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Heading back to Chicago - Schwa and what else?

Hello all,

Will be heading back to Chicago yet again with family for the SOFA Art exhibit in November - looks to be 3-4 breakfasts and lunches, 3 dinners. I know Schwa is high on my want list and I'll be working on reservations as soon as the window opens........the question is, where else? While I'd not hesitate to return to Trotter's, Alinea, L2o, or TRU I know I'll be back when Next opens and have plenty of time to re-visit places then.......for now I want something else.

Avenues seems promising for a dinner, but so does Bonsoiree.....and I really feel bad about not yet visiting Everest on my three prior trips. Any other contenders on the haute-French front that I'm overlooking? Does Les Nomades stack up? Might brave the lines at Great Lake one day as a pre-dinner.

Lunches - need to do Uno this time (already done Giardanno's and Lou's,) probably Purple Pig as well. What aboud CDA or Henri? Naha? Somewhere else?

Breakfasts - not sure yet. Probably Southport Grocery, Jam, perhaps the French Market or Hot Chocolate.

As always, open for opinions from all.

http://uhockey.blogspot.com

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

Hot Chocolate
1747 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60647

Southport Grocery & Cafe
3552 N Southport Ave, Chicago, IL 60657

Les Nomades
222 E Ontario, Chicago, IL 60611

French Market Cafe
1973 W 111th St, Chicago, IL 60643

Naha
500 North Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

Great Lake
1477 W Balmoral Ave, Chicago, IL 60640

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  1. Hi uhockey,

    Let's start with the high-end places. Everest, Avenues, and Les Nomades all belong in this category. Everest is one of Chicago's longest-running high-end restaurants, and I think it deserves consideration partly for that reason. The food has always been wonderful, and Jean Joho seems to do a great job of changing with the times (as has Trotter). It's a very traditional room, but the view of the city is magnificent. And the wine list has the best selection of Alsatian wines in the country. I've experienced the very best service of any restaurant anywhere there, although as you and I both know ;) a service "glitch" can happen at even the best restaurants. So Everest would be my top pick of this group. I have not yet been to Avenues under Chef Duffy - I went there a few years ago under Chef Bowles - but I have heard good things which make me believe that he is keeping up the place's reputation. I went to Les Nomades a while ago and I was just not all that impressed; it wasn't bad but it just didn't "wow" me, and I feel that any restaurant in this category and price level should do so.

    I haven't been to Bonsoiree and I'm not sure what to make of it. They have a 13-course $150 menu which is typical of high-end places, but they also have a 4-course $58 menu which isn't. It's BYO and casual (jackets NOT required), both of which are not all that common for a high-end restaurant, but both apply to Schwa as well (but unlike Bonsoiree, Schwa only offers a lengthy tasting menu). I can't say anything about Bonsoiree's food without going there, but I know chicgail has praised it and her advice is usually spot-on. So I guess what I'm saying is, I'm not sure whether it belongs in the pantheon of our finest, most creative places, but it's probably best to say what we can say about it without worrying about categorizing it. Perhaps those who have been there can provide more input on how it compares with the other places you're considering.

    So those are your high-end places, the super expensive ones. Then you have your "casual fine dining" restaurants, without the lengthy tasting menus or the super-high prices. Personally, I've enjoyed some of the very best dinners at such places, and of course no one wants to pay several hundreds of dollars pp all the time. For me, the best and most consistent of these has been Michael, in north suburban Winnetka, easily accessible via Metra commuter train from the Loop. I don't know if you want to bother traveling that far out of the city, but if you've got an open mind about it, you may want to read my detailed reports at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/351457

    There are two casual fine dining places that have gotten the most buzz (and many positive reports) in recent months: the Purple Pig (from the Bannos family of Heaven on Seven), and the Girl and the Goat (from Stephanie Izzard of Scylla and some big TV show). I haven't been to either yet. The Purple Pig does not accept reservations and has long waits for tables at dinner, even during the week. The Girl and the Goat is on Opentable and has been booking up several months out for desirable times and days of the week, but if you're flexible you don't have to book quite that far out. The Purple Pig is open for lunch; the Girl and the Goat is not.

    I'm always a little iffy about trying out a place for lunch, and whether I'm getting the "real" experience. The menu can be a tipoff; the more the lunch menu is similar to the dinner menu, the closer the experience. From their website, it appears that the Purple Pig has the same menu all day long. Cafe des Architectes and Naha both have lunch menus that sound sort of similar to what the places do at dinner, but not exactly; not having been to either place for lunch, I just don't know whether it's a representative experience. Hope this makes sense. (I've had several dinners at Cafe des Architectes and they've been consistently outstanding.)

