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Recommendations for group dinner with colleagues at $100 per person?

Hi, my team at work is going to dinner next Wednesday and I'd like some help with restaurants. Here are the specs:

- $100 total budget per person including drinks
- 9 people
- We'll be in casual attire (shorts, etc) since this is after a work event
- Everyone is pretty young and into food, wine, and a cool vibe - typically drinking as big a focus as eating with this crowd
- One vegetarian in the group (eats eggs and dairy)
- Location: Chicago - anyhwere from Lakeview down to the Loop

Any suggestions? Thanks so much for your help!

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  1. How about Cafe Iberico, the tapas place in River North? They accept reservations for larger groups (6+) on weekdays. It's a fun place, and casual, exactly the kind of place you're describing. www.cafeiberico.com Another suitable option, but with Italian small plates rather than Spanish, is Quartino, also in River North. www.quartinochicago.com

    12 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      FYI, you'd have to drink a LOT to get near $100/pp at Quartino. We've been going there regularly for years and you can get a lot of food and a couple of drinks for not a lot over $30/pp.

      -----
      Quartino
      626 N. State Street, Chicago, IL 60654

      1. re: ferret

        You're correct, both these places will come in well below that $100 threshold. I assume that isn't a problem.

        There are a lot of restaurants where you can get closer to that $100 target, if the intent is to spend more, but most of the ones I can think of aren't casual enough for shorts to be appropriate. Unless you want to look like tourists. :)

        1. re: nsxtasy

          Thanks for the help so far! I just took a quick poll and everyone is willing to change back into our business casual if that means we get a nicer dinner!

          We did tapas/small plates last time we went out, so I like the idea, but want to try something else this time.

          1. re: velvetdc1

            Then I would consider Nacional 27 in River North, for Latin fusion cuisine; Carnivale in the West Loop, also for Latin fusion; Red Light, for pan-Asian in the West Loop; or Salpicon in the Gold Coast, for Mexican.

            The above are all festive kinds of places, which fits your emphasis on drinking and a young vibe. Other categories of places which are slightly less so but are still fun and have great food include contemporary American (Graham Elliot, North Pond, MK), Italian (Cafe Spiaggia, Coco Pazzo, Vivere), and French bistros (La Sardine).

      2. re: nsxtasy

        I'm going to take a closer look at Salpicon, Graham Elliot, Gilt Bar and Publican. There were some other great recommendations but I selfishly want to try something new, so no Vermillion, and Andersonville will be too far up, though I love the Hopleaf.

        My concern as "the vegetarian" in the group is that Publican will be very meaty - can you smell the pork in the air?

        Anything else in these categories I could look at?

        -----
        Hopleaf Bar
        5148 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60640

        Graham Elliot
        217 W. Huron Street, Chicago, IL 60654

        1. re: velvetdc1

          >> My concern as "the vegetarian" in the group is that Publican will be very meaty - can you smell the pork in the air?

          Well, it doesn't smell like a stockyard - LOL! - but it's decorated with pictures of pigs on the walls. It's definitely the theme there.

          Also see my post below - it's incredibly NOISY.

          >> Anything else in these categories I could look at?

          Mexican - in addition to Salpicon, you might consider Rustico Grill in Logan Square (I just went there last night - see my report in the Mexican restaurant discussion) or Los Moles in Lakeview; Mixteco Grill, north of Lakeview on Montrose, is also good.

          Contemporary American - Perennial or Deleece (the one on Southport, rather than their Grill Pub) would be excellent choices too. Naha is also excellent but could exceed your price target.

          1. re: nsxtasy

            Whoops, I didn't mean to reply this just to you - I think I need to learn how to add posts to the bottom :)

            Thanks, I'm most enthusiastic about Graham Elliot-type places so far, so will focus on those.

            1. re: velvetdc1

              Replying to a specific post puts your post directly below it (or directly below any other replies to that post). If you reply to the original post at the top of the discussion, it goes to the bottom of the page.

