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Jul 8, 2010 11:03 AM

Recommendation for one fabulous restaurant

My husband and I will be in Chicago (we live in NY) August 13-24 visiting the family, and would like to go to one fabulous restaurant. Alinea is out, and Topo doesn't have anything available. What would be your recommendation of a place that wows us? We are open to any type of cuisine and location, but i would prefer something more on the creative side than, say, strictly ethnic- so maybe not some little Pilsner place, unless it is trully a gem (and I don't conisder Nuevo Leon a gem, though my mother-in-law loves it!). I love Green zebra, to give you an idea of what we like. I read about a gastropub that does a whole pork kind of thing- I can't remember the name, but I would be into that too. You get the idea. Thanks!

1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

Nuevo Leon Restaurant
3657 W 26th St, Chicago, IL 60623

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  1. Two possible gastropubs fit your description.

    One is Publican which is one of my favorite places ever. The specialties there are definitely pork products, plus oysters and fish, plus great international and micro-brews. Some people complain that many of their tables are communal, but for me, meeting and interacting with other people can be part of the fun. I've never had a problem getting a table for two when we've requested it.

    The other possible gastropub is the Purple Pig, which I haven't yet tried, but heard good things about and it's on my list. And Stephanie Izard (Top Chef winner) is about to open her new place, The Girl and the Goat.

    Regarding "fabulous" and creative you might want to consider one of these (in no particular order):
    Charlie Trotter
    Schwa (casual and highly creative)
    Spring (same exec chef as Green Zebra)
    Each of these has it's defenders and its detractors on this board. I don't think you can go too wrong with any of them.

    2728 W Armitage, Chicago, IL 60647

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

    980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

    6 Replies
    1. re: chicgail

      This is the usual good advice from chicgail. There are a few additional things you should know.

      The Publican and the Purple Pig are the two recent openings featuring pork that have received a lot of press. As she notes, about half the seating at the Publican is communal, consisting of two long tables. You should be aware that, when making your reservation, either over the phone or on Opentable, you can request your preference, either for your own table or for the communal seating, and they will honor it whenever possible. That way, you can make the seating a non-issue. When I ate there some months ago, I thought the desserts were dreadful, but I hear they hired a pastry chef a month ago and hopefully that is on the way to being remedied. The one other thing to know is that it is VERY NOISY.

      As for the Purple Pig, they do not accept reservations, and waiting times to be seated have been lengthy, even on weekdays. The easiest way to avoid long waits is to go early, if you don't mind (PP is open all afternoon, so I'm guessing 4:30 or so you won't encounter waits, but 5:30-6:00 or later you're stuck). Or, you can go somewhere else that accepts reservations.

      As for her other suggestions, all but Spring comprise our contingent of high-end restaurants with high prices and famous chefs. If that's what you're looking for, any of them will probably be fine (although some of us have had an off experience at one place or another). You should be aware that all of that group except Schwa and Bonsoiree is rather formal (jackets required/preferred for gentlemen).

      We have many, many more restaurants that you might consider fabulous, if you're looking for a more casual experience than the fine dining places mentioned above. Spring is indeed one of Shawn McClain's restaurants; it focuses on seafood. It's more casual than the previous group, and also less expensive, with entrees around $30. In addition to Publican, Purple Pig, and Spring, some of the kinds of places you might consider include contemporary American (North Pond, Naha, Graham Elliot, Cafe des Architectes), Italian (Cafe Spiaggia, Coco Pazzo), French bistro (La Sardine), tapas (Mercat a la Planxa), pan-Asian (Red Light, Opera, Aria), Mexican (Mundial Cocina Mestiza, Salpicon), Latin fusion (Carnivale), steakhouses (David Burke's Primehouse), and seafood (Catch 35, Shaw's). You can find a fabulous meal at any of these, and it really just depends on what kind of food you prefer.

      1. re: nsxtasy

        Thanks. Yes, I think maybe something less formal is more of what we are looking for. I have made a reservation at Publican- which was the place I couldn't remember the name. I don't mind collective seating, and my husband will be delighted to let his friendly midwestern chatty self go wild... I am hoping to get another babysitting night our of the in-laws, so i'll look into the other options you mention. Any one particular rec among those? -and i know it's like asking to choose among your children :)

        1. re: adamandeve

          You don't say where you are staying or how you are getting around town so I don't know how locaiton impacts you.

