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Questions for an Upcoming Chicago Visit

Hello Chicago hounds, I'm a fellow NYC hound and wanted to pick your brains re an upcoming visit. My gf and I are planning a week long vacation around May/June. I have done a bit of research on the Chicago boards and have a good idea of what I want but need some additional help. Unsure where we are staying, but have a flexible itinerary and will travel for food. Love that most of your restaurants accept reservations via Opentable 3 months out, instead of two or one in NYC. Money is not a concern, and am focused on great food, whatever the type.

Dinners
Although I enjoy a wide range of dining experience (both high and low end), at least for this trip, I feel like I'm looking for the very best of what Chicago has to offer. While my trip is still a couple months away, I already know I'll be trying to get reservations to:

- Alinea - no question as why I'd want to go here.
- Schwa - hoping I can get a reservation.
- Avenues - very intrigued by Chef Duffy's food.

For the remaining four meals (assuming I get lucky and can get all of my aforementioned reservations) I'm very interested to hear what you think about the following dinner ideas:

- L2O - anyone been since Gras left for NYC?
- Topolobampo - very interested, also a lunch option.
- Charlie Trotters - Grand Tasting menu looks very appealing.
- Tru - still good after Chef Tramonto left?
- Blackbird - have heard/read great things about Chef Kahn's food, also a lunch option.
- Bonsoiree - alternative to Schwa? BYOB and creative food.
- Ria - have read mixed comments regarding people's experiences.
- Spiaggia - best Italian in Chicago?

Lunch - Looking for many of iconic foods to Chicago, and I'd like to hear your opinions:
- Italian Beef - Portillo's or Ale's Beef?
- Deep Dish Pizza - Pizzeria Uno or Pizzeria Due?
- "Haute" Mexican - Topolobampo/Frontera/Xoco
- Hot Dogs - Wiener Circle, Super Dog, Hot Doug's?
- Belly Shack/Urban Belly?
- Purple Pig

Breakfast/Brunch - We like both savory and sweet options and am interested to hear what people think about the following:
- Publican
- Frontera Grill/Xoco
- M. Henry
- Bongo Room
- Jam
- Ann Sather
- Yolk
- Orange
- Toast
- Kitsch'n

Feel free to let me know if you think I'm missing anything and a big thanks in advance!

-----
Pizzeria Due
619 N Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

Pizzeria Uno
29 E Ohio St, Chicago, IL 60611

Alinea
1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

Hot Doug's
3324 N California Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

Bonsoiree
2728 W Armitage, Chicago, IL 60647

Charlie Trotter's
816 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago, IL 60614

Bongo Room
1152 S Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60605

Topolobampo
445 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

Wiener Circle
2622 N Clark 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. Sounds like you've already done a lot of research!

    One thing I'd say, right off the bat. I would recommend not overloading your itinerary with high-end places. Not that we don't have great ones, but there is so much more to our food scene than just the fancy places. If you are here for a week and you're already going to Alinea and either Avenues or Schwa, I would personally not add L2O or TRU or Trotter's on top of those (although you could easily substitute Trotter's for the Avenues/Schwa dinner). No, they're not all the same, but unless you're trying to hit all the high-end places and you don't care about anything else - which is certainly your privilege if you want to - I'd stop there and add some diversity by having dinners at some of our more casual finer dining places.

    >> I'm very interested to hear what you think about the following dinner ideas:
    >> - L2O - anyone been since Gras left for NYC?

    Haven't been, wasn't blown away while he was still here.

    >> - Topolobampo - very interested, also a lunch option.

    Good idea.

    >> - Charlie Trotters - Grand Tasting menu looks very appealing.

    Good place but see above.

    >> - Tru - still good after Chef Tramonto left?

    Yes. But see above.

    >> - Blackbird - have heard/read great things about Chef Kahn's food, also a lunch option.

    Very good option for lunch, but there are better places to spend a dinner on.

