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Need advice on L2O, Tru, Publican.

My wife and I will be in Chicago over labor day weekend and needed some advice over where to eat one of our nights. We are already signed up for Blackbird, Spiaggia, and Alinea on my birthday. But for our fourth night we are up in the air between either L2O, Tru, or Publican.
Which would you choose? Granted, I realize Publican is totally different, but we wondered if it would be a nice mix to go for pork offal and beer after the more formal places like Spiaggia and Alinea. Then again, we also hear really great things about L2O and Tru. I'm thinking maybe we are too late to score the Tatami room for L2O. Also, that would be more expensive than Alinea, and I don't know if that seems worth it. Any comments would be appreciated.
We wouldn't have to make this choice if Schwa hadn't called me back and broke our hearts by saying they are closed the week we are there (Sept 2 - 6). So sad about that. :(

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Alinea
1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

L2O
2300 Lincoln Park West, Chicago, IL 60614

Spiaggia
980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

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  1. This is, of course, just one woman's opinion.

    Alinea is in a class by itself. I doubt if anything else in town - or most anywhere else - can touch it.

    That being said, given that you are already dining at Blackbird (lunch?), and Spiaggia and Alinea, one more over-the-top restaurant may be too much.

    I have not been to L20 because of the very mixed reviews. Some people love it and defend it; others wonder what the big deal is. For the price, I prefer Tru, Spiaggia, Trotters and even Everest (where we had great food and stumbling service). I would just be concerned that all those great and even excessive meals would blend together and you wouldn't fully appreciate any of them.

    I would be inclined to go for Publican. I know they have communal tables and some people don't like that, I have never had a problem with that. Last time we were there - without reservations - we had no problem getting a private outdoor table (dining a la exhaust!).

    Another option, given that you couldn't get into Schwa, would be Bonsoiree. Like Schwa it's small, BYO, is located outside the main tourist areas, and has an extraordinarily creative kitchen. Check it out.

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    Bonsoiree
    2728 W Armitage, Chicago, IL 60647

    1. Given the other restaurants on your list I would suggest Publican simply to have some variety in terms of the type of cuisine and atmosphere. Publican is not the type of place to go for a composed meal but instead it is much more of a very nice bar with upscale bar snacks. Along this line you might want to consider The Girl and The Goal. I just went and it was great, and i'm guessing that you would love the Pigface.

      L20 and Tru are also great but I would be hard-pressed to have so many back to back multi-course tasting menus. At this point I think that Tru seems a bit past its prime, especially with some of the newer restaurants which have opened.

      L20 is fantastic but it very much a seafood only place. If you want another long meal and you are willing to spend the money you might want to look into dining in their tatami room. I think that it tends to be available so it is simply a matter of cost at this point. It is certainly a unique experience. Everything we had was very delicate and subtle. I appreciated this but some might find the lack of blow-you-over flavors to be disappointing considering the cost.

      Other more places that you may want to consider:
      Graham Elliot
      Purple Pig
      Moto

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      Moto Restaurant
      945 W Fulton, Chicago, IL 60607

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

      1 Reply
      1. re: Hatori Hanzo

        Purple Pig &, Graham Elliot are good suggestions. In addition -- if you can get reservations -- TC winner Stephanie Izard's new restaurant The Girl and the Goat would be a nice choice.

        I do seriously question Moto which would be too similar to Alinea in that its focus is molecular gastronomy -- only it doesn't do it nearly as well as Alinea.

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        Alinea
        1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

        Moto Restaurant
        945 W Fulton, Chicago, IL 60607

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

      2. I'd skip Spiaggia and go with L2o and TRU, or L2o and Publican, or TRU and Publican.

        http://uhockey.blogspot.com

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        Spiaggia
        980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

        2 Replies
        1. re: uhockey

          I too would skip Spiaggia. The only reason I would consider keeping it is simply to have some variety. While Spiaggia serves good food, I find it to be horribly overpriced. I would swap out L2O for Spiaggia and then go to somewhere more casual for the 4th night.

