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Foodie visiting from NYC. Need great restaurant.

Hi all,
I'm a big foodie from NYC visiting Chicago in a couple of weeks and I'm trying to find a great romantic restaurant to go to with a friend I haven't seen in a while. In NYC my favorite places are Gramercy Tavern, Lure, The Modern, and Allen and Delancey (for any of you out there who know both cities). We want somewhere really nice, but not break-the-bank. (Alinea, Charlie Trotter's and Spiaggia are a bit too expensive). I was thinking about Boka or possibly Perennial. Ideally I'd like to find a place that does a 3-4 course tasting for under $100 per person (not including wine). Type of cuisine is not important as long as it's tasty. Ambiance and great wine list are key. Any help MUCH appreciated.
Thanks!

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Boka
1729 North Halsted, Chicago, IL 60614

Charlie Trotter's
816 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago, IL 60614

Spiaggia
980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

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  1. I'm also considering North Pond. Is it worth it?

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    North Pond
    2610 North Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL 60614

    1 Reply
    1. re: EatDrinkAndBeMary

      Yes. North Pond is exactly where I was going to recommend after reading your opening post, even before reading your follow-up. The food from James Beard Award nominated Chef Bruce Sherman is excellent and the setting in the park is exquisite. (It's actually in the middle of the park, not just along the edge like Park Grill here or the late Tavern on the Green there.) It's everything you're looking for.

    2. Another very good and much less expensive restaurant is Sweets and Savories. AND it has become BYOB.
      The tables are a bit close together, but the food is consistently excellent.

      1 Reply
      1. re: erubert

        Sweets and Savories is attractively priced. However, I would not consider it romantic at all. And the food is pretty good, but not on a par with the best of our contemporary American restaurants like North Pond, Cafe des Architectes, etc.

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        North Pond
        2610 North Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL 60614

        Cafe des Architectes
        20 East Chestnut Street, Chicago, IL 60611

      2. I like Boka and actually prefer Perennial by a slim margin. North Pond is a good rec and I'd throw Naha in there on that level price-wise. Les Nomades has a very nice ambiance and wine list but check out the site first to see if it fits into your price range. Naha, Boka and Perennial are all or were BYOB friendly though they do have good wine lists. Always call first to confirm any corkage policy.

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        Boka
        1729 North Halsted, Chicago, IL 60614

        North Pond
        2610 North Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL 60614

        Les Nomades
        222 E Ontario, Chicago, IL 60611

        Naha
        500 North Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

        12 Replies
        1. re: HoosierFoodie

          You should be aware that they use communal seating at Perennial, so your party will be seated at a table with those from other parties (i.e. strangers to you). I would not consider communal seating romantic.

          I like North Pond because in addition to the great food, its setting in the park is so unique. It's a genuine Chicago experience! It faces its namesake pond, with the city skyline looming over the opposite shore. The renovated building formerly served as a warming shelter for ice skaters on the pond. It's fun and exceedingly romantic, regardless of whether you're sitting in the front room with the full-length windows looking out at the pond, or the rear room with the open kitchen along one side. Its unique setting makes it unlike any other place, here or back home.

          Les Nomades is a fancy, formal (jackets required for men), expensive French restaurant, in the same price range as the places you have said you are ruling out for cost. It's good, but we have better; for the same money, you could go to Everest, which has even better food (from Jean Joho), which is far more romantic (with its view of the city from the 40th Floor of the Midwest Stock Exchange Building), and which has the best service I have ever experienced. If you don't go crazy with your wine choices, Everest may cost $150/pp inclusive. By way of comparison, many of our casual contemporary American restaurants such as North Pond are typically $100/pp, and places like Cafe des Architectes and Sweets and Savories are even less, with their 3-course prix fixe menus around $30 (before alcohol/BYO, tax, and tip).

          1. re: nsxtasy

            While I would not recommend Perennial over the other restaurants mentioned in this thread, I went there for Restaurant Week a few weeks ago, and it was not communal seating. I'm not sure if this changed recently, or if there is a separate communal seating area, but we and all the other parties around us were seated at decidedly separate tables. We had a particularly nice corner banquette table, so we could sit on two adjacent sides of the square, rather than across from one another.

            1. re: pamiam

              Yes, I had the same thought as to the issue of communal seating. I've not been there in a while but when I was it was individual party seating. I like the food at Perennial too, but do not think of it as a "romantic" restaurant -- for one thing the decor involves a lot of hard surfaces, so it's somewhat noisy (not real loud, but not quiet either).

              1. re: masha

                Oh my gosh, I am re-reading this topic and I can't believe what I posted.

                Perennial is NOT communal seating. I was confusing Perennial with the Publican! My bad - I apologize for the error!