    >> - Bonsoiree - alternative to Schwa? BYOB and creative food.

    Haven't been.

    >> - Ria - have read mixed comments regarding people's experiences.

    Mine was negative.

    >> - Spiaggia - best Italian in Chicago?

    It is absolutely the best Italian in Chicago. Would I go there if I lived in NYC? No - just because there is so much high-end Italian there. But I would instead consider one of our nicer but more casual contemporary Italian restaurants. See more below.

    >> Lunch - Looking for many of iconic foods to Chicago, and I'd like to hear your opinions:
    >> - Italian Beef - Portillo's or Ale's Beef?

    The endless debate. Personally I recommend Portillo's because you can get an excellent Italian beef and an excellent Chicago hot dog.

    >> - Deep Dish Pizza - Pizzeria Uno or Pizzeria Due?

    Great choice. They're virtually identical and they're a block apart. Flip a coin.

    >> - "Haute" Mexican - Topolobampo/Frontera/Xoco

    They do different things (and we have many more creative Mexican places besides these, just not right downtown near the hotels). Topolobampo is supposedly the high-end place but at lunch the prices are similar to Frontera. Topo also takes reservations on Opentable whereas Frontera only accepts a few, otherwise you're stuck waiting for a table. XOCO's food is more conventional and less "haute", so it's not that different from what you can find in other cities; it can be a good choice for breakfast.

    >> - Hot Dogs - Wiener Circle, Super Dog, Hot Doug's?

    Go to Portillo's.

    >> - Belly Shack/Urban Belly?

    Haven't been, heard good things.

    >> - Purple Pig

    Haven't been. They don't accept reservations, and serve the same menu all day long, so I recommend it more for lunch or mid-afternoon when the waits aren't as long as at dinner.

    >> Breakfast/Brunch - We like both savory and sweet options and am interested to hear what people think about the following:
    >> - Publican

    Haven't been there for brunch, only dinner.

    >> - Frontera Grill/Xoco

    XOCO is a good choice for breakfast. Frontera only does brunch on Saturday. DO NOT plan on going there for Saturday brunch unless you can get a reservation. A few months ago I wanted to go there, couldn't get a reservation, but knew enough to call first to ask how long the wait for a table was. When I was told 90 minutes, I instead went to Mundial Cocina Mestiza and had a wonderful brunch. For whatever reason, many of our creative Mexican restaurants are open for brunch on Saturday in addition to Sunday. I highly recommend brunch (or dinner) Mundial Cocina Mestiza or Mexique if you can't get a reservation for Frontera Grill.

    Now I'm going to make a comment that applies to ALL of the remaining places you have listed for brunch options. None of them accept reservations, and they have long waits to be seated - 30-60 minutes or more - on Sundays roughly betweeen 9:30 and 12:30. I recommend that on a Sunday you go someplace that accepts reservations, and go to those other places on any other day of the week instead.

    >> - M. Henry

    I love M. Henry. Note that their weekend brunch menu has some options (e.g. bread pudding) not available during the week. Also note that they just opened a sister restaurant called M. Henrietta, same stuff, and it's more convenient to public transportation than the original.

    >> - Bongo Room

    I love Bongo Room too. It, M. Henry/Henrietta, and Walker Brothers are my three favorite places for breakfast/brunch.

    >> - Jam

    Very good, maybe not quite in the pantheon with M. Henry and Bongo Room, but next best (along with Southport Grocery, which you didn't mention).

    >> - Ann Sather
    >> - Yolk
    >> - Kitsch'n

    All three of these are "just" pretty good, serving very conventional breakfast fare. They're not bad, but not as creative as the previous choices.

    >> - Orange
    >> - Toast

    Both of these can be a little more creative, but not quite on the level of the first few choices.

    >> Feel free to let me know if you think I'm missing anything and a big thanks in advance!

    Well, Southport Grocery, among the breakfast places. Also Walker Brothers if you don't mind traveling to the suburbs.

