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May 7, 2010 02:58 PM

Opinions of Ria please

Looking to choose b/w Ria, Everest and Avenues.

Ria...never been

Everest...multiple times but about two years since last visit

Avenues...once, under GEB

How's the food/wine list(do they do pairings?)/service at Ria?

I'd like a quick, down and dirty comparison.
I'll assume that cost would be comparable for all three?

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  1. There are a lot of variables that go into cost: variations from one dish to another, variations in the number of courses, differences between a la carte selections and tasting menus, and the biggest variable of all, the quality and quantity of beverages, especially alcoholic ones. You can also find bargains even at these places, such as the $50 fixed 3-course pre-theater menu at Everest.

    That being said, my experience is that Avenues is significantly more expensive than Everest. The last time I went to Avenues (shortly before Chef GEB left), I spent $250/pp including tax/tip/wine, and Everest was around $150-175, IIRC. If I'm not mistaken, Avenues under Chef Duffy is running somewhere around $75/$115/$145 (excluding tax/tip/beverage) for their 3/8/15 course menus, which is comparable to what it was under GEB. I'm not sure where Ria fits into that, but menupages shows apps $12-18, mains $36-48, and desserts $12, which puts it maybe similar to Everest or maybe slightly less. But if they also offer extensive, more expensive tasting menus, it could be more.

    I haven't been to Ria so I can't say what the service or food is like. Their website ( ) is absolutely useless.

    4 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      Had already gone to what has to be the most worthless website ever. I made a res. based on the writeup in Chicago mag. Even that writer made note of how they were the only ones in the place. I canceled. Think I'll take the wife to Everest instead. Great view, amazing food and great service.
      Years ago my wife and I went with her sister, as we were sitting down, the waiter ever so kindly and gently asked me if perhaps the ladies might enjoy the view. It was just an effortless and seamless correction of my thoughtlessness done with no offense to me. That's why I love this restaurant.

      1. re: hoppy2468

        Also haven't been to Ria. Would like to hear some input from someone who's been.

        Everest is a great choice. Though I'd like to add that Avenues under Curtis Duffy is fantastic. I was just there last week. The tasting menu was $125, but it included ingredients such as truffles, caviar, snail caviar, and Wagyu from Japan. The dishes were playful with great presentation - it's no Alinea, but it's definitely more contemporary than Everest. The Champaign cart and bread pairings were also nice touches. Everest, in my opinion, has some of the best food in the city - so I think it's a great choice. But definitely check out Avenues before Duffy goes out on his own!

        1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

        1. re: mountsac

          Was a wine pairing offered and if so, how much?

          1. re: hoppy2468

            unfortunately, they do not have wine pairing. i specifically asked for it, and the sommelier told me that the chef doesn't believe in telling people what to drink (not sure if i understood that sentiment). but the sommelier still helped us in picking out two half-bottles in addition to our champaign to go with our meal - the recommendations he made were quite spot-on.

    2. Has anyone been to Ria since this original post in early May? Have a reservation for this Friday (the 10th) and I'm wondering if we should keep it. Thanks!

      3 Replies
      1. re: vrollings

        I haven't been - but if you do go there, please report back and let us know how you liked everything!

        1. re: vrollings

          So, my husband and I kept our reservation at Ria last Friday night and I'm glad we did. The decor there is, I guess, what I would consider both modern and prissy. Not that I didn't like it, but it definitely keeps with the luxurious and snooty atmosphere that the Elysian is trying to convey. Our waiter, John David, was friendly and incredibly helpful. The menu is quite short - they've finally posted it on their site so that you can see it ahead of time. The restaurant offers a ~$85 price fixe menu, but we did not opt for this since there were two things on it that night that didn't sound good to me. The wine pairing with it is an additional $55.

          We started with a glass of champagne each, which they encourage by brining a specific champagne-by-the-glass menu. What I really liked throughout the entire meal is that we were never, ever rushed. It is sad to say, but that is quite a rarity these days and, at this price point, it is a must. So, while we sipped champagne, we perused the menu, had some sort of aspic and fresh pea amuse bouche, and asked our waiter questions. (I will note that the amuse was the only thing of the night that missed the mark, but I am not a fan of aspic.) It was nice to not be rushed to order. After we did order, they brought phenomenal baguette on which to nosh. It was superb.