          My hands-down favorites among that group mentioned above are Naha, Cafe Spiaggia, Coco Pazzo, Le Sadine, Mercat a la Planxa and Graham Elliott. I would add Mexique in West Town. So if you know what you feel like trying, you can't go wrong with any one of those.

          Not at the top of my list would be Salpican or any of those pan-Asian restaurants (not bad, but hardly memorable) or Cafe des Architectes (it does have a very reasonable tasting menu), Bad experiences; personal preference; whatever -- I wouldn't recommend them to a friend. You can do better in New York on both steak and Seafood. Mundial is good, but a little out of the general central tourist area. Carnivale is good and fun but noisy and maybe better with more people than the two of you.

          Cafe Spiaggia
          980 West 2nd Avenue, Gary, IN

          Coco Pazzo Cafe
          636 N St Clair, Chicago, IL 60611

          1529 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

          500 North Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

          702 West Fulton Market, Chicago, IL 60661

          1. re: adamandeve

            >> Any one particular rec among those?

            If I had to choose only one of the above, it would probably be North Pond. The food, from James Beard Award finalist Chef Bruce Sherman, is excellent. But what makes North Pond really special is its location in the middle of the park (not just at the edge of the park like Tavern on the Green), facing its namesake pond with the city skyline looming over the opposite shore. It's a real local treasure, one that is unique to Chicago. They book up in advance, so make your reservation now.

            One other thing I forgot to mention - if you're dying to try Topolobampo, consider it for lunch. I know it books up for dinner several months in advance, but you can often find reservations on Opentable for lunch just a few weeks ahead of time (and it's generally easier for a Tuesday through Thursday than for a Friday). Incidentally, the same thing may work for you for North Pond, for weekday lunch as well as Sunday brunch.

            Oh, and a second (third?) choice if North Pond and Topolobampo don't work out... Consider Mundial Cocina Mestiza. It's in Pilsen just down 18th Street from Nuevo Leon (with which you're obviously familiar), but the cuisine is very, very creative, very different from the conventional Mexican menu at Nuevo Leon. Last time I was there, I just loved the steamed mussels slathered with chunks of bacon and poblano peppers. The other places (Italian, French, contemp American, tapas) are great too, but Mundial deserves mention because its creative provincial Mexican cuisine isn't something you find very much back home in New York. (The same thing is true of Mexique, which chicgail mentioned and I also like; Mexique offers a slight French bistro accent to creative Mexican cuisine, and is about the same distance from the Loop as Mundial, but northwest rather than southwest.)

            P.S. Note to chicgail - I edited my previous post to add North Pond, which I had forgotten to include when I first wrote it...

            1. re: nsxtasy

              And as you might expect, I heartily second North Pond for a great, creative dinner in a beautiful location. I'm surprised I didn't think to mention it either.

              1. re: chicgail

                You two are slipping! Must be the heat...... :)

      2. Park Grill on the Loop is really good! The soups are to die for :)
        But check out a new site called MapDine...
        I always use it to find restaurants when we are in a new city!

        1. If you're looking for a gastropub, I also recommend that you check out The Girl and The Goat--Stephanie Izard's new place in the West Loop. It has a top-notch beer menu and incorporates beer into some of its plates. Here's a good review with great info and pics:

          If you like Spring and are looking for something more meat-centric, try Custom House--have you been there yet? Same exec chef as Spring. Really fresh, local, seasonal ingredients and again, an amazing beer/wine/cocktails menu.

          Hope you and your husband have a great trip!

          1 Reply
          1. re: gtfoodfashion

            >> If you like Spring and are looking for something more meat-centric, try Custom House--have you been there yet? Same exec chef as Spring.

            Custom House has been going through several changes lately, and I believe Shawn McClain, who owns Spring and Green Zebra, is no longer involved there. A year or two ago, McClain left, they changed the name to Custom House Tavern, and brought in Aaron Deal as executive chef, with a new menu that is somewhat less upscale and somewhat less meat-focused. Deal recently left; they named Perry Hendrix as his replacement, starting this September, with Eric Aubriot pitching in on a temporary basis until Hendrix arrives.