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Jan 28, 2010 11:39 AM

Visiting for Valentine's Day weekend, need a little help finalizing food itinerary

Hi - I'm visiting from Toronto for Valentine's Day weekend, and I'm looking for a little help finalizing the food itinerary. Specifically for Valentine's Day I have the following options:

Charlie Trotter's
North Pond
David Burke's Primehouse

Charlie Trotter's

Ha, yes, Trotter's or Giordano's. Giordano's for sentimental reasons. Any strong recommendations one way or another? Thanks for any help!

FYI, Alinea is on Friday night (I booked 7 weeks in advance but still couldn't get a Sunday booking!), so that will likely be the highlight of the trip food wise.

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  1. First of all, Charlie Trotter's isn't open for brunch/lunch, so you can knock that option out entirely.

    According to the blog report at , David Burke's Primehouse recently changed its Sunday brunch from their "American dim sum" brunch (which I absolutely loved) to a "bento" brunch. This just happened, so I have no idea what it's like. North Pond is such a lovely and exquisite place, even in winter, that I would be inclined to go that way with my recommendation for brunch. Reserve NOW as I see they still have a few openings on for Valentine's Day brunch.

    Unless you really treasure high-end dining experiences above all else, I would not do Trotter's in the same weekend as Alinea. Both are excellent, but there are so many other kinds of places in Chicago (including upscale dining) that I recommend adding more variety to your itinerary.

    While I love our deep-dish pizza, I would be more inclined to have some at lunch rather than dinner, and reserve dinner for another kind of place.

    We have a lot of kinds of food, of course, and so does Toronto. Something Chicago does unusually well, that you don't find much at home, is creative provincial Mexican food. The best known are Rick Bayless's Topolobampo and Frontera Grill ( ). Both are open for lunch and dinner. Topolobampo has been booking WAY in advance for dinner; I don't know about lunch. Frontera Grill holds most of the dining room for walk-in traffic; locals who don't want a long wait to be seated arrive 15 minutes before the doors open. My personal favorite is Mundial Cocina Mestiza ( ) in the Pilsen neighborhood. Mexique ( ) in West Town is also excellent, Mexican with a French accent. Salpicon ( ) in Old Town is not far from the downtown hotel district.

    There are lots more kinds of places, including contemporary American (e.g. North Pond), Italian, steakhouses, upscale ethnic, and others. For more specific recommendations, check out my post from last week at

    Advance reservations are advisable on Saturday night and especially on Valentine's Day (Sunday). Most of our nicer restaurants accept reservations on

    Enjoy your visit, and feel free to ask more questions!

    9 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      Was in Chi again last weekend, visiting my daughter. We went to Trotters Sat night for the veg tasting menu. My post on that is floating around somewhere on chow, but suffice it to say, it wasn't a watershed eating event. What's so cool about Chi (and this from a New Yawker who knows her food!) are the less fancy, really terrific places Chi has to offer. For example, I had brunch at the Harmony Grill near my dtr's apt and it was so good. Great food, great service, excellent price. I would recommend you go a bit further afield of the typical, and often crowded and expensive, marquee names, and explore the many great food options in Chi.
      Enjoy your visit!!

      1. re: mrsdebdav

        Thanks for the advice! I saw this press release from Charlie Trotter's, looks like they are open for lunch this Valentine's Day:
        $75 for 4 courses... does that change anything? It looks like there are a few spots open for that lunch still. Although North Pond does sound like a winner for a special brunch.

        I was hoping to try some Mexican food, sounds like since Rick Bayless won Top Chef his restaurants have been rammed, so many thanks for the other Mexican recommendations. We're definitely planning to venture off the beaten path a least a few times, and I'm sure we'll be back again to try even more places.

        1. re: johnnyfantastic

          Yes, since they're open that one day, then by all means consider Trotter's. Or North Pond. Trotter's is normally a much more formal dining experience than North Pond at dinner; I don't know whether this would apply to their Valentine's Day lunch. Both are excellent places, each in its own way.

          I ate at Topolobampo last night, as it happens. Topolobampo is now booking about three months out. But there was little to no waiting time at Frontera Grill. That was for a weeknight, obviously, but if you have your heart set on his restaurants, Frontera is a possibility. It's also worth noting that Frontera Grill is open for brunch on Saturdays, so that might work out for your itinerary. Many of our other Mexican restaurants are open for brunch on Saturdays and Sundays too.

          1. re: nsxtasy

            Ok, booked North Pond for a Sunday brunch and taking a pass on Trotter's (save that for another trip). Other than Alinea on Friday and the Sunday brunch we're just going to go to walk in places. Frontera Grill or another Mexican place is definitely on tap. Thanks again for your help!

            1. re: johnnyfantastic

              That's fine. (I'm sure you're aware that Saturday nights can be problematic at many places if you don't have reservations.)

              Enjoy your visit!

              1. re: johnnyfantastic

                IMO North Pond is no better than multiple restaurants in multiple cities whereas Trotters is VERY special. In comparison to Toronto - North Pond is like a less refined and less special version of Canoe.

