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Mar 17, 2010 05:50 PM

Birthday dinner (for 2) Memorial day weekend

Spending my last Birthday of my 20's in Chicago. I would really love to go to a nice place for dinner on the evening of my bday. We have reservations for Frontera Grill Friday night, and Mercat a la Planxa on Sunday. My birthday falls on Saturday, I prefer a place with reservations so we don't have to wait around all night. I like to dress nice and my hubbie doesn't mind either as long as it isn't a suit. Obviously those are the least important things, I don't care about the scene- I really just want an Amazing meal. I like pretty much all cuisines, from authentic Italian, ethiopian, all forms of asian (esp Sushi and Thai), and good ol American, which could be anything right? Obviously mexican and tapas but already getting those on other nights. Open to all suggestions :) Thanks

Frontera Grill
445 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

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  1. Your request makes me think of seven restaurants in four categories; any of them would be suitable for your 29th birthday dinner.

    The first category is high-end restaurants. You say your hubbie doesn't mind as long as he doesn't have to wear a suit. Would he be willing to wear a jacket, without a tie? If so, and if money isn't a problem, you could go to one of our finest restaurants. Here are two such recommendations.

    Alinea is the best of the best, and was recently named one of the ten best restaurants in the WORLD. The food is amazing and incredibly delicious, and the whole experience is a lot of fun too. The shorter 13-course menu costs $150 and takes 3 hours, and the longer 24-course menu costs $225 and takes 4.5-5 hours, so you can expect to pay $200-300 or more including alcohol/tax/tip. And yes, that's per person.

    Everest is another outstanding high-end restaurant, a bit less expensive (figure $150-225/pp), offers food that is contemporary French with a view looking out over the city from the 40th floor of the Midwest Stock Exchange building.

    With the one exception noted, the rest of the places below are more moderately priced (figure $100/pp or less) and all are casual to business casual in attire, jackets not needed.

    The second category is contemporary American food for a more casual fine dining experience. Here are two suggestions in that category.

    North Pond is one of our very best contemporary American restaurants, which is why Chef Sherman has been nominated for the James Beard Award the past several years. Furthermore, the location is exquisite; it's located in Lincoln Park (the park itself, rather than the adjacent neighborhood of the same name), with the city skyline looming over its namesake pond. The renovated building formerly served as a warming shelter for skaters on the pond. It's very romantic regardless of whether you are in the front room with its big windows looking out on the pond, or the rear room with the open kitchen along one side of the room (I recommend requesting the room with the windows though).

    My favorite contemporary American restaurant in the city based strictly on its food is Cafe des Architectes. The food is fantastic, contemporary American from acclaimed Chef Martial Noguier and Pastry Chef Suzanne Imaz. The room is equally fantastic; it's part of the curving glass facade of the Sofitel. It's also an excellent value, with an a la carte menu along with a prix fixe menu offering 3 courses for $42.

    You mention Italian as a possibility. Here, you can go high-end, or mid-range, both in the same place! Spiaggia is the high-end restaurant, again hubbie would have to wear a jacket and you're probably looking at $200/pp; the food and service are excellent. This is the only one of our roughly 8-10 truly high-end restaurants that specializes in Italian. The best moderately-priced Italian restaurant in Chicago is its sister restaurant next door, called Cafe Spiaggia, which is also more casual. They share the same website at (click on Dining Room for the expensive side, Cafe for the moderately-priced side).

    I'll toss out one more suggestion just for the sake of considering something different (and it's where I went for my own birthday last year). Aria is a restaurant in the Fairmont Hotel. It specializes in pan-Asian food, although they also have some mainstream American items like steaks on the menu (I had a smoked prime rib). The food is very good; it may not blow you away like the previous places I've mentioned, but it's still excellent, and the overall experience is very upscale and luxurious.

    Feel free to ask more questions, and enjoy your birthday - it sounds like a great trip (and congratulations on snagging a reservation at Frontera Grill!).

    2 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      Overnight, I thought of one more possibility, and also a comment.

      The additional possibility is Shanghai Terrace, in the Peninsula luxury hotel. Shanghai Terrace offers excellent Chinese (Cantonese and Shanghainese) cuisine and sushi, in an upscale atmosphere with the finest of service. (Typical attire is business casual.) It typically winds up in the same $100/pp neighborhood as most of the previous recommendations, which you may find shocking for Chinese food, but a better comparison would be against the contemporary American and other types of restaurants in the casual fine dining arena.

      All of the places I have recommended here are upscale, classy places, which many would consider for a birthday celebration, and are perfect for your desire to dress up. They also make a nice balance and counterpoint to your previous plans for Frontera Grill and Mercat a la Planxa, which are both very lively and not at all subdued. However, it's YOUR birthday, so you should go to the kind of place that YOU prefer. The thought struck me that perhaps you would prefer instead to go to a place that's a bit more casual and more lively than these recommendations. If that's the case, then you might want to consider two places that specialize in pan-Asian cuisine: Sunda ( ) and Red Light ( ).

      Sorry if ten recommendations just make your decision more difficult, but welcome to Chicago; having so many great choices and difficult decisions is a fact of live when going out to heat here!

      1. re: nsxtasy

        Wow! Lets say you made things more complicated- in exactly the right way. I am currently salivating over all these choices. Just wanted to say awesome recs and I will figure out which place will fit the bill :) Loving the intamacy of North Pond or Spiaggia so far. Thanks so much! <Edit- any place with a cheese course menu is my friend, but a cheese ritual (hello- Café des Architectes!) is fabulous. Will def go there for the lunch menu while getting my shop on the mag mile!>

        North Pond
        2610 North Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL 60614

        980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611