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Picks for March Trip from Toronto

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I'm heading into Chicago for a conference in March and would appreciate a few recommendations and feedback on what I'm thinking so far.

I haven't been to Chicago for a few years and I'm only there for 3 nights. I want to book 3 great, yet different spots and get the best experience possible. I'm going with my wife, so food is the priority, but area and ambiance does factor in.

So far, I'm thinking of the following options:

- Il Mulino (I know a few people that rave about the one in Miami)
- Gibson's (I did go there 5 years ago and really enjoyed it). I've been to Mortons in Chicago and Toronto so not interested in going there. Recently I've been to 9ine in Vegas and Prime BLT in New York and loved them both. Is there something newer/better in Chicago?
- Sushi - heard Japonaise was good - is there a better choice? My wife loves sushi, so would like to hear from locals on what is good
- Carnival - seems different and we don't have ANY decent Latin food in Toronto
- Cape Cod Room - is this a tourist trap/old school haunt?

Any feedback, other suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

Thanks...

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  1. Opinions:

    >> Il Mulino

    There are so many excellent one-of-a-kind restaurants here in Chicago that there's no reason to go to a place that you can go elsewhere.

    >> Gibson's
    >> Is there something newer/better in Chicago?

    If you want to go to a steakhouse, Gibson's is good, but David Burke's Primehouse is better. There is no consensus but more foodies will recommend Burke's than any other steakhouse here. That being said, every city has good steakhouses. While you're here, I recommend enjoying foods you can't find back home. You haven't mentioned any of our restaurants serving creative provincial Mexican cuisine. How about Frontera Grill or Topolobampo, the restaurants from Rick Bayless? Make reservations now for Topolobampo (and don't be surprised if they're full); most of the seating at Frontera Grill is set aside for walk-ins, so just avoid prime nights and hours when going. (However, if you really love steaks and that's what you want while you're here, then I recommend David Burke's.)

    >> Sushi

    For recommendations see http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/612007

    >> Carnival - seems different and we don't have ANY decent Latin food in Toronto

    Carnivale is good for Latin fusion.

    >> Cape Cod Room - is this a tourist trap/old school haunt?

    Yes. I do not recommend it. Are you specifically looking for seafood? If so, I recommend Spring for contemporary/creative seafood, and Shaw's Crab House, Hugo's Frog Bar, or Catch 35 for more conventional seafood restaurants.

    There are lots more places to recommend, including categories you haven't mentioned but where you're more likely to experience the creativity of our dining scene: contemporary American (e.g. Cafe des Architectes, North Pond), tapas (Mercat a la Planxa), Italian (Cafe Spiaggia, Coco Pazzo), pan-Asian (Red Light, Aria), etc.

    Have you considered an expensive fine dining dinner while you're here? If so, Alinea is a one-of-a-kind experience. It was recently named one of the ten best restaurants in the WORLD. Yes, it's expensive - $150 for the 13-course smaller tasting menu, $225 for the 29-course larger menu, and that's before alcohol/tax/tip, but you will remember it for the rest of your life. If that's too much to spend, then if I had to recommend one nice place as a "must go", it would be North Pond. It's not that expensive and its setting is exquisitely unique. It's in a renovated building in the middle of Lincoln Park (the park itself, not the adjacent neighborhood of the same name), facing its namesake pond with the city skyline looming over the opposite shore. The cuisine is excellent, contemporary American fare from acclaimed Chef Bruce Sherman.

    If you really want the best experience possible, I recommend Alinea and/or North Pond, as well as Frontera Grill/Topolobampo, rather than the places you have mentioned, with the exception of Carnivale, which is good (and fun).

    3 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      Wow, this is great feedback...I'm looking into your suggestions. Thanks

      1. re: kosherdill

        A couple of tips for your research and planning...

        Most of our restaurants have websites which should be easy to find using any web browser, with the possible exception of David Burke's - http://www.jameshotels.com/Chicago-Ho...

        Most of our nicer restaurants accept free reservations using Opentable.com

        1. re: nsxtasy

          My trip is done - thanks for all your help. Here are a couple of quick reviews - I made some last minute changes as you can see. Some were for the better, others for the worse. I just couldn't fit it all in due to a busy work schedule and limited budget:

          - Eleven City Dinner: Absolutely loved this place. Great atmosphere, decor, authentic deli and service that is world-class Jewish deli. The French Toast is out of this world! Went there for all three of my breakfasts!!
          - Gino's East Pizza: Not that good. Should have gone to Lou's as everyone suggested (just couldn't make it there in time). The pizza is not at all worth the 45 minute wait. The crust in particular is really odd tasting - reminded me of quiche or cornbread more than pizza crust - maybe I'm missing something??
          - Sunda: Really great vibe and interesting food. Pan-Asian with a focus on Japanese. The "Toast and Jam" dish was excellent - apparently Chicago's "most creative dish" according to some magazine. The sushi was really fresh and the rolls quite creative. The beef sticks had a great ginger flavour and were really tender. The "No You Didn't" hand roll was AMAZING - I could have had 3 of them if I wasn't so stuffed already.
          - David Burke's Steakhouse: Average to Good for that price range. The atmosphere isn't that spectacular, but the menu was impressive - it just didn't deliver what I was hoping - eg, the best steak I've ever had. The best part was the scallops in lobster bisque. We were off to a great start with that dish - wow - very tasty. It wen't a little down hill from there - the table side ceasar salad isn't really made from scratch in front of you - they crack an egg with pre-made (albeit homemade) dressing and add some garlic and oil...and where's the double smoked bacon??? The steak was really good, but not much better or different than Morton's, Gibson;s etc. I can't really fault the steak - it was really good, but I'm finding it hard to really tell the difference between 60.00 steaks these days - they're all really good. I will say the sides are outstanding and set this place apart - definitely try the tempura snow pea and asiago fries.
          - Tavern on the Park: went there with some people from a conference (not by choice). Very friendly people there and service was excellent, but the food was awful. Now, they did have to prepare a meal for 40 of us, so I can't entirely judge based on that, but there really wasn't a hint of greatness to be found. The prime rib was almost inedible and the sides tasted like they were from frozen.

          Until next time...