    For your dinners, again, I think you would do well to diversify by adding some of our casual finer dining restaurants. Here are some suggestions. North Pond is an excellent choice, with contemporary American cuisine in an exquisite, unique setting in the middle of the park (not just the edge of the park like the former Tavern on the Green). Sable is another great choice for contemporary American cuisine (don't miss the sweet corn creme brulee!) as well as artisanal cocktails. I would include at least one of our creative Mexican restaurants (Topolobampo, Mundial, Mexique, Salpicon, Mixteco Grill) for dinner in addition to brunch. I would also include one of our contemporary Italian restaurants: Cibo Matto, Vivere, or the Florentine. I'd consider a French bistro (La Sardine, Kiki's), and maybe one or more of our upscale ethnic restaurants such as pan-Asian (Red Light, Aria, Sunda) and Latin Fusion (Carnivale, Nacional 27).

    Feel free to ask more questions, and enjoy your visit!

    3 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      nsxtasy, I was hoping for a in depth response from you! Thank you for all of your comments/suggestions. Regarding dinners, I completely agree with you about there being much more to a city than its finest establishments. I always try to tell people visiting NYC there's much more than whats listed in Michelin/Zagots. However, seeing how its my gf's first time to Chicago and my first time where I can actually partake in some fine dining, I was hoping to do some of Chicago's best/most iconic fine dining for dinners. As a result, I asked differences/thoughts between the likes of Trotter's, Tru, Blackbird and would feel free to include the likes of Vie and Everest. I feel that nothing we have in NYC quite compares to the experiences of Alinea, Schwa (maybe a Momofuku in terms of stripped ambiance and focus on the food) and the plates being produced by Chef Duffy so those are all given pending reservations.

      I am going to probably pass on Spiaggia, but as you said, NYC has quite an impressive list of upscale Italian, with last year being no exception. Between Batali, White and Conant I've had my fair share of this type of food.

      I know gastropubs are all the rage right now, but seeing how NYC has The Spotted Pig, The Breslin and now The John Dory version 2.0, I am content on trying The Purple Pig for lunch since you pointed out that they offer the same menu throughout the day or scrapping the idea altogether.

      Concerning lunch, what other Chicago musts would you likely include, or what are some of your other personal favorites? I thank you for all of the feedback regarding pizza, Italian beef and hot dogs, so I'm wondering if I'm missing anything. I'm Korean and my gf is Chinese so we eat plenty of Asian food, that said, I'm very interested in what Chef Kim is doing with his two restaurants. Also, I cannot imagine visiting Chicago and not going to a Bayless restaurant. I'll most likely visit Xoco for either breakfast/lunch and if I cannnot get reservations for Frontera, will try to make reservations for Topolobampo.

      As for brunch, thank you for all of your comments. I feel like instead of fighting with the crowds, I'll take your advice, try to make reservations and then hit some of the other places for breakfast. I'm curious though, the wait times you listed, are they for both the week and weekends? I know the lines are awful at Clinton Street Baking Co. here but are managable during the week. Also, what are some other brunch suggestions that take reservations? I know from reading other boards you are a fan of Cafe des Architects, but am open to other ideas.

      Also, one thing I forgot to mention was cocktail suggestions. I know of the Violet Hour but what are some comperable places?

      Thank you again for all of your suggestions, they are very helpful.

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

      Topolobampo
      445 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

      Spiaggia
      980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

      Violet Hour
      1247 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

      XOCO
      449 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

      1. re: TheDegustationAsian

        >> I asked differences/thoughts between the likes of Trotter's, Tru, Blackbird and would feel free to include the likes of Vie and Everest.

        I think there's a big difference between the high-end places with their formal attire, huge serving staffs, tasting menus, and higher prices (Trotter's, TRU, Everest), and the more moderately priced, more casual finer dining places (Blackbird, Vie). Just as there is in NYC when comparing, say, a high-end place like Jean Georges and a more casual finer dining place like Craft. All are excellent in their respective categories.