    Henri is new, from the folks at the Gage, and I don't know much about it. The pizza at Uno and Due is not all *that* different from the pizza at Lou Malnati's.

    So all of that is what I can tell you to help you with those more casual places and your lunch decisions.

    You've already read my reports on Southport Grocery and Jam, both of which are excellent choices for breakfast. I would not recommend the French Market for breakfast, unless you're just looking for pastries or croissants (from Vanille's booth); they don't have any places specializing in hot breakfast foods made to order. Hot Chocolate is not open for breakfast during the week, and I was not all that impressed with their weekend brunch. I had Sunday buffet brunch at Shaw's (the seafood restaurant) this past Sunday, and loved it; I posted a report on it in the brunch topic at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/364403 The only qualification is that you really have to be in the mood for seafood for brunch.

    So those are my thoughts in response to your query. Hope they're helpful to you.

    15 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      As usual, thanks - always helpful even if we don't agree on every place. :-) My feelings echo yours on Bonsoiree - spending $150 I feel like I'd just be better off back at Alinea or L2o or Trotter's....or trying TRU for something other than the dessert tasting.....but at the same time, their menu is appealing as a whole.

      Izzard's menu doesn't blow my mind - nor does the whole "TV Chef" thing - Purple Pig would definitely be a lunch target.

      Avenues intrigues me, but seems from reviews to simply be Alinea Jr, which (fingers crossed) I'll already be getting at Schwa. It'll probably be my Schwa backup.

      Hot Chocolate was indeed a brunch consideration - and French Market would've been an early snack-type breakfast before heading to the show.

      Need to look into Michael - but I have a bad taste from traveling way out to Vie and being very underwhelmed last time.

      Thanks!

      http://uhockey.blogspot.com

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

      Bonsoiree
      2728 W Armitage, Chicago, IL 60647

      Hot Chocolate
      1747 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60647

      French Market Cafe
      1973 W 111th St, Chicago, IL 60643

      1. re: uhockey

        Some thoughts:

        Bonsoiree is delightful. And as mentioned above I do recommend it. Highly. Similar to Schwa in many ways, Bonsoiree is chef-driven, BYO and tiny in a neighborhood. Unlike Schwa, it is warm, welcoming and pleasant and feels like an upscale oasis The food is farm fresh, often exotic, creative and always interesting. I am personally not a big fan of the food at Schwa. I was only there once and didn't like how sweet most of the savory dishes were. I will go back to try again, and I suppose it's worth a try, but not high on my personal recommend list.

        I have not yet been to Stephanie Izzard's Girl and the Goat, but I loved her last restaurant, Syllia, long before she was famous. I would go, not because she won Top Chef, but because she is a darn good chef. She also spends time in the FOH chatting with her guests which I like. And I've run into her a number of times picking up her own produce at the Green City Market and loading it into her Mini.

        Naha has never disappointed. Classy and delicious and reliable.

        The Gage is very popular but it has disappointed me. Three times now. But I am curious about Henri.

        Everest is a don't-miss place, although my recent experience was mixed. The food was flawless and extraordinary. The service was VERY bumpy and surprising given that this is by no means a new restaurant or an inexpensive one. Based on several other people's comments here that is not a totally outlier experience, but you want to have your own. Ask for a table by the window.

        Michael's is very good. Also a good lunch opton, but the shlep up to Winnetka is IMO not worth it. If you happen to be going up there for something else, I agree that it is a don't miss experience.

        Also not a fan of CDA. Good prices, especially given the location. Unremarkable food. Horrendous service. Not on my list for a return visit.

        -----
        Bonsoiree
        2728 W Armitage, Chicago, IL 60647

        Green City Market
        1750 N Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60614

        Naha
        500 North Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

        1. re: chicgail

          >> Michael's is very good. Also a good lunch opton

          Michael is no longer open for lunch. They used to be open for lunch on Fridays only, but they have discontinued lunch service. (The lunch menu was actually very similar to the dinner menu, but with slightly lower prices.)

          Cafe des Architectes is one of the few places over which chicgail and I have disagreed. I've been there several times for dinner and have found the food consistently outstanding, and the service just fine, with absolutely none of the issues she experienced in her single visit there. It's a fact of life in Chicago that with so many excellent restaurants here, it's tough enough to get back to places we loved; we're simply not going to give a place a second chance when we have a disappointing experience (such as chicgail with CdA and Les Nomades, myself with L2O and Les Nomades and Crofton, and uhockey with Spiaggia).