                I like Perennial a lot! It's in Lincoln Park. The food is very good. I like the atmosphere, too; it's on the ground floor with full length windows on all sides, so you can see people walking by just outside. It's a good choice - go for it!

                www.perennialchicago.com

                1. re: nsxtasy

                  No problem. Perennial looks great. I really had my sights set on a tasting menu though...

                  1. re: EatDrinkAndBeMary

                    What about MK? It has a tasting menu. And as I mentioned, the food is very good. www.mkchicago.com

                    However, I'm not sure there's a whole lot of difference between a 3-4 course tasting menu in which the chef chooses which courses to have, and choosing 3-4 courses yourself from an a la carte menu... :)

                    I also still wouldn't rule out Everest. Romantic, great wine list, great view, great food... that's Everest. They show a sample of their tasting menu on their website at www.everestrestaurant.com If cost is a concern, you should also be aware that they have a pre-theater special for 5:00/5:30 seatings, with a set 3-course menu for $50.

                    1. re: nsxtasy

                      I just thought of a couple more places that have individual elements of what you're looking for. Both happen to be in the Loop. Unfortunately, though, neither one has a tasting menu AFAIK.

                      The Italian Village is a group of three restaurants in one building. The nicest one on the ground floor is called Vivere. The decor is sort of classy but glitzy (almost gaudy), if that makes sense. They have excellent Italian food, and one of the very best wine lists in the entire Midwest (45,000 bottles)... but wait, there's more! I ate there a month or so ago and what I had was wonderful, but was really more along the lines of contemporary American than Italian. I had an excellent cream of carrot soup, followed by a duck breast that was simply heavenly. I don't know how they cooked it (maybe sous vide?) but they managed to cook it uniformly pink all the way through, and it was soooo tender that it reminded me of the wagyu beef I had at Alinea. www.vivere-chicago.com

                      The other place is Atwood Cafe. This is a contemporary American restaurant in the Hotel Burnham. The service and decor are on a par with such a luxury hotel; most of the seating consists of big overstuffed chairs. The food is excellent. And it's slightly below ground level, so you can look up at the windows and see people passing by on the sidewalk outside. www.atwoodcafe.com

                      1. re: nsxtasy

                        Thanks so much! I'll definitely check these out! You've been so helpful! :)

                        1. re: nsxtasy

                          My only reservation about Vivere for a romantic dinner is that it can be something of a zoo during pre-theater dining. Go after that mob clears out.

                          The decor in that room was much more subdued when it was the Florentine Room.

                          -----
                          Vivere
                          71 W Monroe Street, Chicago, IL 60603

                          1. re: Eldon Kreider

                            >> My only reservation about Vivere for a romantic dinner is that it can be something of a zoo during pre-theater dining. Go after that mob clears out.

                            Yes, I noticed that when I ate there recently. Unlike the typical Chicago restaurant, they were busiest early. I think it was around 7:15 or so that it suddenly went from full/bustling to mostly empty.

              2. re: nsxtasy

                I agree with North Pond but I cannot agree with the service at Everest; thought the food and view are great.

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                North Pond
                2610 North Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL 60614

                1. re: HoosierFoodie

                  Everest has the very best service I have ever observed, at any restaurant anywhere. I still remember two different examples of the service during my most recent dinner there. Seated at the table next to ours was a couple with their five-year-old daughter. A waiter noticed that the sun was in her eyes, and politely addressed *her*, rather than her parents, to ask if she would like for him to lower the blinds. Also, when my iced tea was served with a slice of lemon, I gave the slice of lemon to one of my dining companions for her glass of water. I made no request, but for the rest of the meal, the waitstaff served me iced tea without lemon, and my companion's water was replenished with a slice of lemon each time. Just a couple of ways in which I've never seen any place with better service than Everest.

            2. I would recommend one of Paul Kahan's restaurants (Avec, Blackbird, Publican). Avec feels a little like a David Chang creation meets Blue Ribbon. They have mostly communal tables but the scene is great and the food is excellent. Blackbird is a little more formal and composed but also excellent, reminds me a bit of Blue Hill or the Modern. Publican is an upscale beer hall meets bistro (Pastis?).

              I think Boka is fairly good but nothing exceptional. In that category I would prefer something like Naha, Sepia, or MK. Epic (a contemporary steakhouse somehow related to the BLT empire) and the two restaurants in the Elysian Hotel (Ria and Balsan) are both new and buzz-worthy. L20 (Le Bernardin meets Aquavit) is also a great option although it might be a bit more expensive.

              As you might be able to tell, I used to live in NYC and take an odd enjoyment in making local comparisons to my favorite places in New York.