        At the high end, Trotter's is still very innovative, and so are TRU and Avenues, all in a contemporary American genre without going way out there with molecular gastronomy the way Alinea does. Everest is distinguished by being the only French-Alsatian entry in the group (just as Spiaggia is our only high-end Italian place), as well as with its enormous wine list (biggest collection of Alsatian wines in the country) and exquisite view from the 40th Floor looking out over the city. I had the very best service experience in my life there, but someone else here recently had a bad service experience, which can happen anywhere.

        In the mid-range, Blackbird and Vie both have excellent food but with qualifications. I think the food at Blackbird is exceptionally delicious, but I've been not so thrilled with its smallish portion sizes, loud noise level, and banquette tables that are thisclose to those on either side. That's why I think it's a great choice for lunch, when you can put up with those factors for an hour or so. Vie is excellent too, but it's quite a trip from the city, either by car or by commuter train - and if you are willing to take that trip by car or commuter train, I think Michael is even better.

        >> Concerning lunch, what other Chicago musts would you likely include, or what are some of your other personal favorites? I thank you for all of the feedback regarding pizza, Italian beef and hot dogs, so I'm wondering if I'm missing anything.

        I think you're already considering some of our best ideas for lunch: Blackbird, Purple Pig, and Topolobampo for nicer fare, and then several cheap eats places including Uno/Due for deep-dish, and Portillo's for Italian beef and Chicago hot dogs.

        I should mention that one difference between Chicago and NYC is that none of our 5-6 very highest-end places are open for lunch (although if you extend the group to the next 5-6 places you can include NoMI and Sixteen, which are both open for lunch).

        >> I'm Korean and my gf is Chinese so we eat plenty of Asian food, that said, I'm very interested in what Chef Kim is doing with his two restaurants.

        I have heard very good things about how he is combining Asian and Latin cuisine. I think either would be a great choice for a lunch.

        >> Also, I cannot imagine visiting Chicago and not going to a Bayless restaurant. I'll most likely visit Xoco for either breakfast/lunch and if I cannnot get reservations for Frontera, will try to make reservations for Topolobampo.

        As you have indicated, Topo starts taking reservations exactly three months ahead of time. Dinners fill up very quickly. Lunch on Fridays tends to fill up about a month ahead, and you can often book lunch on Tuesdays through Thursdays as little as 2-3 weeks ahead. Since it's on Opentable, it's easy to book, and easy to cancel if your plans change.

        >> As for brunch, thank you for all of your comments. I feel like instead of fighting with the crowds, I'll take your advice, try to make reservations and then hit some of the other places for breakfast. I'm curious though, the wait times you listed, are they for both the week and weekends?

        No! Those long wait times are ONLY on Sundays. So go elsewhere on Sunday - maybe the Publican, maybe somewhere else - and you've still got six other days while you're here to check them out.

        >> Also, what are some other brunch suggestions that take reservations? I know from reading other boards you are a fan of Cafe des Architects, but am open to other ideas.

        I should explain a bit about Cafe des Architectes, which is in the beautiful Sofitel. I went there several times when it was under Chef Martial Noguier, and always loved it, just as I loved one sixtyblue when he was running the show there. He left CdA a few months ago and I don't think a new chef has taken over yet. But I certainly enjoyed Sunday brunch when I went there a couple of weeks ago - in particular, their "brunch sampler" which had ten different items (three juices, four mains, three desserts) in small portion sizes. All were excellent, and with a complimentary basket of French baked goods on the table, how can you not love it? :) So yes, I do like CdA a lot.

        Shaw's Crab House is another interesting brunch, although that's really more of a seafood dinner buffet. It's an AYCE buffet with upscale items on it like Alaskan king crab legs (hot or cold), crab cakes (best in the city), creme brulee (ditto), etc, as well as more conventional breakfast fare like bacon, scrambled eggs, omelets prepared to order, etc. It's $43, which is a lot if you're just eating breakfast stuff, or a bargain if you go big on the seafood.