          1. re: nsxtasy

            Actually once was a time Michael's was open the whole week for lunch. I used to work up there and lunch there was a regular treat. It's been a while though.

            I know nsxtasy really, really, really likes CDA. And while I know that I'm not the only one on this board who wonders at that passion, our experiences do differ and what makes this board so interesting is not so much what everyone agrees on, but where we have valid albeit subjective differences of opinion.

            Party on!

            1. re: nsxtasy

              I got elbowed in the head at Spiaggia and paid $42 for 6 shrimp. THAT is why I won't go back. :-) North Pond and Vie were examples of simply being underwhelmed and thus leading to a non-repeat.

              http://uhockey.blogspot.com

              -----
              North Pond
              2610 North Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL 60614

              Spiaggia
              980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

              1. re: uhockey

                At L2O I paid almost $200/pp for food that would have cost half as much anywhere else and was just okay. At Les Nomades I was similarly underwhelmed. And at Crofton the staff was RUDE. THAT is why I won't go back. But I've been immensely impressed with my meals at the other places mentioned here, including Cafe des Architectes, Everest, Spiaggia, North Pond, and Vie. As chicgail notes, we have subjective differences of opinion. And experiences can vary as well (although a really good place should be consistent as well as good, and should not "have an off night").

                1. re: nsxtasy

                  Unforeseen obstacles and problems occur regularly during service even in the very best restaurants. Of course human error is unavoidable in any profession.
                  What separates the good from the very best restaurants? Those that mastered never allowing the customer to notice when problems arise if "possible".

                  1. re: oysterspearls

                    They not only were poorly behaved at Spiaggia - but when I brought it to the manager's attention I got no apology.

                    Totally unacceptable.

                    http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                    -----
                    Spiaggia
                    980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

                  2. re: nsxtasy

                    I appreciate my "brilliance" (haha) being quoted. But by your definition then ("a really good place should be consistent as well as good, and should not 'have an off night'") my experience at Cafe des Architects takes it off the table as "a really good place." And for me -- and for others who have posted here -- it is not a really good place: ordinary space, acceptable food, poor service..

                    For that matter so does my experience of poor service at Everest. But because of the longevity of this restaurant and that the space is so beautiful and the food excellent, I have just assumed that the FOH had a bad night.

                    I'm not trying to be contrary, but you can't have it both ways. A "really good place" either has to be consistent or it is not a really good place -- or even good places have off nights. The other thing to consider is that different people have different standards and expectations and no one place can meet all those different standards, which is what makes it difficult to base a decision on where to "chow" on so many different people's opinions.

                    1. re: chicgail

                      No, chicgail, your experience at Everest was not unique; they weren't having an off night. They have had service issues which is why my wife and I quit going after multiple visits.

                      We're going to give it another shot soon hoping that things have improved in the few years since we've been.

                      1. re: HoosierFoodie

                        We're going to check out Everest on the Saturday I'm there - hoping it lives up to the previous meals I've had with my buddy who lives in town - Trotter's and Alinea (we also had a yawn at North Pond.)

                        http://uhockey.blogspot.com

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

                        North Pond
                        2610 North Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL 60614

                  3. re: uhockey

                    I didn't get elbowed at Spiaggia, but I've only been to the cafe. It doesn't surprise me that you got elbowed, however, as it is pretty cramped (at least, in the cafe).

                    I am glad I'm not the only one who was underwhelmed by North Pond.

                    -----
                    North Pond
                    2610 North Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL 60614

                    Spiaggia
                    980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

                    1. re: TAsunder

                      I enjoyed the cafe. Reviews of both can be seen in my blog and here on the board.

                      North Pond was "fine." I don't go out of my way for "fine."

                      http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                      -----
                      North Pond
                      2610 North Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL 60614

                  4. re: nsxtasy

                    I'm with Chicgail on Cafe des Architectes. I have had 3 totally disappointing dinners in a row there preceeded by one I enjoyed. The food and experience are not ones I would repeat.

                    I have had two very good meals at Avenues under Chef Duffy and several more when it was under Chef Bowles. I am not a fan of Bowles food at his namesake restaurant and wouldn't rush back but would go to Avenues happily again under Chef Duffy.