              6 Replies
              1. re: Hatori Hanzo

                The OP is looking for a restaurant that is romantic. While Paul Kahan's restaurants have some great food, I cannot think of an experience that is LESS romantic - whether it's waiting up to 90 minutes at no-reservations Avec for a chance to sit with strangers on the most uncomfortable seats in Chicago, or sitting cheek by jowl at the banquette tables at Blackbird and unwillingly sharing conversations with tables thisclose on either side of my own. His restaurants are also among the LOUDEST in Chicago; noisy places are sometimes fun, but having to shout to be heard is far from romantic.

                We have many other restaurants with memorably outstanding food (which in my experience excludes L2O) in a far more romantic and comfortable environment. North Pond, Everest, and Cafe des Architectes are three of them. There are many others like Atwood Cafe and Cafe Spiaggia in the city, and Tallgrass, Michael, Inovasi, and Oceanique in the suburbs. (It's been a while since I ate at MK, but what I remember was that the food was very good, the service was rushed - we joked that the initials stood for Mangia Kwik - and it was fairly noisy too, although not as bad as Blackbird or Avec.)

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                North Pond
                2610 North Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL 60614

                Cafe Spiaggia
                980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

                Cafe des Architectes
                20 East Chestnut Street, Chicago, IL 60611

                Oceanique
                505 Main St, Evanston, IL 60202

                Tallgrass Restaurant
                1006 S State St, Lockport, IL 60441

                Inovasi Restaurant
                28 E. Center Ave, Lake Bluff, IL 60044

                1. re: nsxtasy

                  Somehow I missed that one key word "romantic" in the request. Then without a doubt avoid Avec and Publican although I would still recommend Blackbird.

                  When I think of the places I miss from NYC it tends to be the more upbeat places that draw a good crowd and can still make serious food for discerning diners. I am sure that this will draw some attacks but I have to say that places like Avec are few and far between in Chicago. However we do have plenty of more composed places suitable for a romantic evening filled with good conversation. For a more formal meal I would offer up L20 and Les Nomades. I even think a more interesting Italian place like Piccolo Sogno might be a good option.

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                  Avec Restaurant
                  615 W Randolph St Ste A, Chicago, IL 60661

                  Les Nomades
                  222 E Ontario, Chicago, IL 60611

                  Piccolo Sogno
                  464 N Halsted, Chicago, IL 60622

                  1. re: Hatori Hanzo

                    For a formal romantic meal and setting with wonderful food, Everest beats Les Nomades and the overhyped L2O hands down in every way - better food, better service, better view, better wine list (one of the biggest in the city and reportedly the best selection of Alsatian wines in the country), and no more expensive.

                    For moderately-priced Italian food, I think Cafe Spiaggia is hard to top, although you can also get excellent food at Coco Pazzo and Vivere as well. Haven't been to PS (from the former chef at Coco Pazzo) yet.

                  2. re: Hatori Hanzo

                    Thanks Hatori! Thanks for the great comparisons! Chang's Momofuku Ko was one of the best meals I've ever had and I adore The Modern.

                    1. re: EatDrinkAndBeMary

                      I'll trade you unlimited restaurant advice for a Bo Saam from Momo and a Lobster Roll from Mary's. While a bit more on the buzz end of the spectrum you might want to consider Sepia. One Sixty Blue, Epic and Piccolo Sogno are also decent options. I haven't been to Ria but I hear good things.

                  3. I highly recommend Bon Soiree. Prix fixe five, eight and 13 course menus for $55, $85 and $135 respectively. The best part (aside from the food) is that it's BYOB! Asian-influenced French with a great combo of bold and subtle flavors. I've been very happy on my last 4-5 visits in the past year. It's a tiny place and the service is great. www.bon-soiree.com

                    It's in a little bit of a funky neighborhood, not really much around the area so grab a cab and the maitre'd will call for your departure.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: geg5150

                      SO funny you said that! After doing more research, Bon Soiree is my #1 choice. However, on Saturdays they have some funky reservation policy where you have to be on their e-mail list. I have signed up but haven't heard from them yet so I don't want to get my hopes up :\

                      1. re: EatDrinkAndBeMary

                        It really is great! email me and I'll give you the skinny geg5150@gmail.com

                        The way it works is that they send their email on wednesdays (with the menu) and then it's just first come, first serve for making reservations.

                    2. North Pond!

                      Cafe des Architectes would be my #1 backup option though.

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                      North Pond
                      2610 North Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL 60614

                      Cafe des Architectes
                      20 East Chestnut Street, Chicago, IL 60611

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: nsxtasy

                        I found out my gent' friend has already been to North Pond. So we want somewhere new :)

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                        North Pond
                        2610 North Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL 60614