        Beyond that, there are lots more good places that do an a la carte Sunday brunch and take reservations on Opentable. Two that come immediately to mind are Atwood Cafe in the Loop and Perennial in Lincoln Park. You mentioned the Publican, where I haven't been for brunch but that's an option too.

        >> Also, one thing I forgot to mention was cocktail suggestions. I know of the Violet Hour but what are some comperable places?

        Sable is certainly comparable; in fact, they hired their chief mixologist away from the Violet Hour. You can check out their HUGE menu of artisanal cocktails on their website at www.sablechicago.com However, I gotta say, if you only go there for drinks, you're really missing something special. Their contemporary American food is from Chef Heather Terhune and she's terrific. Many of the dishes are available in half as well as full portion sizes, which enables you to try more items. The food is surprisingly inexpensive, too. Don't miss the sweet corn creme brulee!

        Keep asking questions!

        1. re: nsxtasy

          I think there's a big difference between the high-end places with their formal attire, huge serving staffs, tasting menus, and higher prices (Trotter's, TRU, Everest), and the more moderately priced, more casual finer dining places (Blackbird, Vie). Just as there is in NYC when comparing, say, a high-end place like Jean Georges and a more casual finer dining place like Craft. All are excellent in their respective categories.

          Thank you for the nice analogy, it really helps put things in perspective for a New Yorkers. I would agree, they all seem like excellent restaurants in their respective catagories.

          >> I should mention that one difference between Chicago and NYC is that none of our 5-6 very highest-end places are open for lunch (although if you extend the group to the next 5-6 places you can include NoMI and Sixteen, which are both open for lunch).

          Would you include Boka in that next tier? What are your thoughts? I know you like North Pond, and I'm looking at NoMi and Sixteen. Also, I have many friends from Winnetka, and you really like Michael's...is contemp French a fair label? I'm also interested in looking more at Everest...I really liked the Alsatian cuisine of Chef Kreuther at The Modern.

          -----
          Boka
          1729 North Halsted, Chicago, IL 60614

          North Pond
          2610 North Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL 60614

    2. Some thoughts where I either have a point of view that wasn't addressed or a different point of view:

      - Charlie Trotters
      Was there recently and was very underwhelmed.

      - Bonsoiree
      Love it. Love. The food is superb and IMO, underpriced for what it is. But it's not yet hard to get a reservation so go, but don't tell anyone.

      - Belly Shack/Urban Belly?
      excellent. unique. fun. inexpensive. Not sure if Belly Shack is open for lunch, but Urban Belly is.

      - Publican
      Wonderful brunch, but watch out for the Bloody Mary's with beer chasers. My mouth is watering thinking of it.

      - M. Henry
      Good. Very good, just maybe not worth the trip if you're staying in the City Center.

      - Ann Sather
      not worth it any more

      - Orange
      Very creative and good, albeit, not the Bongo Room, but also not the wait

      - Toast
      Good breakfasts. A neighborhood place. Friendly, but not extraordinary if you're looking for extraordinary.

      - Kitsch'n
      Also good. Kitschy if that's what you feel like.

      2 Replies
      1. re: chicgail

        Thanks for the reply chicgail!

        Sorry to hear about your recent experience at Trotter's, but appreciate the input as it can only help me finalize my itinerary. The creativeness/value/BYOB all appealed to me re Bonsoiree, and feel like it would be a good substitute if I'm unsuccessful with Schwa.

        Instead of fighting the crowds for weekend brunch, as I mentioned above, I feel like I may try to visit some of these places for breakfast. Not looking for anything mind blowing, but good breakfasts.

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

        1. re: chicgail

          >> Not sure if Belly Shack is open for lunch, but Urban Belly is.

