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Return to Chicago 10 years later, need recs !

I will be in Chicago later next month for a conference and have the
fun task of planning our culinary adventures. My wife lived and attended school in Chicago in the late 90s so I was able to visit her a few times and loved the city. Being the lucky guy I am, she moved to CA with me and the rest is history.
We wil be staying at a hotel in the Mag Mile area and will be either walking or cabbing to our destinations. We like everything !
A newbie foodie back then, I return to see what Chicago has to offer in 2010. Since we will be in town for 3 nights and 4 days, I am looking for 3 decent restaurants for dinner and a few other must try places for breakfast and lunch. I am looking at 2 nice dinner places for the us, and a few places for a group (10-12 persons). Due to our late travel plans, Alinea was complete booked unless everyone decides to cancel that weekend or someone would like to give me their reservation =) . So far I am looking at Charlie Trotters, Tru, L20 and Moto for the wife and I. I am leaning towards L20 and Moto. I am also in need of a place for a group dinner that take reservations and is very food and wine friendly since this will be a very diverse group of palates. I am looking at Cafe des Architectes, a nice tapas place, or a great wine bar with a good food menu but an even better wine list. For stand by places, I am also looking for a sushi bar and steakhouse. So far, I am looking at Toro Sushi and David Burke's primehouse which maybe the destination of our group dinner. Lastly, I need a late dining establishment preferably more of a bistro setting that offers the usual pates, mussels, characuterie plates, etc
Of couse, a snack at Portillos and Uno will be in order. I am looking at recommendations or endorsements for restaurants that will create foodie memories for us while in Chicago. TIA !

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Alinea
1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

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

Moto Restaurant
945 W Fulton, Chicago, IL 60607

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

Toro Sushi
2546 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60614

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  1. >> Alinea was complete booked unless everyone decides to cancel that weekend or someone would like to give me their reservation =) .

    I believe they maintain a waiting list in case there are cancellations. I recommend putting yourself on it.

    Also, if you only asked for Saturday night, you might have better luck there for a different day during your stay. Don't forget that they are open Sundays.

    >> So far I am looking at Charlie Trotters, Tru, L20 and Moto for the wife and I. I am leaning towards L20 and Moto.

    If you want a truly high-end experience, in terms of food, service, creativity, etc, I recommend Trotter's or TRU. The food at L2O, while pretty good, didn't blow me away, the service had glitches, and while the design of the decor is quite amazing, I was surprised at the casual attire of some other customers they seated. Moto is not as formal or high-end an experience, and the food leans heavily towards the unusual (molecular gastronomy etc).

    You are probably aware that Alinea, Trotter's and L2O are in Lincoln Park, Moto is in the West Loop, and TRU is the only one of these walkable from the Mag Mile.

    >> I am also in need of a place for a group dinner that take reservations and is very food and wine friendly since this will be a very diverse group of palates. I am looking at Cafe des Architectes, a nice tapas place, or a great wine bar with a good food menu but an even better wine list.

    If you can go high-end, then consider Everest. It has one of the biggest, best wine lists in the city (1700 different bottles), with the best selection of Alsatian wines in the country. The food is outstanding, a contemporary take on French-Alsatian cuisine. The service is the best I've experienced anywhere. And you have the view from the 40th floor, looking out on the city. It's expensive, but significantly less pricey than places like Alinea, Trotter's, or TRU. And dressy (jackets required for gentlemen).

    Another excellent place with a great wine list (biggest in the city) is Vivere, in the Italian Village complex. It's Italian, but some of the cuisine leans towards contemporary American; I ate there a few months ago and had cream of carrot-ginger soup and an amazingly tender roast breast of duck with duck confit.

    Everest and Vivere are both in the Loop.

    Here are two more recommendations that have other attributes but also have good wine lists. North Pond is in Lincoln Park (the middle of the park itself) and serves excellent contemporary American food. The setting is unique and exquisite, facing its namesake pond with the city skyline towering over the opposite shore. If you want to offer food that's a bit more unusual, Mercat a la Planxa, in the southeast corner of the Loop, is a fairly new tapas restaurant from Jose Garces (a Chicagoan with several restaurants in Philadelphia). The food is quite unusual, the tapas format works well with a group, and the atmosphere is fun and festive.