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          L2O
          2300 Lincoln Park West, Chicago, IL 60614

          Spiaggia
          980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

          1. re: Hatori Hanzo

            If I wanted more variety I'd swap in Cafe Spiaggia for Spiaggia - less than 1/2 the price, equally good (though lacking the "luxury ingredients" which they give you so little of you won't miss it anyhow,) and without the attitude. The view is just as good, the vibe more welcoming, and the people actually smile!

            http://uhockey.blogspot.com

        2. My suggestion is that you think in terms of your complete itinerary. Right now you already have two high-end haute cuisine places: Alinea, which specializes in "molecular gastronomy" and is in a class by itself, and Spiaggia, our only high-end restaurant which specializes in Italian cuisine. You also have Blackbird, which is a less formal restaurant specializing in contemporary American cuisine. All are excellent restaurants and great choices (assuming of course that that's what you're interested in).

          The question to ask yourself is, what are you most interested in? For example, if you rarely visit Chicago and are interested in experiencing as much variety of what we have to offer, then you probably ought to consider a restaurant that is different from the ones you're already planning. OTOH if your goal is to try as many high-end restaurants as possible, then by all means choose another one.

          TRU and L2O are both high-end restaurants, so if you want to add a third high-end restaurant to your choices of Alinea and Spiaggia, then these would be candidates (as would Everest, NoMI, and Les Nomades). Based on my personal experience, I would choose TRU over L2O, and Everest over either of the two, but all of these places are at least pretty good, and many people love this one or that one (just as a few people have had a less than stellar experience at this one or that one). Personally, I would not choose three high-end restaurants in a four-day trip, but perhaps that is your preference, in which case I would choose Everest or TRU.

          Similarly, I would not add a second contemporary American restaurant with Blackbird already on the itinerary, but that's entirely up to you. If you wanted to go that route, North Pond would be my top pick (not only for the food but also for the exquisite setting in the park), and I would also recommend Cafe des Architectes, Naha, and MK. The previously mentioned graham elliot and Girl and the Goat are also candidates in this group. Again, consider this only if you don't mind doing more than one meal at a somewhat casual contemporary American restaurant.

          The Publican is a gastropub, serving food that specializes in pork and charcuterie but also has good seafood. chicgail mentions the communal seating; you should be aware that about half the seating is private tables, and if you specify your seating preference (communal or private) when making your reservation, they will try to accommodate you. The Purple Pig, previously mentioned, also specializes in pork and charcuterie, but they do not accept reservations and waiting times to be seated have been horrendous, even on weekdays, and I would not recommend it for that reason.

          If you wanted to add some variety to your culinary itinerary, I would choose something different from what you have already selected, perhaps something a bit more ethnic than your current choices. Here are some examples of places I would consider if you would like to add a bit more diversity to your itinerary:

          - Mexican (Salpicon, Frontera Grill, Mundial Cocina Mestiza)
          - Steaks (David Burke's Primehouse)
          - French bistro (La Sardine or Kiki's Bistro)
          - Latin fusion (Carnivale or Nacional 27)
          - tapas (Cafe Iberico or Mercat a la Planxa)
          - pan-Asian (Red Light)
          - Chinese (Shanghai Terrace for an upscale experience, or Double Li or Lao Sze Chuan)

          Spiaggia has been thoroughly excellent the times I've been there, so if you're looking for high-end Italian cuisine (and perhaps in particular their featured white truffle tasting menu), it's a great place to go, and deserves all the accolades it receives. However, if you decide you want to change things around in your itinerary and switch this for something else, Cafe Spiaggia is an excellent more casual and less expensive Italian restaurant, as are Coco Pazzo, Vivere, and Cibo Matto.

          If you've never had our delicious local specialty of deep-dish pizza, I would also consider adding Uno or Due, Pizano's, or Lou Malnati's to your itinerary, perhaps for lunch.

