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Jul 22, 2009 07:03 PM

Help Me Choose

I will be in Chicago for three nights at the end of the summer. Having eaten at Alinea on my previous two visits (and dining regularly at Blackbird, Hot Chocolate, Spring, Topolobampo, and North Pond, ), I am looking to branch out on my next trip.


1) Money doesn't matter.
2) I place a premium on exciting food (I prefer Alinea to Per Se)
3) Good service is more important to me than decor
4) Alcohol service is substantially less important that food

I was thinking about two of the following: Moto, Avenues, Schwa, and L2O. However, I haven't lived in the city for two years and imagine there might be some new great place that I am missing.

Any help would be much appreciated.


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  1. Based on your statement about 'place a premium on exciting food', Schwa would be the top choice on your list. Caution though you will most likely go through a horrendous experience getting through to them, and securing a reservation. And no, i'm not talking about reservation policies like calling on the monday 3 months before your date, but only if it's a full moon. I generally dissuade visiting friends from going, because it is so hard to get a confirmation from them. If you do go, try call the day before or day off to ask for wine suggestions. Schwa is BYOB.

    Of the 4 on your list, Avenues is my favorite. You are pampered like royalty, and yet the staff are very unobstrusive. Very excellent wine program. The food is just the right amount of molecular gastronomy and contemporary cuisine that is very accessible. Oh, perhaps more Per Se than Alinea. But these days, who can top Alinea?

    8 Replies
    1. re: ms. chow

      L2O is awesome and a major cash outlay. From your list you really can't lose. I would also recommend Takahashi.

      1. re: ms. chow

        thanks. any tips for securing a reservation?

        1. re: nmprisons

          Most places on this thread can be booked on

          1. re: ms. chow

            But not Schwa, which is what the OP was asking about.

            I have had good luck and bad luck making a reservation at Schwa. The first time I left a message and they either never called me back or just didn't leave a message. The second time I got a call back the next day confirming the reservation.

            I will say that my experience at Schwa was not that great. I applaud what they're up to and was really exciting about it, but was disappointed that our first three or four courses (it's a tasting menu) were oddly sweet when I was expecting savory. I was left a little confused about what they were trying to do.

            I should probably try it again, but with so many good places in town to try and enjoy, it just hasn't been at the top of my list.

            In a similar vein (tasting menu, inventive food, small neighborhood place), I much prefer Bonsoiree.

            1. re: chicgail

              L2O, Takashi, Avenues and Moto are all on opentable.

              I've never really had good luck with bookings at Schwa. Particularly frustrating for out of town family and friends who are in town for special occasions. I like the food, precisely for the surprise. Is this a savory course, sweet course?

              1. re: ms. chow

                We didn't have any problem getting a reservation at Schwa. Bring a 6 pack of Gumball and make the kitchen happy!

                1. re: Stuccolow

                  I was able to get a reservation today! So, Schwa is a definite go.

                  1. re: nmprisons

                    Congratulations! You're in for a real treat. Call them day before to ask for wine recommendations. Also, if you don't have a car, cabs are hit or miss on that part of Ashland. Walk a few blocks north to North Ave.

      2. i also push for L2O. i think it has the best service in town. the particular waitress we had was professional and warm / friendly at the same time, not robotic and uber serious like tru's service. although the sommelier we had was a tad quirky (but not in a bad way). the food was excellent - simple but well executed. the only thing i didn't like on the 12-course menu was the pork belly - way too fat for me. if you substitute, get another seafood dish, not red meat. they're not that good with cooking beef (my girlfriend substituted the pork belly with a red meat dish, which turned out to be not that great). but other than that, it's really a memorable meal with essentially french haute cuisine with notable japanese influence. (i think the asian/french fusion is executed much better than that of charlie trotter's). the bread service was also quite exceptional - great selections with excellent homemade butter.

        takashi, mentioned by Chicago Wine Geek, is quite good (french cuisine with some japanese ingredients). along the same line is yoshi's cafe. i personally like yoshi's cafe better (the fusion is more bold and interesting), but they are both good.

        in terms of "exciting" food, i'm not sure if you've done this, but the dessert degustation at tru is interesting. the other ones that come to my mind are the less upscale places (so service and setting won't be up to par with the list of places you provided): carnivale (south american), the gage (gastropub), and avec (almost like a tapas wine bar) all have some creative and exciting dishes. also, if you've never had peking duck, a peking duck prix fix menu at the shanghai terrace can be fun too.

        5 Replies
        1. re: mountsac

          So, I added a third day. I had given up on L2O because of some truly terrible reviews I read, but then saw picture of the food and couldn't help but make a reservation. So, Mon. @ L2O, Tues. at Schwa . . . now what to do on Wednesday? I am really hoping someone sings Moto's praises as that is what my gut is saying.

          1. re: nmprisons

            From your original choices, i would push for Avenues over Moto. You mentioned you prefer Alinea. Moto in spirit is very similar to Alinea. But i feel it doesn't hold up to Alinea's creativity and cerebralness. So it could come off as more of the same, but not quite as good.

            Avenues on the other hand offers a unique experience. Service is exceptional. The food is creative, yet approachable. The presentation of the dishes are artful compositions. I applaud Chef Duffy's continuous use of global ingredients. My current favorite dishes are the Iberico pork belly, and the Wagyu cheeks cannelloni.

            1. re: nmprisons

              I don't understand the terrible reviews with respect to L.20. At worst, you'll have a very good meal.

              Avenues is excellent but so is Moto. Avenues probably wins out a bit in terms of taste, but Moto is just so creative and that's half of the fun. If you really want to be wowed in terms of presentation, science, gimmicks and playful cooking, this is the premier place. And don't get me wrong, I think the food is excellent, just that for pure taste I'd choose Avenues, Alinea and L.20 over Moto. I love taking out-of-towners to Moto however because you don't find places like it many places. The only one that came close was WD-50 and I prefer Moto.

                1. re: delk

                  I 'heart' L2O. If i have to rank OP's list, it would have to be: Avenues, L2O, Moto, Schwa.