    >> For stand by places, I am also looking for a sushi bar and steakhouse. So far, I am looking at Toro Sushi and David Burke's primehouse which maybe the destination of our group dinner.

    I can't help you with the sushi, but Burke's is always a treat, for steak-lovers and others as well. And it's walking distance from the Mag Mile.

    >> Lastly, I need a late dining establishment preferably more of a bistro setting that offers the usual pates, mussels, characuterie plates, etc

    Charcuterie and places emphasizing pork and Mediterranean cuisine are a big trend now. The Publican, in the West Loop, is a good choice for the foods you mention; it was recently opened by Paul Kahan (of Blackbird fame). The meats and seafood items are very very good. I don't recommend it for dessert-lovers because the desserts are downright dreadful. Also be aware that it is VERY LOUD. Tip - about half of the seating consists of two long communal tables; the rest is private tables for groups of 2-6. When making your reservation in advance, you can specify a preference for the communal seating or your own table, and they will try to accommodate your preference (no guarantees though). Another new place specializing in pork and charcuterie ("cheese, swine, and wine") is the Purple Pig, in River North (walkable from the Mag Mile). It was recently opened by the folks from Heaven on Seven. I haven't been there yet, but it's getting favorable notice.

    Website links:
    Alinea - www.alinearestaurant.com
    Charlie Trotter's - www.charlietrotters.com/restaurant
    Tru - www.trurestaurant.com
    L2O - www.l2orestaurant.com
    Moto - www.motorestaurant.com
    Cafe des Architectes - www.cafedesarchitectes.com
    Everest - www.everestrestaurant.com
    Vivere - www.vivere-chicago.com
    North Pond - www.northpondrestaurant.com
    Mercat a la Planxa - www.mercatchicago.com
    David Burke's Primehouse - www.jameshotels.com/Chicago-Hotel.asp...
    Publican - www.thepublicanrestaurant.com
    Purple Pig - www.thepurplepigchicago.com

    8 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      Wow ! Thank you so much for your detailed and informative recommendations. Now I wish we were staying longer =) For Alinea, I am somewhere between 40th-50th in line for 2 nights so I am certain Alinea will have to wait until Oct when we plan on returning. So far I have reservations at Tru which sounds amazing. Everest sounds delightful as well but not sure if a large group dinner would work there. I would probably go in the future just for the wine list. The Publican sounds like my kind of place for snacks with a large group and will definitely look into it. Thanks again !

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      Alinea
      1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

      1. re: vonger44

        I've been to all but MASA of the US restaurants on the S. Pelligrino list and every single one of the Michelin 3 stars aside from MASA as well - I rank L2O better than all but Per Se, Alinea, and The French Laundry. The execution in taht kitchen is sublime and while the setting is kinda "Swank hotel" the service was top notch.

        There is no one doing better fish in the US, in my opinion, and it is the second best restaurant in Chicago - behind the best restaurant in the United States (and yes, you need to get on Alinea's list.)

        Here is a link to my review on this board (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6528...) - my blog has all the pictures, both meals at Alinea and the meal at L2O, and a great tasting at Trotter's followed by dessert tasting at TRU (plus average meals at Moto and North Pond, a horrible experience at Spiaggia, and a beautiful lunch at Blackbird

        )

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        Alinea
        1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

        L2O
        2300 Lincoln Park West, Chicago, IL 60614

        1. re: uhockey

          I hope to hit both L20 and Alinea on our next trip to Chicago later this year,
          awesome blog by the way !

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          Alinea
          1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

          1. re: vonger44

            Thanks - I would strongly recommend L2O. There are some who don't seem to get what Gras is doing there, but it is sublime. Check out the L2O blog, as well - it has some really cool insight into the great mind of a great chef. The service is Dany Meyer qualit y (if you're familiar with the New York dining scene,) and the room is wonderful.

