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Jan 13, 2011 02:56 PM

Need help deciding on one restaurant!

I'll be in Chicago Friday the 21st. There are restaurants on my list to do in Chicago, but Girl & the Goat, Topolo, and Alinea are all booked (obviously...). Please help me choose from the following (or suggest another).

We are staying at the Hyatt Regency, although I am not limited strictly by geography. I'm looking for something special for my wife and me (can be romantic, but can equally be casual/quiet). Tasting menus are great, but I'm also perfectly happy with prix fixe or a la carte dining. Killer scallops, venison, lamb would all be items we'd be interested in.

Sable (maybe just for a cocktail?)
Graham Elliott
North Pond
Cafe des Architectes
David Burke
Mercat a la Planxa
Table Fifty-Two

1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

North Pond
2610 North Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL 60614

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

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  1. Sounds like you've already been doing a lot of research; that's a pretty good list of choices. Since you've mentioned a list of places, here are my reactions to the ones you've listed:

    Sable (maybe just for a cocktail?) - I love Sable. The food is fantastic, and a lot of the menu items are available in smaller portions as well as full ones, so you can try more things. If you go, don't miss the sweet corn creme brulee. However, I wouldn't refer to it as romantic or quiet, although it's certainly casual; the decor is contemporary and the noise level is high. Yes, it would also work for a cocktail, especially if it's close by the place you end up choosing.

    Graham Elliott - I haven't been there.

    North Pond - This would be my top pick of those you've listed. The setting and atmosphere in the park are extra special (and romantic), and the food is excellent. Make your reservation NOW as they do fill up on weekends.

    Cafe des Architectes - CdA built its reputation in the past couple of years on the strength of its executive chef, Martial Noguier. However, he left there a couple of months ago (soon to head the replacement for Eve). I had brunch there a week ago and it was still great, but I can only guess that they're sort of "running on autopilot" until a new chef takes charge. So I'd probably go elsewhere for your one dinner. OTOH if you're still around for brunch on Saturday, it's a very good choice for that. (I loved the "brunch sampler".)

    Avenues - This is one of our finest restaurants, and also one of our most expensive and formal (i.e. jackets required). I haven't been there under the current chef Duffy.

    David Burke - A great choice if you want the best steak in town, but if you're looking for something else, maybe not.

    Mercat a la Planxa - A fun experience with food that's unusual. The room and atmosphere are lively.

    avec - Unless you're willing to put up with a no-reservations policy with waits of 60-120 minutes, a VERY LOUD noise level, communal-only seating, and the most uncomfortable seats anywhere, I don't recommend it.

    Table Fifty-Two - I haven't been there, as the menu on their website hasn't enticed me. Reserve NOW as this is another place that fills up in advance.

    Bottom line, North Pond would be my top pick IF you can get a reservation there, otherwise Sable. Among the other choices, Avenues or Burke's or Mercat if you're looking for high-end, steaks, or tapas, respectively. Or maybe try one of the places I haven't been. If you're looking for additional suggestions, you might also consider contemporary Italian at Cibo Matto, Vivere, or the Florentine. I would also consider Aria, which is in the Fairmont a block from the Hyatt; they serve a global menu with some Asian influences. (If there's a big snowstorm that day, the proximity of Aria will make getting there a whole lot easier, so it may be something to consider as a possible backup plan.)

    7 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      Really quite helpful. I'll report back on my trip. I can get an 8:30 reso at North Pond, so I may go that route. Gotta run it by the boss (wife) :)

      North Pond
      2610 North Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL 60614

      1. re: nsxtasy

        I've seen a lot of pub for Sunda...worth the hype?

        1. re: jhojati

          I haven't been there, sorry. I've heard mixed reviews from friends, mostly good about the food, not so good about the "scene", but it's second hand. Maybe someone else here can provide actual personal experience...

          1. re: nsxtasy

            Sunda was on Check Please* last Friday and got really favorable reviews.

            * Check Please is the local PBS show in which 3 people pick a restaurant and then review them. If the place is favorably reviewed, often a "Check Please" effect happens and it gets really crowded. Link below with the episode info.


            FWIW - I've seen open reservation for Topo on the same day for earlier dining (around 6ish). Now, this does NOT always occur but I would keep on checking Open Table just in case of last minute cancellations. It doesn't hurt especially if you really want to try it.