          I started with a dungeness crab appetizer that was heavenly. There were buttered pain de mie (croutons) in the bowl and blanched shaved potatoes wrapped around the bites of dungeness crab salad. My husband had a yellow fin tuna appetizer which had sush-grade tuna and some other fantastic things that I cannot recall. It too was outstanding. For the main, I had a milk-fed veal dish with morels and asparagus. It was out of this world. My husband had lobster with sugar-snap peas. Again, outstanding. For dessert, I had a strawberry rhubarb something-or-other with ricotta ice cream. Husband has a chocolate lime dessert. Both were really fantastic.

          One area on which Ria needs to work is the wine list. While there were some nice selections on there, the pricing was pretty ridiculous. I know, I know - it is a hotel restaurant, but seriously, I can't comprehend why restauranteurs don't understand that if you price wine the "right" way (100 - 150% markup), you'll sell a lot more and MAKE A LOT MORE. We stuck with wines by the glass since we were eating very different dishes. The per glass price tended to hover in the $17 - $22 range. It was too bad on the pricing b/c we looked at order two bottles, but the math didn't work out due to the way they priced glasses vs bottles.

          One other thing to mention is that the appetizer and dessert portions are quite small, while the entree sizes were fine. My appetizer had no more than 4 small bites. I'm not someone who normally focuses on those things and I realize that this is a fine dining establishment, so it didn't really bother me. However, I wanted to point it out as it was very noticeable.

          Overall, I would definitely recommend Ria for a special night out in Chicago. It is very civilized and the food is absolutely fantastic. With tip, our meal came out to $380. Oh, I forgot to mention that there is a very cool and cozy bar on the second floor of the hotel with excellent handcrafted cocktails. A great place to stop for a pre- or post-dinner drink. Or both.

          1. re: vrollings

            I second this review. I just hit up Ria and did the tasting menu with wine pairings and it was out of this world good. Some of the best food and service I have had in Chicago. A great great place that deserves way more attention (or maybe it doesn't so i can always go and feel like I am tucked away in some place and being spoiled).

        2. The Michelin Guide recently awarded Ria two stars, perhaps the most surprising of its five recipients of multiple stars in the Chicago area. Does it deserve them? I decided to see for myself, and had dinner there Tuesday night with three companions. (But if you don't want to bother reading all the way to the end, my answer is an unequivocal no. And in response to the original query posted above, it's nowhere near the level of Avenues or Everest.)

          THE FOOD

          I'll start with the food. And the food service started with a small grugere, a small ball of pate a choux (same dough used for cream puffs) with a vague cheese flavor. Meh; I've had better. Through the rest of the meal, bread service consisted of plain, unheated mini-baguettes. They were served with butter from a Midwest farm which had allegedly been flavored with apricot and sea salt, but neither were detectable in the slightest, and the butter itself was virtually tasteless.

          The menu (six appetizer choices, five entrees, four desserts) is one of those that simply names the primary ingredients/flavors without telling how they are prepared. Fortunately, the menu was short enough and the staff knowledgeable enough that it was easy for them to describe each of them for us. We decided to order a la carte, rather than the tasting menu of six courses taken from the a la carte potion ($120, with $85 for wine pairings).

          The courses began with an amuse bouche that was just... weird. It consisted of an apple-flavored broth in which sat a few small pieces of radish and other unidentifiable items. Overall it was rather bland and flavorless. We then proceeded with the appetizers. One featured dungeness crab ($20), several smallish pieces wrapped in leek, a couple more small tidbits of crabmeat, and "pain de mie" which were croutons made of white bread. It was delicious. Another was mussels in veloute and pasta ($20). This consisted of three small de-shelled mussels, three pieces of filled pasta about the same size, in a small amount of sauce. This was also quite tasty. However, both appetizers, but particularly the mussels, were very small portion sizes - what is commonly served as an amuse bouche elsewhere.

