after they've opened).

    Blackbird - Even though it's right next door and is also a Paul Kahan restaurant, it is a very different experience in terms of both atmosphere and food. If you want to do both, I say go for it.

    Burt's - Call as early in the day as possible to make sure your pizza is ordered and reserved (or maybe even call the day before). When you order, you'll need to tell them what time you're coming in. That being said, it's not the worst idea in the world to have a back-up reservation at North Pond just in case (obviously you should cancel if you wind up going to Burt's). Whatever you do, please do not just show up at Burt's hoping for the best. You really do need to order in advance.

    6 Replies
    1. re: jesteinf

      Can I call anytime during the day to pre-order my pizza at Burt's even though they don't open until 4:30? Even if I do call ahead, do you think its the safest option to make a back-up reservation?

      1. re: pastry634

        Definitely call before they open (that's when Burt and Sharon prep for dinner that night). I would already have the backup reservation in place before you call. That way if you can't get through, or you can't get a pizza, you've already got something to fall back on.

        1. re: jesteinf

          One more question on the North Pond reservation: If I we end up going to Burt's Place and call to cancel the reservation, will there be any charge? I know some places charge for late cancellations. Thanks for the reply, though! Out of curiosity, what have your experiences been like while eating at Burt's Place?

          1. re: pastry634

            I don't believe North Pond requires a guarantee, but they'll let you know when you make your reservation.

            I love Burt's, and I'm not a fan of deep dish pizza. Usually my problem with deep dish is that everything is so heavy (crust, sauce, cheese, toppings), but Burt's is more restrained. In other words, if you get a sausage pizza, don't expect a pizza covered "wall to wall" with sausage. Also, the ingredients are Burt's are much higher in quality than the local chains. All of the toppings are fresh from local markets, so what is available when you go will depend on what looks best to Burt at the market.


            1. re: jesteinf

              Awesome, thanks for all your help, jesteinf. What do you think about Topolobampo? I estimate that North Pond will be roughly the same price (or price region :P). I don't know much about Mexican cuisine, let alone high-end Mexican cuisine. Is Topolobampo a unique enough experience to put it over North Pond, which sounds like Upscale New Frenchish American (which I've had several times in the past)?

              1. re: pastry634

                Personally I prefer North Pond, but a lot of people like Topolobampo. I actually prefer Salpicon to Topolobampo, but my favorite upscale-ish Mexican place right now is probably Sol de Mexico (which is a bit of a challenge to get to from downtown without a car).

                Also, we're coming into my favorite time of year to visit North Pond. Because they're so focused on seasonal ingredients I feel like it is a much better restaurant in the spring and summer.

    2. Wise choices, all.

      You'll be out of Avec in plenty of time... service is fast and friendly. These days, I prefer Publican to Blackbird, but both are excellent, and all three different enough to enjoy on their own.

      Topolobampo is my favorite rest. in Chicago... food, service, wine. Absolutely worth the money.

      Be aware that Kuma's Corner has insanely long lines, sometimes. It's been getting a lot of press. If the wait is too long, try (nearby) Orbitz Bar, for fine burgers etc. Or Urban Belly, or intensely great Japanese street food.

      I haven't been to DB Primehouse, but my friends who know (ie, born Hong Kong) say Phoenix in Chinatown has best, most authentic HK style dim sum.

      And if you need a drink after WWDTM, go to Rosebud Prime across Dearborn St. Sometimes the cast shows up; if so, find Peter and tell him how your meals were. He's a big eater.

      6 Replies
      1. re: OakParkGuy

        Thanks, OPG. You know, just before I checked my post, I thought of Urban Belly as a sub for one of my lunches. After further research, I also found Khan BBQ on LTH, which looked pretty good. Except, I was actually thinking about replacing my lunch at Blackbird with UB or Khan, and heading to Blackbird for dinner during a later trip. Thanks for the tip for Rosebud Prime! I figured Peter was a foodie after I saw him interviewed on The Cheeseburger Show a few weeks back.

        1. re: pastry634

          urban belly is incredible. dumplings are fantastic

          1. re: chicagowinediva

            I've read that a good way to go (for "hearty" eaters like my Dad and I :P) is 1 dumpling, 1 rice, and 1 noodle per person. Is this too much, even for the most gracious eater? Also, what are some of your favorites there? I've read a lot about the duck dumplings and pork belly ramen. Anything else you would recommend?

            1. re: pastry634

              Urban Belly - that might be a lot of food . . . I don't think their portions are so small. Ask them what they think and let them know how hungry you are.

              As for your other choices, you've picked some of my very favorites so my mouth is watering. As far as Mexican goes, I like Topo a lot, but I'm in jesteinf's corner here. Sol de Mexico is my favorite Mexican restaurant in Chicago because I love their moles and they do them best (but it is a drive). I also slightly prefer Salpicon to Topo - by the way, they do a tasting menu too ( - 7 courses, $65 . . . $105 with wine pairings.

              As for North Pond vs. Burt's, yes . . . about as different as two places can be. But if you like deep dish pizza, Burt's does it better than anyone. But make sure to call ahead and tell them when you'll be in. Just don't expect much in the way of atmosphere. But I would think David Burke's for brunch and North Pond for dinner might be a bit much. That being said, I like North Pond quite a bit, and the location is beautiful.

              Blackbird vs. Avec - they are next door to one another and common ownership. Beyond that, you will not notice any similarities other than excellent food at both.

              At Kuma's, I recommend dining on the back patio . . . very nice on a warm day.

              Finally, if you are thinking Mexican, I suggest sticking with that plan. Mexican food is outstanding in Chicago, from inexpensive tacquerias to fine dining. If you like tasting menus, you'll be pleased with either Topo or Salpicon . . . and if you like one of the menus more than another, that should make your decision easier.

              One more thing: I like Urban Belly a lot, but Chicago also has some outstanding Thai restaurants serving more authentic Thai food (in other words, less emphasis on noodles). My favorite of the bunch is Spoon Thai and I would choose it over Urban Belly any day. But don't get me wrong, I like Urban Belly.

              Good luck with whatever your final choices end up being and please tell us how you enjoy your meals.

              1. re: BRB

                Thanks, BRB. Yeah, I figured that may be too much at Urban Belly. We may just stick to splitting a dumpling, a rice, and having our own noodles, but we'll heed your advice and ask. What we decided on is to stick with Avec only for this trip, and put UB in the Blackbird lunch slot. I figured we can do Blackbird at a later date. Also, we are going to do Burt's Place on Sunday night, and we will certainly call ahead during the day to place our order. Another good thing is that my Dad and I are early eaters, so even thought Avec, Doug's, and Kuma's are possibly the 3 restaurants most notorious for their no reservation long lines, we should be able to either (1) Get there ahead of time or (2) wait it out - because, hey, we've got nothing better to do but eat :)

                1. re: pastry634

                  Do you guys/gals think that I should still have a backup reservation somewhere if I plan to call Burt's Place earlier on Sunday to place our order for later that night? If so, what place would you recommend that would go well with our itinerary (see above)? We are not huge fans of the "traditional" deep dish, such as Lou's or Uno's, so our reservation would preferably be at a restaurant that is around the price range of Topolobampo, but not all the way up to Tru/Alinea/etc. price range. Location makes no difference, as we will have a car. Any suggestions?