            1. re: lbs

              Topolobampo accepts reservations three months in advance, and dinner reservations book up very quickly. They're usually booked solid by about two months out. You may get lucky with a last-minute cancellation, and as you say it doesn't hurt to check, but don't count on it. Lunch is often a better bet; lunch books up a couple weeks out, and Friday books up before other days. A week out, it's unlikely.

              You can always go to Frontera Grill, which only accepts a few reservations and keeps most of its dining room available for walk-in traffic, but unless you arrive at Frontera 20-30 minutes before they open the doors, you're looking at a long wait to be seated (60-120 minutes). I tried going there for their Saturday brunch a couple of months ago and the wait was 90 minutes.

              If you're interested in upscale creative Mexican cuisine, there are other options with great food, including Salpicon in Old Town, Mundial Cocina Mestiza in Pilsen, and Mexique in West Town.

          2. re: jhojati

            I love Sunda- it's one of my favorite places to go- it has really delicious food and a fun atmosphere, but it wouldn't fall under a quiet or romantic type place- it's a little more trendy and lively in terms of atmosphere.
            Other places I would throw out as suggestions would be Naha- consistently great food, and would be a quieter type atmosphere, and also Sprout- which has a 3 course prix fixe plus 2 intermezzos for $60 a per person and is really fabulous and creative and the atmosphere is great too. If you watch top chef- Sprout's executive chef is Dale Levitski.

            500 North Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

            1. re: ms. mika

              Good idea suggesting Naha which I think it brilliant and a lovely room. It would be pretty easy to do cocktails before or after at Sable and then walk over to Naha.

              Also second Sprout where I had a wonderful meal - just absolutely delicious and good feel. Levitski also often features the main proteins the OP mentions - but adds twists. His lamb dishes are spectacular.

              And Mercat is - while not the romance of North Pond - a wonderful room with some wonderful food.

              And Mercat mentioned above which

              North Pond
              2610 North Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL 60614

              500 North Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

        2. Thanks again for all the feedback - I need to decide quickly, but also need time to marinate a bit on the decision. A couple quick followups:

          1. Any Accanto experiences? I've read some good things, some not so good.
          2. I'll be in Schaumburg Thursday night - any suggestions for something low key?

          6 Replies
          1. re: jhojati

            I'm not familiar with Accanto. If you're specifically looking for Italian cuisine, here are the places I'd concentrate on: Cafe Spiaggia, Cibo Matto, Vivere, Coco Pazzo, Piccolo Sogno, and the Florentine.

            Here are places I like in and around Schaumburg:

            Shaw's Crab House (Schaumburg) - Some of Chicago's best seafood in the atmosphere of an old-time New England seafood restaurant.

            Wildfire (Schaumburg) - Steakhouse with typical night club type atmosphere.

            Sam and Harry's (Schaumburg) - Steakhouse with interesting upscale contemporary decor. Steaks are just okay but bread service is fantastic.

            Taste of Thai (Hoffman Estates) - Longtime Thai restaurant with fairly quiet atmosphere.

            altThai (Arlington Heights) - Thai food with contemporary decor.

            Salsa 17 (Arlington Heights) - Creative provincial Mexican food in a festive atmosphere. Ask for them to bring samples of their moles.

            Yanni's (Arlington Heights) - Greek food in a festive atmosphere. (no website)

            Le Titi de Paris (Arlington Heights) - French fare in elegant surroundings. Also note that they are participating in the Chicago Originals Restaurant Week through January 29, with a special menu for $29.11.

            Lou Malnati's (Schaumburg) - For some of the best our delicious local specialty, Chicago deep-dish pizza. Two locations in Schaumburg but one is full-service, the other only for carry-out and delivery. Phone ahead with your pizza order to avoid waiting 30-45 minutes while seated for your pizza to bake.

            When you say "low key", if you're looking for a somewhat quiet atmosphere and affordable prices, the two Thai places (especially Taste of Thai) would fit best.

            1. re: nsxtasy

              Seriously, you get around! Awesome recommendations again. Thank you.

            2. re: jhojati

              Per nsxtasy's list, I concur on the Thai places, the two steak places, and Lou. There are also some other good ethnic options in the area: Korean (Woo Lae Oak), Japanese (Kurumaya, Daruma), and Indian (Priya, India House).

