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IN SEARCH OF: Amazing Tasting Menu!

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My boyfriend and I have our first weekend off together in forever and are in need of recommendations for a high-end restaurant that will give 5+ courses of phenomenal food! We have looked into the Everest and Alinea tasting menus... but would like some more suggestions. Somewhere where the chef will enjoy the challenge of inventing off the cuff? Or even if something is standardized but simply incredible. A wide variey please. Money is no object but atmosphere and quality are!!

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  1. Alinea is simply incredible and is in a class by itself. If you're looking for phenomenal food and a unique experience, that's where I recommend, above all others.

    1. There are plenty of restaurants with tasting menus, but Alinea is truly tin a class by itself.

      What did you have in mind that Alinea doesn't provide? If there are other criteria, maybe we can help, whether it's price point or type of cuisine or location. Other possible (and excellent) options include Bonsoiree, Schwa and others. But I know of no one who does what Alinea does.

      1. I'm not sure where you are located or how far you want to go, but my fiancee and I just tried Tallgrass for the first time last night (Valentine's Day) and it was phenomenal. They do a 3-, 4-, or 5- course menu prix fixe. The V-Day menu was 5 courses, and I had an Asian pear salad with tangerine dressing that blew my mind, then a gruyere pierogi, seared ahi tuna, beef tenderloin, and a cheese plate. My fiancee had a shrimp & lobster lasagna, scallops, the ahi tuna, tenderloin, and a dessert plate. Everything was outstanding. We also got a wonderful recommendation on an Oregon pinot noir from our server, and for such a high-end restaurant, I thought the wine prices were reasonable. The co-owner/sommelier came out and stopped by every table to chat and see how everyone was doing, and it was a great experience. Total bill with tax and tip was about $325. I wouldn't call the food "inventive" like you would say about Alinea, but it was certainly creative and I was truly impressed with the results.

        Out of the truly "high end" restaurants in Chicago, I've really only been to Tru and Tallgrass, and I found Tallgrass to be a much more comfortable atmosphere. Tru is wonderful, don't get me wrong, but the interior and formality of the place aren't always what I'm looking for. Tallgrass really impressed me, and I'm happy I finally got to see what all the fuss was about.

        5 Replies
        1. re: bourj

          I really LOVE Tallgrass. In fact, the two best dinners I have had in the past five years have been at Tallgrass and Alinea. (Which is high praise indeed!) You can read the detailed report I wrote about my Tallgrass dinner a few years ago in the discussion at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/403032 I don't think it's an accident that, in the most recent print edition (2008-09) of the Zagat guide, Tallgrass and Alinea tied for the highest rating for food.

          That being said, I think they are very different places in just about every way. Tallgrass is located in Lockport, 45 miles from downtown Chicago, whereas Alinea is in Lincoln Park, a couple miles away. Tallgrass offers the choice of a 3-, 4-, or 5-course prix fixe for $45, $55, or $65, whereas Alinea offers the choice of a 12- or 29-course menu for $150 or $225, and the disparity in price carries over to the wine list and pairings. And Alinea uses more unusual (and, in some cases, unique) preparation techniques. Tallgrass is indeed more casual and comfortable (although the waitstaff at Alinea makes the entire experience seem like fun, too). And if you care about "bragging rights" - hey, most of us don't, but some do - Alinea was named the best restaurant in the country by Gourmet magazine a couple of years ago, and this past year was named one of the ten best restaurants in the world.

          You can get a fantastic dinner and overall experience at both restaurants. It sounds like the OP is looking for a true "tasting menu", i.e. with a huge number of dishes served in appropriately small portion sizes, rather than a small number of normal-sized dishes, and if so, Alinea fits that profile better. But I still encourage anyone who enjoys exceptional food to try both of them if possible!

          1. re: nsxtasy

            Is it acceptable (or in any way normal) for a single to eat at Alinea?

            I might be in Chicago in April and I doubt I'll be able to convince any of my friends to go with me.

            1. re: BigE

              Absolutely!

              I tend to eat solo (and at some very fine places) when I'm out of town, and I've always been treated extremely well by the restaurant staff. I'm quite sure Alinea will do the same for you!

              1. re: nsxtasy

                Nice. Thanks for the reassurance.

                Any other recommendations for solo dining in the area (sorry to derail the thread, but not tasting menu related)? The plan is anywhere from 2-4 days (in mid-April), where I'll be on my own during the day and possibly at night. My friends live W/NW of DT and I may be staying with them. Otherwise, I'll stay somewhere near Lincoln Park, unless recommended otherwise :)

                1. re: BigE

                  Well, you can eat solo just about anywhere. I know some people like to dine solo at the bar, while others (including myself) prefer their own table; restaurants should be happy to accommodate you either way, unless they don't have a separate bar with seating. (I don't recall seeing one at Alinea, which is arranged as a series of small rooms that make you feel like you're in someone's house.)

                  One feature that you may find enjoyable for solo dining is communal seating, which is a feature of two of Paul Kahan's restaurants, Avec ( www.avecrestaurant.com ) and the Publican ( www.thepublicanrestaurant.com ). For example, the seating at Avec consists of half a dozen seats at the bar, and the remainder of the restaurant is all eight-tops. So if you walk in as a couple, you can expect to be seated with six strangers. Everyone's usually friendly and it's usually enjoyable rather than scary, so it seems to work out. If you are interested in socializing with others while dining solo, this is a great way to do so; if you prefer to read a book or listen to an MP3 player (or listen to an audiobook on your MP3 player, LOL!) while dining, this may not be ideal for you. Oh, and the Publican accepts reservations, while Avec doesn't; however, while parties of 2 or more can experience lengthy waits at Avec at prime times, a solo diner can sometimes be seated reasonably quickly because a single seat is often available.

                  But really, unless you're looking for communal seating, the entire city awaits! If you have any particular needs in terms of restaurants - specific types of food, or locations that are convenient to where you're staying, or anything else - feel free to ask for recommendations!

                  DT = downtown, I take it?

        2. If you want inventiveness - Alinea for sure. It is simply the most amazing dining experience in Chicago, bar none. Other fine dining restaurants that offer more innovative tasting menus include: Avenues, Schwa, and Moto.

          Everest offers classic French cuisine. The level of cooking is quite high, athough the seating is a bit cramped. Similar (but perhaps with more Asian and American elements) is L2O, which IMO offers simple but perfectly prepared food in one of the most handsomely decorated dining rooms in chitown.