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Charlie Trotter's vs Frontera? And Sunday dins in Chicago??

My husband and I will be in Chicago over a Saturday and Sunday night in September, leaving Monday aft.....we wanted to eat at Alinea but couldn't get a table. Also looked at Tru and L2O (can get in, but after 9pm, a bit late I think?!) Anyways, we did make a reservation at Charlie Trotter's. However, I keep reading so much about Frontera Grill and would love to try eating there....since they are not open on Sundays, we were wondering if it was something that shouldn't be missed......I know, I know, totally different vibe/food/EVERYTHING from Trotter's but was wondering if we should bail for Frontera? Are we crazy? And what about Sunday?? Lots of great past posts with suggestions but many of the places not open on Sundays. We're open to anything...as long as it's super yummy. Thanks!

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  1. Trotters and Frontera are 2 completely different types of places - both in terms of price and cuisine. Topolobampo, Bayless' more refined place next to Frontera, would be closer to Trotter's, but still not in the same league. Personally, if you are able to get into Trotter's at a reasonable means: Go for it. If not, and you are set on a Bayless place, try for Topolobampo.

    2 Replies
    1. re: pastry634

      Thanks. We tried Topo for Sat night but they are full. Since you don't need reservations for Frontera we thought we could go there (though heard that it's often a very long wait). Any suggestions for Sunday eve?

      1. re: AnnieLS

        I'm assuming you booked Trotter's for Saturday night? If so, it might be nice to follow with something more casual. Maybe checking out some of Kahan's places (Blackbird is more high-end casual, Avec is more small plates and cheaper ((my personal favorite of his)), and his newest - Publican - has a great alcohol selection and a real nice pork-centric menu if you like that sort of thing). Or, maybe go for a Chicago staple in deep-dish pizza at Malnati's. It really all depends on what price/cuisine you want to shoot for.

    2. Don't skip Trotter's. I'd rank it with The French Laundry, Alinea, Providence, and La Folie as the 5 best places I've ever eaten - it beats out multiple "2 and 3 Starred" Michelin restaurants including Alex, Manresa, Le Bernardin, Jean-Georges, and Aqua on my list.

      1. Frontera Grill does take some reservations -- you might call and give it a try before standing in line.

        As for the time, if you're coming from the East Coast, 9:00 PM won't seem quite as late.

        5 Replies
        1. re: floridan

          Correct me if I'm wrong, but if you ask, I think you can order from the Topo menu even though you are seated in the Frontera section. Because they share a kitchen, I've heard of people being able to request some items.

          1. re: pastry634

            Yes, I've done it.

            1. re: nomadchowwoman

              Does it bother them at all if you do this? Or, is it a normal thing that they are just used to accommodating.

              1. re: pastry634

                It has never seemed to bother them, but it's only allowed if ordering from the Topo menu when you're on the Frontera side. The Topo food is more expensive so I would imagine it's only to their benefit (as presumably overhead is somewhat less at Frontera). When we do it, it is because I'm trying to accommodate my husband, who prefers the more rustic cooking of Frontera. But now that you've asked, maybe I'll make sure they're ok with it the next time I'm of a mind to have Topo food on the Frontera side. I love both sides so I'll leave happy whatever the case!

          2. re: floridan

            Oops, make that West Coast..

          3. Trotter's is not a 2nd choice kind of place. Since you already have bookings, go for it.

            As for Sunday night, a few good places are closed. A lot more though are open. A shortlist to start:

            High end - L2O, Sixteen.
            French - Bistro Campagne, Cafe des Architectes.
            Italian - Anterprima.
            The Kahan restaurants - Avec, Publican. Blackbird is closed on Sundays.
            Vegetable focused - Green Zebra.
            Modern American - Lula, Sepia, Eve, Bonsoiree.
            Gastropub - The Gage.
            Farm to Table - Mado, Bristol.
            French Mexican - Mexique.
            Upscale Catalonian tapas - Mercat ala Planxa.

            2 Replies
            1. re: ms. chow

              Have you been to Perennial at all? If so, what did you think of it?

              1. re: pastry634

                Yes many times. I'm a fan of Chef Poli. Perennial is better than sister restaurant Boka in my opinion. Farm to table contemporary food. Brunch is great too.

            2. it's not easy to get a reservation at either. i would go to trotter's just to get it out of your system.

              that being said, i may be one of the few on the board who are not impressed by trotter's at all. comparing with TRU and L20 (where i feel the style of cooking is similar), trotter's ranks squarely at the bottom. don't get me wrong - it is caliber food and service. it's just not worth the money and the hype. it feels like the kitchen is trying to incorporate foam and trendy asian ingredients but either does so awkwardly or fails at execution. flavor-wise it's quite off-balanced for my taste (not in the bold and interesting kind of way). examples of failed attempt: 1) rose foam: way too strong and artificial; tastes like bubble bath; 2) shiso sorbet: too bland yet has a weird aftertaste that only works if you are eating a hearty wagashi with red bean paste, which is not the case here; 3) in the petite fours, the curry-covered macadamian nuts were interesting in a good way, but the chocolate with basil leaf was just an awkward combination.

              if you want "ymmy," i would go to frontera grill or topo.