              Graham Elliot is unusual for its whimsical menu, which is rather unique to them. But I've mentioned several more contemporary American places above, particularly Perennial and Deleece. Both of these have a bistro feel to them. Perennial is right alongside a sidewalk and has full-length windows where you can watch passersby. Deleece has brick walls and a bistro pub feel. (I'm referring to their location on Southport at Irving; the one further south on Clark has more of a comfort food feel to the menu.)

              One more possibility is Sweets and Savories, which has a bistro feel to it and serves good contemporary American food in a young, fun atmosphere. The good news and bad news is that S&S is BYOB - meaning you would need to bring your own, but you would save a lot of money by doing so. One of its appeals is that it is so inconspicuous from the outside - the proverbial "hole in the wall" - but inside it's quite nice. But it seems a bit less like an eating and drinking establishment for the lack of a full bar.

          2. re: velvetdc1

            It's not new (but neither is Salpicon) but has a lot of good veggie options, as well as plenty of good options for carnivores and is within your budget: Red Light. Not sure whether you'd call it a "cool vibe" -- certainly not clubby or old-fashioned.

            -----
            Red Light
            820 W Randolph Steet, Chicago, IL 60607

            1. re: masha

              I like Red Light a lot. The vibe is, contemporary but minimalist decor, with people drinking and having a good time. And the pan-Asian food is excellent. It's in the West Loop. Its sister restaurant in the South Loop, Opera, is also very good, and very similar in terms of menu, decor, and vibe.

              1. re: nsxtasy

                I used to be a big Opera fan. We ate there about 3 weeks ago and were disappointed. They've redone their menu, mainly by revising the price points downward, with commensurate adjustments to the dishes. Some of our old favorites remain, but many are gone. Ate at Red Light about 2 weeks ago and enjoyed it much more. (Agree that decor & vibe are similar.)

                -----
                Red Light
                820 W Randolph Steet, Chicago, IL 60607

                1. re: masha

                  That's interesting; I ate there about a month ago, and was quite impressed with the food (as well as the service). I thought it was excellent, as good as my visits to Red Light (which I also like a lot). < shrug >

        2. I just got back from a business dinner at Vermillion on W. Hubbarb. It was for 7 people and I thought perfect. It also fell around a little over $100 a person but included tax and tip. They sat us in a little alcove which would also sit 9 and that was nice because we felt like we could talk without interuppting the rest of the restaurant. All us were business casual with one guy in jeans. As I was leaving I saw a group of gentlemen (late 20's) in nice jeans and button downs. Nothing ratty for sure. I thought the vibe was very cool and the space felt nice. The cocktails were delicious and the wine was really reasonably priced. The food was amazing. The waitress picked 4 sets of appetizers (the scallops were delicious and I wish I had them to myself) and then we all ordered seperately. I got the tandori strip steak and I was going to save half but ended up eating the entire thing. Everyone loved their food. It is Indian/Latin fusion. Nice spice level - very flavorful.

          www.thevermilionrestaurant.com

          1. I know that nsxtasy isn't really a fan, but I adore The Publican. To be fair, he's beef is with the noise, not the food. (Not to take words out of your mouth, nsxtasy.)

            This sounds like it could be perfect for your group. There are large community tables as well as smaller private tables. They do take reservations and the beer list is extensive. Additionally, everything from small plates to larger plates is meant to be shared. You can easily enjoy several rounds of beer and lots of tasty bites and be at $75ish including tax and tip. The love their muscles and the roasted chicken is outstanding. Any of the offal I've had has been delicious. You could definitely go in there pretty causally.

            Another delightful option is Anteprima in Andersonville which is a little farther north than your requested area, but well worth the trip. Great Italian food, not your typical red sauce joint...it's more refined and fresher. The octopus started is awesome and I dream about the NY strip served over fresh arugula with shaved parm. They have a very nice wine list. If the weather's right, check out the hidden gem of a patio out back. Then, head over to Hopleaf for beers after dinner. It's the best beer bar in the city IMHO.

