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Suggestions for dinners near Michigan Avenue

I will be traveling with a teenager to Chicago in March over a weekend and am looking for two dinner suggestions (Saturday and Sunday). Our criteria:

1) Would prefer restauarants near Michigan Avenue. Will be staying at the Park Hyatt.
2) We are very open as to type of cuisine: steakhouse , New American, Mexican, Italian restauarant. Would probably prefer something more fun/innovative.
3) Are completely open price wise. Are very willing to pay the price if it is worthwhile.

Suggestions that have been made to us not necessarily in order of preference are:

1) David Burke's Primehouse
2) Cafe des Architectes
3) Cafe Spiaggia
4) The Gage
5) Sepia
6) Blackbird

Again I need two top suggestions. Thanks.

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  1. For contemporary American food, I recommend Cafe des Architectes. It's a block from your hotel, it has the best food of any mid-priced restaurant in the city IMHO, and the room (part of the curved glass facade of the Sofitel) is gorgeous. And it's fun and innovative too! I recommend it for Sunday rather than Saturday. Why? Every day they have a $42 3-course prix fixe menu and a la carte selections, but Sundays through Tuesdays, they also have a $29 3-course "neighborhood friends menu". (IMHO it's much better than Blackbird in every way - location, price, noise level, spaciousness, portion sizes - and the food is just as good.) See the detailed report I posted at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/598661 I had dinner since then and it was equally outstanding, particularly the sea salt caramel chocolate mousse that's part of the neighborhood friends menu.

    For the second dinner, the question becomes, what kind of food would you like - steaks, Italian, or Mexican? I think David Burke's is a great choice if you enjoy steaks, perhaps our best steakhouse, and also has seafood etc. I think Cafe Spiaggia is our best moderately-priced Italian restaurant. I'll give you Mexican suggestions in a moment. Which of the three to choose? They're all good (and all fun and innovative) and I would recommend one over another based on which kind of food interests you most.

    For Mexican food, we have some amazing provincial Mexican food here. Rick Bayless was and still is a pioneer in this area (which is why he recently won the James Beard Award). His restaurants, Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, are still excellent and still a bit different from other such places here. They are a few blocks walk from the Park Hyatt. HOWEVER, there's the matter of getting in. Topolobampo, which accepts reservations on Opentable.com, has been booking up about three months out. Frontera Grill accepts only a handful of reservations, and holds most of the tables for walk-in traffic. Many of us locals arrive there 15-20 minutes before they open the doors, to avoid long waits to be seated. If you don't mind eating early, that's an option. Another option is to eat there for Saturday brunch. They are closed Sundays.

    If you would like to consider another of our creative Mexican restaurants, here are some alternative suggestions. Salpicon is in Old Town, about a mile from the Park Hyatt. Mexique is a blend of Mexican and contemporary French and is in West Town, two miles west of the Park Hyatt. Mundial Cocina Mestiza is in Pilsen, about five miles southwest of the Park Hyatt. All three of these are open Sundays (including Saturday-Sunday brunch as well as dinner) and accept reservations.

    If you must have two top recommendations, though, it would be Cafe Spiaggia for dinner on Saturday and Cafe des Architectes for dinner on Sunday. In which case I'd try to squeeze in Saturday brunch at Frontera Grill, too. ;)

    1 Reply
    1. I would second Nsxasty recs of Frontera and/or Topolobamo for Mexican. They aren't in the normal realm of "Mexican" food I.E you aren't going to get loads of cheese. Rick Bayless has earned his kudos and it shows in his food.

      I think Cafe Des Architectes is over-rated. I had one of my worst meals of 2009 (9/09) there. The food was lacking in flavor and the service was completely off/borderline rude. I was really excited to try and brought clients from London and it just fell flat. Even though the "neighborhood friends" menu made it easier to swallow, I would still never go back . (Sorry Nsxtasy, I know it is one of your faves :) )

      I'd choose the Publican over Blackbird. It is more casual (especially with a teen) and has a good people watching vibe. Seating is communal but you can get a booth and really survey the room. I loved the sweet breads and the pork rinds. But what blew me away was the brussel sprouts. Holy pajamas, those were good!

      So I'd splash out on Topo and go to the Publican. Both are on Opentable for Reservations.

      10 Replies
      1. re: lbs

        >> (Sorry Nsxtasy, I know it is one of your faves :) )

        Yes, it is. But it's fine to disagree here; these are all matters of taste (both definitions) and opinion, after all. I've had a few bad experiences at restaurants that many others have lauded, too. Whether it's a matter of a bad dish or a bad night or just a difference of opinion, who knows; it happens. In fact, opinion is rarely unanimous about ANY restaurant. Heck, even Alinea, the "best restaurant in America" according to Gourmet magazine, has a handful of detractors.