          A while later (see below) we were served our main courses. Three of us had the lobster ($48), and I did not try the fourth. This was a de-shelled 1.5-pound lobster; I think it was poached. And amount of lobster meat was ample, even generous. It was served with a few small pieces of chestnut, pearl onions, and leeks. The claw meat was pretty good, but the tail was woefully undercooked. Also, this dish (as well as the appetizers) arrived at the table not very hot at all, just barely lukewarm. Perhaps Ria should consider covering hot dishes until they are served at the table, and using heated plates.

          For our final course, two of us selected cheeses from the four cheeses offered ($12), and I ordered a dessert. On the menu, its description said "huckleberries, brown butter, meyer lemon ice cream" but that wasn't a very accurate way of describing it. The waiter described it as a chiboust, a dessert of pastry cream, but even that description is misleading. It turned out to be a small disc (maybe .5" x 2.5") of what seemed like vanilla panna cotta with a small scoop of meyer lemon ice cream on top, and little tiny amounts of a few other items including "huckleberry pearls" (total size smaller than a raspberry) and some tasteless powder on top which was supposed to be the brown butter. It was good - hey, I LIKE panna cotta - but gee whiz, for twelve bucks, it should have been 2-3 times larger like at any other high-end restaurant.

          The meal concluded with mignardises consisting of a tiny bland macaron, a tiny square of lemon caramel, and a tiny chocolate filled with peppermint, none of which were particularly impressive.

          All in all, the food items were generally tasty, but had their problems - portion sizes (appetizers and dessert), temperature served (all hot items as well as bread), and cooking doneness (lobster tail). So overall, I would describe the food as no better than fair.

          THE SERVICE

          And then, there was the service. Keep in mind that Ria is trying to be a high-end restaurant, with service to match. In some ways, the service was very good; the staff was extremely enthusiastic and quite knowledgeable, and addressed the host by name. And it seemed that there were quite a few people serving and clearing, as one often finds at the finest restaurants. It seemed like everyone was trying hard to do a good job and to please the customers. But there were a multitude of service gaffes as well, way more than you'd find at even a moderately-priced restaurant.

          When the amuse bouche was served, a bowl containing the solid ingredients was placed in front of each diner, and the broth was poured from a pitcher into each diner's bowl. So it is the responsibility of the server to pour equal amounts of broth into each of the four bowls... at which they failed miserably. There was almost no broth left after the first two diners were served, so only a very small amount remained to be poured for the other two of us. But wait, there's more.

          I ordered iced tea. I order iced tea at a lot of restaurants, and it should be very simple to serve; even the corner diner seems to do okay with it. Ria, not so good. They brought the iced tea to the table. When any restaurant does so, they should bring a variety of sweeteners to the table with it, or ask the diner if they would like sweetener with it. Ria did neither, so I had to get the attention of the waitstaff to ask for it. They brought a simple syrup, which was fine with me as it happened, but most places will bring a variety of both caloric and non-caloric sweeteners so that anyone's needs would be met without having to ask the staff yet another time because they brought the wrong kind. And they brought refills to the table, but again, this was a problem for Ria. 99.9 percent of the restaurants in Chicagoland, including most of the finest (e.g. Alinea), provide free refills on iced tea, just as they do with coffee. Not Ria, which charged ($4) separately for every glass served. And when a restaurant deviates from the normal practice in this way, the absolute least they should do is to alert the diner that their policy is to charge for refills. But again, not Ria. So in all of these many ways, the service for the iced tea - a simple, common item - was a failure. But wait, there's more.

          The time we waited for service - for our order to be taken, and for each course to be served - was excessive. I was not timing it - we were having a nice conversation - but the time between the clearing of the appetizers and the serving of the entrees must have been 40-45 minutes more. This carried through at the end of the meal as well; after we had finished our cheeses/dessert, they asked if they could bring us anything else, and we said (right on cue) no, only the check. Yet we still waited a long, long time (maybe 20 minutes, I'm guessing) before the check was brought with the mignardises. Our three-course a la carte dinner took over three hours, far longer than it should. But wait, there's more.

          There are a lot of serving techniques that are standard practices at nice restaurants. One of them is not to clear the dishes for a course until everyone has finished eating, so as not to rush those who are still working on their food. Well, one of us was still eating her entrée (which was easy to tell at even a slight glance), but not only did they clear everyone else's entrée dishes, but they actually asked her if they could take her plate. This was simply inexcusable at any restaurant, especially one aspiring to haute cuisine. But wait, there's more.