                1. re: uhockey

                  Bruce Sherman, the executive chef of North Pond, has been nominated for the James Beard Award in this region for the past several years. I wouldn't put it in the same class as Charlie Trotter's, just because there's a difference between a "casual fine dining" restaurant with an a la carte menu generally totaling around $100/pp and a formal, more creative "haute cuisine" restaurant with extensive tasting menus generally costing twice that much. But North Pond is an excellent restaurant within its genre. And its location in the park makes it a uniquely Chicago experience.

                  1. re: nsxtasy

                    I guess that is a fair point - but Valentine's is ALWAYS tricky in that most places overprice and under-deliver for the crowds. If Trotter is offering something special (a different serving time, during the daylight hours) I'd take advantage, especially at a lower pricepoint than the normal $165.

                    I was very underwhelmed by North Pond - it was alright.

                    1. re: uhockey

                      I agree that Valentine's Day can be unrepresentative. Sometimes a place will go out of their way to do something more special rather than less. And yes, there are places that just see it as an opportunity to jack up the prices. It depends on the restaurant.

                      The setting and decor at North Pond make the experience exquisite and unique. As for the food, in my visits it has been consistently excellent, good enough to rate among the top half dozen mid-priced casual fine dining restaurants in the city. Which, in Chicago, is high praise indeed.

                      I'm not necessarily recommending North Pond over Charlie Trotter's (or vice versa, either); both places are excellent, each in its own way.

      2. How many people did you try to reserve for Alinea? I am asking because I was able to get a reservation for 2 on 2/14 at 7:30. I got this reservation two days ago, at which point 5:45, 8:30 were still also available...

        2 Replies
        1. re: mountsac

          Wow - I was looking for a table for 2 as well. All they had for the entire weekend was 5:30 on Friday or 9:30 on Friday, so I took the 9:30 option (which is actually perfect given the time change will make it feel like 8:30). I guess there have been some cancellations? I'm pretty pumped about eating there on the first day of the trip, although maybe I'll give them a call and see about switching to the Sunday. Thanks for the heads up!

          1. re: johnnyfantastic

            Another factor might be which menu you opt for. We opted for the short menu, and maybe that is a bit easier to slip in the book. If you are getting the long menu, that may explain why there was only the Friday slots they mentioned to you. Either way, I hope you will have a good time!

        2. I've eaten at all of the above except Trotter's but in my opinion, DB Primehouse is the best choice of the bunch. I've eaten there a few times, including on V-day last year and it's always an awesome meal, especially if you are into steakhouses.

          North Pond has a great atmosphere if you are sitting in the porch area and the food is good, but not outstanding, given the price tag.

          5 Replies
          1. re: lchifoodie

            That was my feel on North Pond, as well - I'd much sooner spend less and get a meal at DB (which I loved) or spend a bit more for Blackbird, the 3-course at L2O, or something else.

            1. re: uhockey

              I like North Pond a lot. I have mixed feelings about Blackbird; the food is delicious, but the portion sizes are small, the seating is cramped (the line of tables along one wall is especially close together), and the room is noisy. Still, I'd rather eat at either place than spend twice as much at L2O for food that isn't any better.

              However, the original post was considering North Pond or Trotter's for brunch/lunch on Valentine's Day, when Blackbird and L2O are not open, so there's no point in including them in the discussion. And while I haven't been to David Burke's during their new "bento brunch", I can only assume that the menu is likely to bear as little relationship to their regular menu as their previous American dim sum brunch did. (It was very good, though - just very different from their steakhouse dinner menu.)

            2. re: lchifoodie

              North Pond is a lovely restaurant situated in a lovely venue but I found it underwhelming for the price and the food not very exciting, The last time I went we had service issues - namely very rude service. The six of us all agreed we wouldn't be heading back there anytime soon. Some of the food was quite good but some of the dishes pushed by the waitstaff as standouts and "must orders" were insipid. We may have come on a bad day for the restaurant as my previous dinner there (several years ago) was quite good but the attitude of the place really rankled all of us. This group consisted of serious "foodies" and we dine together at the best retaurants but we universally agreed that this was not one of Chicago's best or near best restaurants.

              1. re: KateB

                Seems like many get this feeling - the server was pretty dismissive when I was there (though no where near as snooty and rude as those at Spiaggia)

                1. re: KateB

                  My recent experience at North Pond was not like yours. Service was helpful and friendly but not cloying. We detected no attitude whatsover.

                  I thought most of the meal was wonderful, although one recommended dish -- I think it was the chef's special of the night -- combined lobster and carrots and we not only didn't think the two worked together, it was more like carrots complimenting lobster than vice versa, which would have made more sense to us.

                  I think that when chefs "push the envelope" sometimes it works better than at other times. Our experience at Schwa was also an example of "interesting" food that we didn't always consider wonderful.

                  And we are looking forward to a return visit to North Pond -- and we should probably give Schwa another try also.