          7 Replies
          1. re: nsxtasy

            Lots of good info here. My two bits. L2O and Tru are both excellent. L20 focuses on seafood but does offer red meat, too. Alinea deserves the accolades. Spiaggia is great food but the pricing, especially the wine prices, keeps me away. NoMI is similar price-wise for me. We went last winter and the food was great but, again, the wine pricing is prohibitive. If they would allow corkage (which I believe they do) then they are worth considering. But I may put more emphasis on wine lists and pricing than some.

            I don't think Les Nomades gets the credit it deserves. We will be going there next week!

            -----
            Alinea
            1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

            L2O
            2300 Lincoln Park West, Chicago, IL 60614

            Les Nomades
            222 E Ontario, Chicago, IL 60611

            Spiaggia
            980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

            1. re: HoosierFoodie

              Thanks everyone for the tips! I think we are settled on going to Publican because pork and beer at communal tables sounds fun after having my mind blown at Alinea. We'll also stick with Spiaggia and Blackbird for dinners. It's been a while since we've had good high end Italian and I've heard nothing but good things about Blackbird.
              Would you think that Spiaggia, Alinea, and Blackbird are too much? The only one I'd consider dropping would be Spiaggia. 
              I just don't want it to feel like great meals are blurring together. 
              For lunches we are trying to go with classic Chicago stuff. It's our first time in the city so we are doing dogs, pizza, and Italian beef. Right now we are planning on Hot Dougs for sure, then probably Al's Beef on Taylor and UNO, Malnatis, or Giordanos for pizza. 
              Then we'll eat more Dogs when we watch the ballgame at Wrigley. 
              What are your thoughts on those lunches? I know asking for the best Chicago pizza is an exercise in futility. But I'll do it anyway! 
              What about Italian beef? Al's the best?
              Thanks as always!

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              Alinea
              1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

              Spiaggia
              980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

              1. re: Heeney

                >> Would you think that Spiaggia, Alinea, and Blackbird are too much?

                No, not at all. Each is different in its own way, and excellent at what it does - high-end Italian, high-end molecular gastronomy, and contemporary American. However, there's some overlap between Blackbird and the Publican - not only because of Paul Kahan's ownership, but also because the cuisine is similar (both specialize in organ meats, for example). If you keep Publican in your itinerary, I would consider switching out Blackbird and replacing it with North Pond (also contemporary American, but with a different style, and with the added benefit of its exquisite setting in the middle of the park) or else one of the other types of restaurants mentioned above.

                As for the lunches, it all sounds fine. I assume you know to expect to wait 90+ minutes in line at Hot Doug's (and IMHO it's not worth the wait or the travel). And I would choose either the original Uno/Due or Lou Malnati's or Pizano's if this is your first time eating deep-dish pizza. I say that, even though I love the stuffed pizza at Giordano's - it's actually my personal favorite - because the deep-dish style at Uno etc is the one that Chicago is most famous for, so it's a better place to start.

                Enjoy your trip, and let us know how it goes!

                1. re: Heeney

                  Really - I'd strongly suggest saving the money and doing Cafe Spiaggia, but otherwise no - I don't think that is "too much."

                  http://uhockey.blogspot.com

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                  Cafe Spiaggia
                  980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

                  1. re: Heeney

                    Al's is good, but I personally found Mr. Beef to be better.

                    http://mrbeefla.com/

                    It all comes down to the meat for me and I thought Mr. Beef was more tender and better seasoned than Al's. You aren't going wrong in either place, but don't assume Al's is the best.

                    Like you said, the rest is all opinion. I happen to think Lou Malnati's has the best deep dish as his crust has a buttery aftertaste that is sublime.

                    1. re: Heeney

                      As an alternative to UNO, you may try La Madia - an amazing contemporary pizzeria in downtown Chicago www.dinelamadia.com. Their pepperoni pizza will be the best you've ever had.

                      1. re: olena

                        La Madia does not serve the deep-dish pizza the OP is looking for in his search for "classic Chicago stuff" (his words). For classic deep-dish, stick with Uno/Due (the originals, started in 1943/1955 and still in the same location), or Lou Malnati's or Pizano's. The latter two were founded by sons of one of the main individuals running Uno and Due in its first decades (they also worked there with their father for many years before going out on their own).