          Another one of those standard practices at nice restaurants is that after the entrees are cleared, diners are asked if they would like coffee. We were never offered coffee service. This too was inexcusable.

          For all of these many reasons, I would have to describe the service as poor. In fact, the phrase "comedy of errors" comes to mind.

          THE CHECK

          The two restaurants at the Elysian Hotel - Balsan and Ria - have a policy of adding 18 percent gratuity to the check, regardless of the size of the party. Needless to say, with the exceptions of large groups and private parties, this is NOT standard practice in Chicagoland. I'm not sure what to think; are enough people shorting/stiffing the staff that it's a problem to let people decide what to tip? I often tip more than 18 percent and almost never less than 18 percent, even after a gaffe-prone dinner like this one; I would only do so if the staff were deliberately rude or unhelpful. But when a restaurant adds 18 percent to the check, I'm not going to bother adding a few dollars to bring it to 20 percent (or more) unless the service was absolutely exceptional. So at least in my case, the restaurant staff is receiving less by adding 18 percent to the check than they would if they left it up to me. < shrug >

          THE ROOM

          The room itself was very pleasant, with contemporary styling including an interesting wall sculpture consisting of plaster pieces in the shape of a wishbone. The room was an odd shape (not rectangular) with a couple of large pillars in the middle (at least one is structural, I'm guessing) which should give the room a nice sense of privacy. Unfortunately, the room was quite noisy for its size; we could clearly hear conversations taking place on the opposite side of the room, and all of us (as well as those at other tables) had to talk quite loud to be heard. I'm not sure exactly why sound travels so well there, as there were long drapes along the windows that should have helped absorb the sound. But loud it was.

          TO SUM UP

          I should mention first that we had an enjoyable dinner. I go out to dinner to have fun and enjoy being with friends and having good food, and I did. We did not leave unhappy or angry. I don't go out for the purpose of writing a review or looking for faults. But the food, service, and experience provided by Ria did not measure up to the standards set by other high-end restaurants in Chicago. Based on the prices, staffing, and atmosphere, Ria aspires to be considered one of the best restaurants in Chicagoland. It still has a long, long way to go to get there, at least based on my dinner there. The food as well as the service both had major flaws. I don't know what Michelin saw there, but I would not deem it worthy of even a single star. And again, in response to the original query posted above, it's nowhere near the level of Avenues or Everest.

          7 Replies
          1. re: nsxtasy

            Two weeks ago, extreme foodie friends visited us. They went to Ria and proclaimed that the wine was the best part of the meal. Everything else was as nsxtasy reviewed. Glad I didn't go.

            1. re: nsxtasy

              My experience at Ria, less than two weeks ago, was completely the opposite of nsxtasy. I absolutely loved the food, the atmosphere and the service. The only thing that I didn't particularly enjoy was the cost! Obviously this is a luxury restaurant and hotel. This is not a place to go for a bang for the buck experience.

              I felt like a pampered little princess from the moment I entered the elegant courtyard of the hotel. All I could think was "when did this little jewel go up?" The doorman actually looked pained that I somehow opened the door of my taxi by myself. Perhaps forewarned by some secret doorman's code the fellow at the revolving door was primed and ready to push the door for me. I actually started to giggle. When I asked the door pusher where the restaurant was he didn't say "it's on three" but escorted me to the elevator, pushed the call button and when the elevator arrived went inside and pushed the proper button for me. Over the top? ... Certainly but clearly what this place aims for and what it delivers,

              While waiting for my three companions I opted to have a drink in Balsan as it looked livelier. I was intrigued by the menu and definately want to eat there soon.

              The four of us opted for the tasting menu. We were universally glad that we did. The meal started out with a warm gougere, a perfectly fine gougere that I would not describe as "meh". I won't wax rhapsodic about this tidbit. I was after all just an amuse ;-). The next amuse was the apple cider consomme with radishes and such. I really enjoyed this. This was a wonderfully clear and flavorful consomme with a tiny hint of apple and some crunchy bites for textural contrast. I could not disagree more with the review that this was bland at all. I make a lot of home made stocks and broths and perhaps I was overly-admiring of the skill of making such a clear and wonderful consomme but I'd eat again in a heartbeat. My companions also thought it delicious and elegant and nobody got any more broth than anyone else!