                    Spiaggia restaurant causes problems for me. The prices drive me insane and the hard sell of three courses is irritating. I can't eat that much food and I have lived in Italy and don't need the edification on how "one" eats/orders food in Italy. I had resolved not to go back to the restaurant (not the Cafe which I like) when I ended up there for no particular reason other than it was a Monday and had an absolutely terrific meal. But the prices!

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

                    Spiaggia
                    980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

                    1. re: KateB

                      I'd go back only if they apologized. I'd not expect to be comped, either - just a "we're sorry we treated you as though you didn't deserve to eat in our restaurant."

                      http://uhockey.blogspot.com

            2. A couple comments. I've been to Purple Pig several times and The Girl and the Goat once, although heading back next week, and really loved both of them. I would definitely try and hit Purple Pig for lunch as you suggested. Keep in mind it's a small place without reservations and has mostly communal high top seating, although there are some individual tables along the walls.
              Also a comment on Naha, which is really one of my favorite places to eat as well. We have had consistently great food there at dinner but recently went for lunch and weren't really very impressed. It just didn't measure up to the experiences we've had at dinner.

              -----
              Naha
              500 North Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

              1. Uhockey, I'm a big fan, and read the updates on your blog all the time. I live in NW Indiana and my husband and I take the train up to Chicago quite often and spend a couple of days eating based on Chowhound recommendations. The last trip, we had a lunch at Shaw's Crab House, eating an oyster sampler and some other appetizers, with a bottle of wine. It was lovely. I'd like to read your opinion on Shaw's, if you decide to go. If not, I look forward to reading what you experience where you DO decide to go. Thanks!

                -----
                Shaw's Crab House
                21 East Hubbard St., Chicago, IL 60611

                4 Replies
                1. re: Oboegal

                  There's a detailed report on the Sunday brunch at Shaw's in the brunch topic at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/364403

                  1. re: Oboegal

                    First, thanks for the compliments - I do it for fun, but I'm glad others enjoy it.

                    Secondly, I've heard good things about Shaw's but it never creeps onto the "must" list for me for some reason. I need to take a look at it again given Nxstasy's review and your thoughts.

                    To all - how is NoMI's brunch?
                    Any other lunch/dinner style places that do a truly memorable brunch? Publican and Bristol really seem to dumb their menu down for Sundays.

                    http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                    1. re: uhockey

                      >> I've heard good things about Shaw's but it never creeps onto the "must" list for me for some reason. I need to take a look at it again given Nxstasy's review and your thoughts.

                      Shaw's is a well-known restaurant in Chicago. You don't hear a lot about it because it's been around for 25 years; in fact, I remarked to the hostess that when it was opened, it was designed to look like a place that had been around for many years - and now it has! It has always had some of the best, freshest seafood in the city. It's not fancy; its art deco decor is reminiscent of a 1940s seafood restaurant at the shore (East Coast). I don't consider it a "don't miss" simply because a lot of cities have excellent seafood restaurants, so it's not unusual. My post in the brunch topic was about their Sunday brunch buffet, which is really impressive, with its all-you-can-eat crab cakes (best in town), king crab legs, etc, and is a great way to get to know Shaw's. See more below.

                      >> To all - how is NoMI's brunch?

                      I haven't been there for brunch, only for dinner. But it's one of Chicago's best restaurants, and I'm sure the brunch is consistent with its reputation. At $55, it's not cheap. The menu is on their website at www.nomirestaurant.com It's not clear whether or not you can get anything listed there (i.e. multiple items) vs having to choose, but I suspect it's all you can order/eat.

                      >> Any other lunch/dinner style places that do a truly memorable brunch? Publican and Bristol really seem to dumb their menu down for Sundays.

                      I've been posting a lot of reports (including Shaw's) in the brunch topic at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/364403 There are many, many places that do a very nice brunch with an a la carte menu, including breakfast places (Southport Grocery, Jam, etc) as well as dinner type places (Perennial, Big Jones, etc). North Pond is memorable for its setting, but I know you've already been there, done that. I really miss the American dim sum brunch which David Burke's has discontinued; it was fantastic and would otherwise be my top pick. (They did something similar on special occasions like Mother's Day and Easter, so maybe they will continue to do so.) At this point, I would say that Shaw's is the most memorable brunch I've been to in the past few years that is still going on.