            Enjoy your night out!

            -----
            Anteprima
            5316 N Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60640

            Hopleaf Bar
            5148 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60640

            6 Replies
            1. re: geg5150

              I would not recommend the Publican for your group, for two reasons. One, you're going to be stuck in the middle of one of their two looong communal tables, sitting alongside people who are not in your group. (They have private tables but only for groups of up to six.) Two, it is EXTREMELY NOISY. What this all means is that people at one end of your strung-out group will not be able to hear people at the other end. Wouldn't you be better off at a restaurant where you can all sit at your own table, where you can all hear each other? Yes, I thought so.

              1. re: nsxtasy

                If they are a group of 9 people, they would take up most of one of the tables and pretty much own it. Also on Wednesday, it isn't that crazy nor is it that loud from my experience. When I went on a Wednesday, we sat a communal table (5 people - casual business dinner) and were all able to hear each other just fine. Probably on a Saturday night, it'd be super loud. On a Wednesday night, not so much. The food is spot on, it is perfect for sharing, the beer is great, and the atmosphere is fun.

                1. re: lbs

                  It is VERY VERY LOUD, even on weekdays. We went on a Tuesday and had six people at a private table. Although it wasn't too bad when we arrived around 5:30, an hour later those at one end COULD NOT hear those at the other end, only two seats away. We all thought it was the noisiest restaurant we had been to in years (except for me, since I had been to Avec and the others had not, so for me it was only the second noisiest, LOL!).

                  1. re: nsxtasy

                    To each their own ears - it wasn't loud when we went that even my bit of a deaf father (who I work with) could still hear the conversation at all ends.

                    1. re: lbs

                      Agreed. Convivial atmosphere to one is cacophony to another.

                      While I love Publican and think it would be a good fit, at least if I was responsible for booking a party for a group of 9 young, hip, food lovers. The vegetarian might have a challenge, depending on how put off my meat she/he is. There's not much on the menu that's not full of meat other than the sides. Although, they strike me as the kind of place that might be able to pull something together for your veggie. The sides are very strong, but she/he might not want to piece together a meal from side offerings.

                  2. re: lbs

                    I'm with you on this, lbs. I LOVE Publican. Noisy, but not unpleasant. Awesome food! Great drinks. Fun. The first time I went, I felt like making a reservation for the next time -- before I left. Way better than making your next dentist appointment before you leave that. And with a group of 9, you'd be at a "communal table" anywhere.

                    My only concern is that the menu might not be great for the vegetarian in your group unless s/he eats fish. There are vegetable offerings, but they are more sides or small dishes than entrees.

              2. May want to look at Gilt Bar, one of my new favorites, excellent food and terrific cocktails.
                Also the new place to be--jeans are cool, just not stonewashed girbauds, ha.

                1. Great ideas everyone! The finalists are Publican (which went over well with my team) and Perennial. I've emailed them to ask if they could put together something vegetarian, and if not, we'll go to Perennial.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: velvetdc1

                    Two great choices. I am sure the folks at Publican will make something vegetarian work for you and if not, Perennial is a sure pleaser.

                  2. Better late than never on this debrief, but we did end up at the Publican. It was really a great place for the group to relax - I think the focus on beer instead of wine helps colleagues feel less uptight around each other. And everyone enjoyed sharing plates. The staff was very knowledgeable about the beers and I never looked at the list. My "vegetable plate" (which is my fate at a lot of these places) was a little more interesting than I anticipated, because they aggregated several sides from the other mains. I will say, though, that it did smell strongly of pork :) It was somewhat unappetizing for me, but I know everyone else had a great time. So if there are no vegetarians in your group, highly recommended. If you have any vegetarians, come back another time.