HOME > Chowhound > Chicago Area >
Brewing beer, curing meat, or making cheese? Share your food adventure
TELL US

Best splurge in Chicago? Trotters, L2o, Everest, Alinea, Les Nomades etc?

c
cherikm Oct 13, 2010 06:48 PM

We've lived in Chicago (suburbs) all our lives, total foodies, but generally go to either ethnic restaurants or those where we can eat for less than $100 per person. Our daughter is coming to town for Xmas week and requested as a splurge that we take her to Alinea for dinner. I've been, didn't love it, but was willing to give it another chance, but unfortunately for her, it's closed the entire time she'll be in. So, we need another option. Any opinions on Trotters vs. L2O, vs. Everest, Les Nomades, Tru, etc. Price obviously not an object this time, which is the best?

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

L2O
2300 Lincoln Park West, Chicago, IL 60614

Les Nomades
222 E Ontario, Chicago, IL 60611

  1. uhockey Oct 14, 2010 03:07 AM

    I consider L2o a top-5 all-time meal - what Gras does with seafood is extraordinary and their bread selection, desserts, and setting are wonderful. Some say the service is occasionally off, but it was spot on during my visit. The souffle was the best I've ever had, the Foie Gras my favorite all-time dish........you get the picture. Then again, I think Alinea (first visit) is my favorite all time meal, so your mileage may vary.

    Trotter's is another sublime option, however their long time chef du cuisine recently left to go elsewhere so the kitchen may be in flux. The room is great, the service French Laundry-esque, and similarly the bread and dessert selection were memorable while each course shined.

    I'm heading to Everest for an extended tasting menu on November 6th - I'll report back but their customer service has been wonderful.

    TRU recently received 4-stars and their kitchen appears to be running in top form. The service is over-the-top professional. We did a dessert tasting there after doing the Grand Tasting at Trotter's, so I can only comment on the sweets which were superior in all ways.

    http://uhockey.blogspot.com

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

    1. h
      HoosierFoodie Oct 14, 2010 08:18 AM

      I found Trotter's to be less than what it was in July. Our service was very good but short of what it should have been; particularly since he now charges 18% for service. Mediocre wine service, empty water glasses, napkins taken away when someone went to the restroom but not replaced so they had to ask. I would go again but not before I've been to a number of other places.

      I was at Tru earlier in the year and it is on top of its game and worthy of the recent praise. Its been about a year since I've been to L2O but I would consider it another top shelf Chicago restaurant. I think Les Nomades is better than a lot of people and particularly like it on Thursdays when there is no corkage (always call to confirm this policy has not changed). I don't think it is on the level of some of the other restaurants you mentioned.

      I haven't been to Everest for several years b/c of service issues but the food there and the great Alsace wine list is excellent as is the view. Others on the board probably have a better grasp of the restaurant as it is today than I.

      Give Alinea a second chance.....

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

      L2O
      2300 Lincoln Park West, Chicago, IL 60614

      Les Nomades
      222 E Ontario, Chicago, IL 60611

      1. e
        ElizabethReed Oct 14, 2010 06:28 PM

        Our one experience at Trotter's was extremely disappointing. Our one time at Spiaggia was incredible. Many dinners at Everest and they have all been wonderful. Everything was perfect. Love that place!!

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

        2 Replies
        1. re: ElizabethReed
          s
          streetfoodiechicago Oct 16, 2010 04:22 AM

          Graham Elliot, Tru and Spiaggia.... really hard to decide. LIke also Alinea and L20 but really Trotter's is now out of my list!

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

          Spiaggia
          980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

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

          1. re: ElizabethReed
            uhockey Oct 16, 2010 05:34 AM

            ...my experience was the exact opposite. My Spiaggia visit was on my top 3 worst fine dining experiences ever while Trotter's is still memorable to this day as one of the best.

            http://uhockey.blogspot.com

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

          2. s
            sdstern Oct 16, 2010 09:22 AM

            Try Sprout. We ate there for my birthday. The food, presentation, and attitude are perfectly on target.

            http://www.sproutrestaurant.com/

            1. c
              Chihab Oct 18, 2010 12:55 PM

              Assuming she was interested in Alinea for a specific reason - i.e. she likes more adventurous food - then I would consider Moto, Avenues or Schwa as the best substitutes, (with L2O as another option if she especially likes seafood). Everest and Les Nomades are modern French, Trotters and Tru more modern American. You didn't mention Spiaggia, but it would be the other restaurant in the city I would class with this list - it is modern Italian. All very good, but none very direct substitutes for Alinea.
              Moto is the other restaurant in Chicago (than Alinea) known primarily for molecular gastronomy, so think innovative and unusual, science-driven multi-course tasting menus. It is a lot of fun, but more science for the sake of it than Alinea and consequently less amazing flavors and less balance. Go there if she was primarily interested in Alinea for the more "out there" stuff they do and would enjoy stuff like pulled pork wrapped in a collard green, complete with edible paper to look like a Cuban cigar.
              Avenues head chef used to be Chef De Cuisine at Alinea (Curtis Duffy) so this is really the closest thing in the city to a "mini-Alinea" - the food is outstanding, somewhat creative, but not at the expense of the flavors and always quite a few wow moments.
              Schwa's food also has wow factor, but it is a hole in the wall BYOB that serves drinks in tumblers - to my regret I have only eaten here once, only because it is so hard to get a table at (I mean really, crazy hard - you are lucky if you get to leave a message on their answering machine because it is usually full, NEVERMIND they then have to call you back, NEVERMIND you can then get a table at the time or day you want)....so this would be my recommendation if you would enjoy a more casual vibe and could rely on getting in, but my guess is you won't.
              Bottom line - try to get into Schwa and when that fails go to Avenues, unless she is really into the science / food thing in which case go to Moto instead.
              Hope you all enjoy it!

