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Jan 6, 2011 03:21 PM

casual place with upscale food

My wifes birthday is Feb. 25 and I'm taking her for a weekend away from the kids!! Were staying at The Drake and I'm looking for a couple different places to eat at. We both love food but we love relaxed places even more, a pub with a michelin star would be our dream! Any suggestions are greatly appreciated.

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  1. Well, there are degrees of casual, and there are degrees of upscale. :)

    If you're looking for a place with a famous chef and a tasting menu - the kind of expensive, formal place that typically requires gentlemen to wear jackets - but you want to leave the jacket at home, then places to consider include North Pond, Bonsoiree, Ria, Sixteen, and Schwa.

    If you're looking for a place where you can wear blue jeans and still have great food (albeit without the elaborate tasting menus or armies of waitstaff of the high-end places), there are hundreds of such places throughout the city and suburbs. Three such places within a few blocks of the Drake are Cafe Spiaggia (Italian, across the street from the Drake), Cafe des Architectes (contemporary American, in the Sofitel), and Bistro 110 (French bistro, a few blocks south).

    Some of my favorite such places aren't anywhere near the Drake, but just to toss out some names for you - Deleece in Lakeview, Chef's Station in Evanston, Michael in Winnetka, and Inovasi in Lake Bluff.

    All of these restaurants accept reservations on Opentable as well as over the phone - a good thing, since you're looking for a restaurant for weekend dining. The waits at places that don't accept reservations tend to be excrutiatingly long on weekends, but can be easily avoided by making reservations elsewhere.

    Also, I hope you're using Michelin stars simply as a metaphor for interesting, creative food. The Chicago restaurants they chose for stars ranged from truly worthy to head-scratchingly unworthy, and many other worthy restaurants were overlooked entirely.

    1. What you describe (a pub with one Michelin star) exists: Longman and Eagle. It's not near the Drake, but if it were me, it would be worth the taxi drive. Unfortunately they also don't take reservations. If that's a problem for you, The Publican is much closer (still a cab ride) or the Purple Pig (again no reservations). Some people like The Gage, but I've been disappointed with it. These are all gastro pubs and I LOVE The Publican. It's a Michelin Bib Gourmand rated restaurant. Some people find the communal table a problem, but I love talking to other people and seeing what they're eating and it's not been a problem for me.

      Other places you should check out are Bonsoiree (also a Michelin star), Schwa (very hard to get them on the phone, much less get a reservation, but worth a try), as are Rick Bayless' Frontera Grill (takes very few reservations) or Topolobambo (1 Michelin star). Cafe Spiaggia is very close and very good (its big sister, Spiaggia, is much more expensive, but they share a website and a kitchen. I would also check out Top Chef Stephanie Izard's new place, The Girl and the Goat. Hard to get reservations there.

      These are all excellent restaurants - and relaxed (or at least casually elegant). Have a wonderful birthday celebration.

      2728 W Armitage, Chicago, IL 60647

      Frontera Grill
      445 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

      Cafe Spiaggia
      980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

      445 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

      The Publican
      837 W. Fulton Market, Chicago, IL 60607

      1 Reply
      1. re: chicgail

        >> Some people find the communal table a problem, but I love talking to other people and seeing what they're eating and it's not been a problem for me.

        Actually, you have a choice at the Publican, sort of. About half the restaurant consists of private tables for 2, 4, or 6, and half the restaurant consists of two loooooong communal tables. When making your reservation (either over the phone or on Opentable), you can request seating at either your own table or the communal tables, and they will try to accommodate your preference. So the communal seating is not really an issue; if you want it, you can do that, and if you don't, you can skip it. OTOH I was disappointed in my dinner there. The food was okay not great, the room was REALLY REALLY NOISY, and at the time the desserts were dreadful (although I hear they've since hired a pastry chef).

      2. Try Sable at the Hotel Palomar - great food, amazing cocktails and a great relaxed atmosphere.

        Other favorites ... Xoco for a casual taste of Bayless - or just great hot chocolate to ward off the Chicago chill.

        We also like Le Madia - really tasty pizza and more - low prices, relaxed bar atmosphere in the evenings - and if you get seats at the bar overlooking the pizza chefs, they serve you complimentary prosecco. Not Michelin star level perhaps but an enjoyable spot for a good meal.

        449 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

        1 Reply
        1. re: Siun

          >> Try Sable at the Hotel Palomar - great food, amazing cocktails and a great relaxed atmosphere.

          I really love Sable! It's not quite as close to the Drake as the three places I mentioned - it's about a 15-minute walk - but it's everything Siun says it is. It's sort of like an ultramodern pub, in that the decor is ultramodern, a lot of people are drinking, and the noise level is quite loud. They serve some of the best artisanal cocktails in town. The food, from Chef Heather Terhune, is indeed great; two other things about it I love are that it's reasonably priced, and that many of the dishes are available in smaller portion sizes so you can try more of them. If you go, don't miss the sweet corn creme brulee!

        2. Check out Longman and Eagle - a gastropub with a michelin star in Logan Square. It's delicious - but getting a seat on the weekend can be difficult due to the pubs popularity.