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            L2O
            2300 Lincoln Park West, Chicago, IL 60614

          2. re: uhockey

            I, too, have been to most of the U.S. restaurants on the San Pellegrino list, and I found L2O, while okay, to be NOT on the same level as the restaurants on the list (it wasn't on that list, BTW). There wasn't a single dish I ordered at L2O that I would consider a standout. And the service was uneven, which is unlike all the restaurants on the list I've been to. Just in Chicago alone, we have other restaurants that are far better if you're looking for haute cuisine - Everest, Tru, Spiaggia, Avenues, and a bunch more. I wouldn't waste my time on L2O.

            1. re: nsxtasy

              To read detailed reports on L2O, see the topic discussing that restaurant at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/546690

        2. re: nsxtasy

          Nsxtasy-thank you also for the recommendations, from a relative necomer to Chicago. Uhockey, good writing on your Alinea review (such a refreshing change from some of the drivel on Yelp, where "Amazing" competes with "the" for center stage). I was wondering, this to Nsxtasy, if you also have recommendations for those of us on a bit more grad school budget who can spend $100 or so a couple times a month on food and drink out for a bigger meal, and we (gf and I) very much enjoy and appreciate all things gastronomic. We have had a lot of mediocre meals in Chicago so far, and that just don't seem right.

          Thanks in advance. :-)

          P.S. Is there anywhere in Chicao where *really* good paella is served?

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          Alinea
          1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

          1. re: amg2010

            >> if you also have recommendations for those of us on a bit more grad school budget who can spend $100 or so a couple times a month on food and drink out for a bigger meal, and we (gf and I) very much enjoy and appreciate all things gastronomic.

            In what part of the city are you living/staying? For popular-priced places which you would include in a "regular rotation", it's very important to choose those within close proximity.

            >> P.S. Is there anywhere in Chicao where *really* good paella is served?

            Nowadays Spanish food is nearly always served at restaurants that refer to themselves as "tapas" restaurants, even though many of them serve dinners with conventional large plates in addition to the casual small plates usually associated with the term. Your best bet will be to try one or more of our best tapas restaurants, virtually all of which have paella on the menu: Mercat a la Planxa, Cafe Iberico, Emilio's, Sol y Nieve, Cafe Ba-ba-reeba, etc.

        3. Nsxtasy, a treasure on this board, has provided excellent recommendations as always.

          Some thoughts here.

          I am unfamiliar with Toro Sushi. I would recommend Sushi Wabi in the West Loop or Mirai Sushi in Wicker Park (about 4 miles north and west of the North Michigan Avenue area). Neither one is a long cab ride.

          For true French bistros you might try Kiki's Bistro in River North or (my favorite) Sardine, also in the West Loop. If Everest is too pricey or just too much on a trip that might include Alinea, Trotters and Tru (and BTW I absolutely agree with nsxtasy's preferences over L20 and Moto), Everest Chef Joho has a more casual and moderately priced French/Alsatian option, Brasserie Jo.

          Regarding snacks at Unos (which I have loved since I was very little) the pizzas are quite filling and unless you are sharing one with a large group, could be more food than you anticipate.

          Sounds like a great trip. Enjoy. And report back.

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          Alinea
          1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

          Kiki's Bistro
          900 N. Franklin St., Chicago, IL 60610

          Moto Restaurant
          945 W Fulton, Chicago, IL 60607

          Mirai
          2020 W. Division St., Chicago, IL 60622

          Sushi Wabi
          842 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60607

          Toro Sushi
          2546 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60614

          3 Replies
          1. re: chicgail

            Thanks for the sushi and bistro options. I went to Brasserie Jo in Boston a few months ago so nice to hear there is one here in Chicago. Having more food then I anticipate is always a pleasant surprise.

            1. re: vonger44

              I didn't notice that you were coming from California. geg5150 is absolutely right. We have some good sushi -- some very good sushi even, but by and large what you get on the west coast is likely to be better.