              5 Replies
              1. re: Chihab
                chicgail Oct 18, 2010 01:56 PM

                I haven't been to Avenues so I can't speak to the food there, but while Moto utilizes the broad term molecular gastronomy, it remains a MAJOR step down from Alinea. And while Schwa certainly marches to a different drum, it, too, is no Alinea. We found the food at Schwa rather odd and not always pleasing.

                "Out there" and brilliant food preparation and presentation are not the same thing at all.

                It's not an accident that Alinea has been voted the best restaurant in the U.S. Its food is not "out there" or "science/food" at all in my opinion. Everything that Grant Ackatz does with the food is designed to enhance its flavor and one's experience of it.

                If it's not your cup of tea, that's ok, too, but it's a big mistake to lump Alinea into a category with either Moto or Schwa. It's really in a class by itself.

                1. re: chicgail
                  c
                  Chihab Oct 18, 2010 02:42 PM

                  Alinea not "out there"...come on! What do you call placing a plate on a slowly deflating pillow which releases an aroma as you eat, or serving a dish with smoking oak branches? I don't mean it in a demeaning way, or to imply the focus is not on flavor - I love the place - but I actually think Grant Achatz would be offended if people didn't think he was pushing boundaries. Here is a quote from him: "I also like really innovative food as well. At Alinea, that’s our kind of guiding light—we need to innovate, we need to be original, we need to try to push boundaries."
                  My point is that the only other restaurants in this city that could conceivably be said to be on the same page with this statement are the three I mentioned. I agree they are not as good as Alinea since nowhere is - but I'd rather eat at Moto than Tru if I was interested in that kind of food.
                  If you just want to splurge for the sake of splurging, go to Tru or L2O as they have the prettiest dining rooms and the food is very nice.

                  1. re: Chihab
                    chicgail Oct 18, 2010 02:59 PM

                    Yes, of course Achatz pushes boundaries, but it's never for the sake of -- pushing boundaries. My point is that everything he does to, for and with food is carefully designed to enhance the flavor and the experience of the food.

                    I'm not sure that Homaro Cantu is as tuned into what works for the food and the diner. I think he does push boundaries because he can and Moto suffers for that.

                    For the longest time I said I didn't want to go to Alinea. I wanted to eat my food, I said; I wasn't interested in playing with it. And then I went to Alinea and was absolutely blown away by how absolutely fabulous each bite was. I am totally enrolled in his vision.

                    As far as the others: Tru, L20, Trotters, Everest, etc. -- they all have their fans and detractors; good experiences as not-so-good experiences. I have mixed impressions and experiences with each of them. Hard to make that call.

                    1. re: chicgail
                      c
                      Chihab Oct 18, 2010 03:10 PM

                      That's a pretty fair summary, other than the omission of Avenues which really might be the OP's best bet here.

                      1. re: chicgail
                        uhockey Oct 18, 2010 04:34 PM

                        I agree with most of this.

                        There are people who make great tasting food. There are people who make great looking food. There are people who do both quite well. I've yet to find anyone who does both while creating a whole different "experience" in the way that Achatz does.

                        I must say that the newly limited menu bothers me a bit - cutting the dinner to 18 courses when he has so many "signatures" on the menu seems constrained to me. I love Black Truffle Explosion, Hot Potato/Cold Potato, Raspberry Transparency, Bacon, Bubble Gum, Yuba, and Chao Tom (least of all) but I dont' want to eat those same 7 dishes every single time I go - that is >1/3 of the menu repeated. In stark contrast, one could go to Per Se, The French Laundry, Providence, Trotter's, etc and never get the same item twice (aside from Oysters and Pearls which you could easily suggest you wanted a substitute for.)

                        http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                2. nsxtasy Oct 20, 2010 07:31 AM

                  I think you'll find a virtual consensus that Alinea is the best place in town, and no consensus whatsoever on the "second best". FWIW, I've loved Everest, Charlie Trotter's, TRU, and Spiaggia; all were superb in every way. I was disappointed in Les Nomades and L2O - they weren't bad, but just didn't "wow" me.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: nsxtasy
                    p
                    pezzonovante Nov 17, 2010 10:50 AM

                    Agree that consensus is difficult, in my case I absolutely love Les Nomades and have mixed feelings regarding TRU. On one hand the food was delicious and the space absolutely beautiful, but my experience was somewhat marred by something that happened while I was dining there and how it was dealt with by the staff. After all, dining out is a truly emotional experience (even more so when it comes to splurge meals/special occasions) and it is difficult to separate the technical aspects of the cuisine with other subjective factors.

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

                  Show Hidden Posts