                      1. re: nsxtasy

                        Jam and Southport are already on the list, no doubts there. Guess I was looking for something where the restaurant does a relatively representative menu of their "norm" and then tacks on some brunch items. For instance, Publican could do a helluva brunch by simply tacking a few brunchy items onto their standard menu (sans a few "heavy" items.) Bouchon pulls it off gloriously out in Vegas and Supper in Philly would be my "east" equivalent.

                        I tend to avoid buffets as I end up eating WAY too much. I like NoMI's menu mostly, but perhaps would be better suited to their Saturday brunch.

                        http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                  2. Talked with some friends and family who I'm arranging to dine with - for the time being thinking something like:

                    Thurs - Arrive lunch-ish time = Henri. Dinner at Schwa.

                    Friday - Southport for breakfast, splitting a pizza with 4 at Uno for lunch, early trip to Great Lake for another split pizza, then late-ish dinner at Everest.

                    Saturday - Jam for breakfast, Purple pig for lunch, late dinner at Avenues vs. Bonsoiree

                    Sunday - Brunch at Perennial, early-ish dinner at Avec vs. Girl and the Goat.

                    http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                    -----
                    Avec Restaurant
                    615 W Randolph St Ste A, Chicago, IL 60661

                    Bonsoiree
                    2728 W Armitage, Chicago, IL 60647

                    Great Lake
                    1477 W Balmoral Ave, Chicago, IL 60640

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: uhockey

                      Comments:

                      >> Thurs - Arrive lunch-ish time = Henri. Dinner at Schwa.

                      Henri is very new right now, and there haven't been enough reports to get any idea whether it's any good. So I would consider it an unknown, and therefore a bit of a risk in terms of an itinerary. But you can be the guinea pig and let us know how YOU like it. :)

                      >> Friday - Southport for breakfast, splitting a pizza with 4 at Uno for lunch, early trip to Great Lake for another split pizza, then late-ish dinner at Everest.

                      Sounds good, other than it possibly being a lot of food.

                      Southport Grocery has small size portions of their pancakes, including the bread pudding pancakes, in case you want to try multiple items and/or want to avoid stuffing yourself.

                      >> Saturday - Jam for breakfast, Purple pig for lunch, late dinner at Avenues vs. Bonsoiree

                      Sounds good. I can't really comment on the choice between Avenues and Bonsoiree because I haven't been to Avenues under Chef Duffy or Bonsoiree at all. When in doubt, check out their website menus. You may or may not be able to find Avenues's menu on the Pen's website; their website does their restaurants a disservice in this regard.

                      >> Sunday - Brunch at Perennial, early-ish dinner at Avec vs. Girl and the Goat.

                      I thought the brunch at Perennial was good and pleasant, but not really memorable or distinctive. The food didn't make as much of an impression as the ability to watch passersby through the full-length glass windows.

                      As for the latter choice, for me that would be an easy one. Even though I have not been to the Girl and the Goat, I have heard a lot of good things. I have been to Avec... with its no-reservations policy, its long waits to be seated, its communal-only seating (either at the bar or at an eight-top), its uncomfortable seats (you'll be sitting on a wooden barstool, a wooden bench, or a wooden box), and its LOUD noise level (perhaps the noisiest restaurant in the city). I found the Mediterranean-focused food disappointing too, but a lot of people like it. Anyway, you get the picture... Grab a reservation if you want Girl and the Goat, as it's been booking up in advance. It's on Opentable.

                      1. re: nsxtasy

                        Completely agree on Avenues website - tragic - possibly the worst I've seen outside L'Atelier De Joel Robuchon in NYC.

                        I wonder when Graham Elliot is going to start lunch/brunch service.

                        http://uhockey.blogspot.com

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

                      2. re: uhockey

                        Based on your schedule, I think Sunday brunch at The Publican might be a good idea.

                        http://thepublicanrestaurant.com/

                        1. re: deesher

                          I strongly considered them - but the brunch menu just feels so "dumbed down" from their excellent looking dinner options! :-)

                          http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                          1. re: uhockey

                            I can usually find one dish that brings to mind the dinner menu. If that doesn't work for you, I had an excellent brunch at Longman and Eagle. They have a good mix of breakfast and lunch items. I'm more of a lunch guy.

                            http://www.longmanandeagle.com/

                      3. Been to Naha many times and it has never disappointed. Also been to Les Nomades many times and I think its very good. It may not be the top or a top restaurant in Chicago but it is very good. They also have no corkage on Thursday (always call first to confirm though).

                        -----
                        Les Nomades
                        222 E Ontario, Chicago, IL 60611

                        Naha
                        500 North Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610