        P.S. I absolutely HATE communal seating at restaurants. ;)

        1. re: nsxtasy

          People who don't like Alinea haven't been there....or they don't like food. :-)

          I have to say Frontera didn't "WOW me" but it was the best Mexican Food I've ever had - good enough to take me back to Topo.

          Blackbird, The Gage, Cafe Spiaggia, and Burkes were all excellent on my visits and I'd recommend any of them strongly.

          1. re: uhockey

            I agree, uhockey on several counts. Frontera is good; Topo is amazing. And Alinea is in a whole different category. Expensive but unforgettable.

            However, I was left unmoved by two visits to The Gage. I much prefer Publican for that kind of food, but it is further from the OP's hotel. If that doesn't matter, it would definitely be in the running.

            I would also stand by Cafe Spiaggia and Burkes. Blackbird is good -- very good -- but it is small and tables are a little close together.

            To answer the OP's original question, if I were going to choose -- money and the ability to get reservations being no object -- it would be as follows with the middle five very difficult to separate:
            1. Alinea
            2. Topolobambo
            3. Cafe Spiaggia
            4. Burkes
            5. Publican
            6. CdA
            7. Blackbird
            8. Sepia
            9. The Gage

            1. re: chicgail

              I'm not easily "blown away" these days, but I find it very strange that L2O gets so little love from you all - what Gras is doing there is truly impressive given his location in the midwest and having been to all the "3-Michelin Star" restaurants in the US I can say I'd rank the experience at L2O just below Alinea, Per Se, and TFL on the "wow, that was amazing" factor.

              As I've noted in other threads, however, I've done the $450 extended tasting at both The French Laundry and Per Se........at $225 I found Alinea not only cheaper, but better.....not just a better "bang for the buck," just better. 8 days till I go back. :-)

              1. re: uhockey

                I was disappointed in L2O. The food was pretty good, but didn't "wow" me at all, with the exception of the complimentary canele at the end of the meal. When I've been to Cafe des Architectes, I was absolutely blown away with sheer deliciousness by one dish after another after another. And dinner at L2O costs three times as much as at Cafe des Architectes. That's why I don't recommend L2O and will not be going back there.

                However, we have gone off on a tangent (and are probably doing a disservice to the OP) by bringing up Alinea (my bad), L2O, and Avenues. All three of these restaurants are formal places where you're probably going to spend $200-300 or more per person (including moderate alcohol and tax/tip), whereas his/her original inquiry was about more casual places costing $100 or less.

                1. re: nsxtasy

                  Um....."3) Are completely open price wise. Are very willing to pay the price if it is worthwhile. "

                  Did I miss something?

                  Also "Would probably prefer something more fun/innovative" to which I think L2O and Alinea very much fill the bill.

                  1. re: uhockey

                    Fair enough.

                    IMHO Alinea is perhaps the most innovative AND the most fun restaurant in the city. Before going there, I knew about some of their techniques (which are captured quite nicely in the cartoon at http://lucylou.livejournal.com/555828... ). What I wasn't expecting was how much fun it would be - A LOT - or how delicious all of the innovative foods would be - VERY MUCH. Of course, there's a price for the fun. The 14-course tasting menu is $150 and the 29-course tasting menu is $225, and that's without wine/tax/tip. If you enjoy terrific and unusual food, it's worth every penny. If you decide you want to go there, call NOW for a reservation. They are open Sundays if they don't have an opening for the Saturday of your visit. It's in Lincoln Park, about two miles from the Park Hyatt.

                    I thought L2O was not fun or innovative, and doesn't meet the criterion of "worthwhile" as in "very willing to pay the price if it is worthwhile".

                    1. re: nsxtasy

                      We shall agree to disagree on L2O, but I agree with pretty much everything you said about Alinea.

                      1. re: uhockey

                        I love L2O. I think its level of cooking there is extremely high. Perfect execution and very few missteps. Great bread service, great seafood dishes, great caviar, great classic French desserts (souffle, macaron, and canele). Just simple, well executed goodness - and sometimes that is all it takes to wow. For me, it is anything but underwhelming.

                        I do think, however, that L2O is not "innovative" like Alinea (or even Avenues for that matter). So if innovation is a key factor, then L2O might not be the best choice.

                        1. re: mountsac

                          Best bread service I've encountered in the US, actually - rivaled by Joel Robuchon at the Mansion, but better.

                          That Canele was incredible, as was each dish I tasted on the long tasting.

                          Not as innovative as Alinea, no, but the second best "non-Keller" experience to date for myself.

      2. If you consider West Loop close to Michigan Avenue, then Sepia, Province, Carnivale, Blackbird, and Avec are all good choices.

        For the restaurants that are within 5-10 min. walking distance of your hotel, I'd say Topolambampo, Cafe Spiaggia, or Avenues if you don't mind the price.