              1. re: vonger44

                >> I went to Brasserie Jo in Boston a few months ago so nice to hear there is one here in Chicago.

                LOL!!! Brasserie Jo started in Chicago. It was named after, and started by, Jean Joho, who has been the chef-owner of Everest ever since it opened 20+ years ago.

            2. I have to say, if you're coming from CA skip sushi. I haven't been that impressed with sushi here compared to sushi on the west coast.

              I heartily second The Publican, though. I love it and think it's a truly unique experience with fantastic food. Depending on how big your group is, it could be a perfect setting.

              1 Reply
              1. re: geg5150

                Good point, I was thinking the same thing since I've had very decent sushi on both coasts...just nice to have some back up places.

              2. Since this will be our first visit at Tru, it looks I will be partial to the Chef's collection. However, I don't see any wine pairing option on their website. What has been your experience with their wine offerings ? TIA !

                4 Replies
                1. re: vonger44

                  You want the Chef's tasting menu at Trotters. I am assuming that that is the same as the Chef's Collection. There is also a vegetarian tasting. The wine pairing is well matched with the tasting. The daily tasting menu and wine matching is listed on the website.

                  http://www.charlietrotters.com/restau...

                  1. re: chicgail

                    Thanks for the info for Trotters, what about for Tru and their wine pairing options ?
                    Trotters will have to wait til our next trip =)

                  2. re: vonger44

                    Yes, Tru will do wine pairings. I've had the wine pairings many, many times and their somms are very capable. You'll have fun.

                  3. Any nice and casual lunch options around the mag mile area ? We'll be in the middle of a conference so we'll have up to an hour to hour and half. I am looking at one of the bistro options or a must have Chicago pizza place.
                    So far, we've made reservations at TRU and at David Burke's Primehouse for our group dinner. As usual, I am more excited about my future dining plans then the trip itself =) Thanks again Chicago Chowhounders !

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                    David Burke's Primehouse
                    616 N Rush Street, Chicago, IL 60611

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: vonger44

                      <<As usual, I am more excited about my future dining plans then the trip itself >>
                      The sign of a true Chowhound.

                      It's just a good thing that Rome had the Vatican and the Colesseum and the Forum and Trevi Fountain and the Parthenon ... so I had something to do between meals.

                      1. re: vonger44

                        >> Any nice and casual lunch options around the mag mile area ?

                        Where along the Mag Mile will you be located?

                        At the north end, I'd suggest Cafe Spiaggia for Italian food. In the middle, there's Cafe des Architectes for contemporary American, including their "30 minute executive lunch" deal. Closer to the river, I'd consider Heaven on Seven for cajun/creole, or Coco Pazzo Cafe for Italian.

                        There's also deep-dish pizza, for which you can phone ahead with your pizza order to avoid waiting a long time for it to bake; choices near the Mag Mile include (north to south) Pizano's on State, Giordano's on Rush, Gino's East on Superior, Uno and Due at Ohio and Wabash, and Bacino's on Wacker.

                        1. re: nsxtasy

                          Cafe des Architectes sounds perfect !
                          Since our reservations at David Burke's Primehouse is a bit later in the evening, and recommendations for pre-dinner cocktails nearby ....perhaps a nice wine/champagne bar ? Lastly, any lounge/restaurant recommendations for after dinner cocktails preferably a place classy/comfortable as opposed to trendy/lound would be lovely.
                          Thanks again for all your fine suggestions ! Just 1 more week to go !

                          -----
                          David Burke's Primehouse
                          616 N Rush Street, Chicago, IL 60611

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

                          1. re: vonger44

                            Try Pops- it's a champagne bar and has great cocktails as well. It has a nice atmosphere and is within a couple blocks of David Burke's.
                            http://www.popsforchampagne.com/

                            If it's nice weather, you could also consider a rooftop bar like Zed 451.

                            -----
                            Zed 451
                            3000 Finley Rd, Downers Grove, IL 60515

                            1. re: ms. mika

                              Yup, Pops for Champagne is a good choice!