              I will, however, avoid Le Titi de Paris. It is highly overrated IMO. I've only been there once, and it was the second most disappointing dining experience I've had in Chicagoland (first being Charlie Trotter's). On the day I was there, neither the service nor the food was up to par. Maybe it was an off-day, but why risk it when you have other safe alternatives?

              1. re: mountsac

                I've been to Le Titi de Paris numerous times for both lunch and dinner, and it has always been superb for the food as well as the service. I will be dining there again next weekend as part of their Chicago Originals Restaurant Week promotion and will report here afterwards, but even before doing so, I can assure you that your one bad experience was not typical.

                1. re: nsxtasy

                  When you get a reservation at North Pond ask to sit on the enclosed porch or patio. That way you can look at the pond and see the people walking by. It is quite lovely and if it is snowing, it would be magical. North Pond was a great choice. The food is wonderful and the ambiance is great too.

                  North Pond
                  2610 North Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL 60614

                  1. re: suzieq4

                    The room you're referring to is not really an enclosed porch or patio. It's a regular room that's part of the building's structure. It features full length (floor to ceiling) windows and I don't know for sure but they might be "French doors" that open during the warm months of the year. So you can ask for the front room facing the pond.

                    (I've also dined in the inner room, with the open kitchen along the rear, and it's also very nice and pleasant, but it doesn't have the view of the pond and people walking by.)

            3. Quick mid-trip update:
              Thursday night we were in Schaumburg. In the mood for sushi, we decided to risk suburb sushi at Sushi Ya. Worth it. A quaint place with about 10 tables, we sat at the sushi bar and were treated to impeccable service. Sushi prices were on par with the rest of the midwest. We tried three maki rolls and the red snapper nigiri. The nigiri was outstanding - much fresher than I expected and a good amount of fish. The rolls, save one, weren't mindblowing, but were still very good - the spicy scallop roll was a bit heavy on the mayonnaise, but the spicy was more subdued and sneaky than the usual in-your-face sambal that is usually used. The fire crunch roll was unique, but grew on us with each piece. The spicy tuna that they freshly prepared for the roll was ice cold and was much like a sorbet - although confusing at first, it ended up, in my opinion, divine.

              I had lunch at Wildfire the next day, and save for the corn bread, wasn't impressed by the food or the service.

              We ended up choosing Sable Friday night - really great service - we asked for as private of a table as possible and they seated us in the back dining room away from the hustle and bustle of the bar area. We appreciated that. Our server was helpful selecting drinks, and each was made very well - you could tell they didn't skimp on the booze, but they were very well balanced cocktails. As far as food goes - thank for your the sweet corn creme brulee recommendation - it was awesome. I would order this again and again. A rundown of the other items we ordered:
              Chicken drumettes: Not very good. Not bad, but really just a simple piece of fried chicken, without much flavor, served with a spicy ranch sauce that was just prepared and didn't have time to set.
              Beef jerky: Great flavor in the jerky, albeit a bit TOO dry.
              Rock shrimp corn fritters: Wow, these are good. Addictive little things, and I think a must-order menu item. They are served along with a sauce of what seemed to be honey and sweet chili sauce, which, although good, completely overpowered the fritters. Go without the sauce and you'll be happier.
              Cheese plate: We love cheese, so we were happy with it, but it just didn't compare to most cheese plates we've had elsewhere.
              Bison sliders: Man, these are good. Tender meat, great flavor. Maybe could have used some "freshness" in the way of a slaw, or a bright sauce, but I'd order these again.
              Mussels: Fantastic broth. Well cooked mussels. Great char on the bread. Another great dish.
              Deviled eggs: Way too salty. You really couldn't taste much else from the egg and the salt. Wouldn't order again.

              So far, we've had some pretty great food. Going to Kuma's Corner for lunch today, probably Hopleaf for drinks this afternoon, and Pars Cove for dinner, then Malnati's for lunch tomorrow.

              Hopleaf Bar
              5148 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60640

              Pars Cove Restaurant
              435 W Diversey Pkwy Ste 1, Chicago, IL 60614

              Kuma's Corner
              2900 W Belmont Ave, Chicago, IL 60618