              I don't remember much about the bread service as I was saving myself for the dinner.

              Dinner started with a scallop and baby octopus dish with caviar and a fumet blanc sauce. I really wish now that I had taken more mental notes but all I can say is really enjoyed it. Everything was perfectly cooked and nicely balanced.

              The next course was the dungeness crab which nsxtasy describes and I agree that it was delishious. My only problem with this course and the only real hiccup of the night was the wait between the first and second courses. It was interminable! Easily half an hour. Sure the place was crowded and we weren't in any hurry but that kind of delay was really pronounced.

              The next course was Dover sole with black trumpet mushrooms apples and calvados. Again perfectly cooked if not particularly memorable.

              I should mention the sommelier he listened to our tastes (our preferences were different so compromise was required) in white wines and suggested a reasonably priced white that we both enjoyed with this seafood centric menu. Reasonably priced is relative in a place like this but it was under $75 per bottle.

              The next course was a very pleasant surprise for me. I am not the world's biggest fan of venison and actually inquired if I could substitute something else for it. For a $10 supplement I could substitute the lobster from the menu but I decided not to and just go with the experience. I loved this dish! The venison loin was cooked in caul fat was amazingly tender and delicious served with shallots and rainbow chard and pain d' epices.

              Desserts were also excellent: the first a gingerbread concoction with figs cranberries and ricotta maple ice cream and the second a chocolately heap of yumminess topped with a slightly smoked ice cream.

              My SO treated us for dinner and I never saw the bill and he never mentioned the built in service charge. I hope that he noticed it and didn't double tip ;-).

              I found the front of the house people to be knowledgable and gracious. None of our plates were removed inappropriately or precipitously. We didn't order the wine pairing. But the pairings certainly looked interesting . I chatted up a couple at the table next to us who ordered the tasting menu and the wine pairing and they were thrilled with the wines and food.

              I am sorry that nsxtasy had such a bad experience. I can only note that mine was far far different and I will certainly go back for the next extra special occasion.


              1. re: nsxtasy

                Gougeres upon arrival? I would call that blatant plagiarizing of The French Laundry, but I don't know for sure that TFL popularized them. Nonetheless they are at a minimum uncreative.

                Alinea has iced tea and doesn't charge for refills? Who knew?

                Was the iced-tea some sort of custom concoction or just lipton type stuff?

                1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

                1. re: TAsunder

                  I don't think it's plagiarization, or even uncreative, when a restaurant serves a dish that is well-known in French cuisine, as gougeres are. (They're a local specialty in the Burgundy region of France.) However, if you'd like to try a gougere with great flavor, have dinner at Michael, in Winnetka, where they also start with complimentary gougeres. They're so much better than the rather pathetic ones at Ria.

                  The iced tea was just one of five different service gaffes during our dinner, as described above. Heck, it wasn't even the most serious one, but was merely one of many symptoms of a poorly-trained staff. Clearing a course when a diner is still eating, and especially asking a diner who is obviously still eating if they are done, was inexcusable at any restaurant that claims to be a higher-end place. And shorting two diners when pouring broth was equally inexcusable. For all the reasons noted above, the service was laughably inept throughout our dinner at Ria.

                  1. re: nsxtasy

                    Wow, pretty harsh. My services was through the roof awesome at Ria. I feel like we are talking about two different restaurants. I had not one single bad thing happen like you are talking about the whole time.

                    1. re: Chargenda

                      Well, perhaps it was an off night. I haven't been, but from what I've read and heard, I'd be inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt.

                      Ria is closing in January for interior update and menu R&D. We'll see what comes of it afterward.

                      1. re: mountsac

                        They would do better to spend the time working on the training of the staff, and on food issues like serving temperature, doneness, and portion sizes, than on updating the interior or menu research.

              2. Executive chef Jason McLeod has left Ria, according to the report at