          Both are open for lunch!

        2. On your question around cocktails, the Violet Hour is a definite must- both for the cocktails and the atmosphere, it's a great spot. They do fill up though and will only allow you in when there is available seating, so keep that in mind when you go. We generally go before dinner right when it opens on the weekend, if we want to avoid having to wait. Another spot that I think is equally creative in their cocktails is The Drawing Room. It's located in the Gold Coast and is also a restaurant, although I've never dined there, Grant Achatz has commented several times about how much he likes the place. On the cocktail side, they are excellent and if they aren't too busy they will even roll a cart tableside and have someone mix your drink there and explain the different ingredients to you.
          Others have commented on Sable having creative cocktails, the cocktails I've had there do not measure up to the Violet Hour or Drawing Room, so I wouldn't necessarily recommend it as a destination spot for cocktails, unless you're nearby.

          -----
          The Drawing Room
          937 N Rush St, Chicago, IL 60611

          Violet Hour
          1247 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

          1 Reply
          1. re: ms. mika

            Thanks for the suggestions ms. mika. Always looking for creative or just a well prepared cocktail so the information is much appreciated. I will be sure to check both out and will note how busy/popular they are, so as to plan accordingly.

            I forgot to mention that during all of these long responses I almost forgot that I'd love to experience Next and the Aviary if they are open and more importantly, if I could buy tickets, haha! I've been monitoring some of their cocktails and they look very interesting. If you visit New York, Eleven Madison Park will prepare nitro cocktails in the kitchen for you. I've recently had their take on a Hemmingway Daiquiri and an Old Fashioned.

          2. Your top three are well picked. Alinea, Avenues, and Schwa are must-go's!

            I really think you should skip Charlie Trotter's. It was the most disappointing dining experience I've had (because of the high expectation). Trotter is a good example of "trying to be Asian-fusion" gone wrong. Horrible use of Asian ingredients. If you want contemporary American/French with an Asian bent, Bonsoiree, L2O, and Takashi all do a better job than Trotter's.

            Speaking of French-Japanese fusion, Yoshi's Cafe is a must in Chicago IMO. It's casual, but the service and the execution are great! Love their dinner as much as the Sunday Japanese breakfast. Although the concept (French Japanese fusion) is ubiquitous, Yoshi's Cafe's version is unique and is the best of the kind. You won't find this kind of cuisine in NY (although NY kicks Chicago's ass when it comes to authentic Japanese food, lol).

            Haute Mexican is definitely something Chicago does better than NYC. Topolobampo, Salpicon, and Mexique come to mind. Xoco is street food (very good street food), not haute cuisine. I'm not a fan of Frontera Grill and would recommend you to just do Topo. I would also give Carnivale a chance. It's non-Mexican Latin. The food and drinks are great, and the ambiance is fun.

            Lunch: Portillo's for the Chicago dog, Italian beef, and polish dog. Berghoff Cafe (in the basement of the main German restaurant) actually does a pretty okay Italian beef too. Hot Doug's foie gras dog is a must. Uno and Due are the basically the same. If the wait is too long, try Lou Malnati's. I like Belly Shack. If you're a fan of Korean fusion, try also Crisp, especially its Korean burrito (they're also known for their Korean style fried chicken). I'm not a fan of Purple Pig. For gastropubs, I like The Gage and Publican better. Blackbird's lunch prix fixe is the best lunch deal in Chicago (kind of like Jean George's lunch, though not as high end).

            Breakfast: I like the Bongo Room. Yolk is just okay.

            For drinks, yes, Violet Hours. Signature Lounge and Cite have great views. Bin 36 is a good spot for wine flights. Carnivale and Gilt do pretty good cocktails. I also like the rooftop lounge at the Wit Hotel.

            Other Chicago joints I recommend: Avec, Province, Lula Cafe, and Hot Chocolate (for dessert).

            4 Replies
            1. re: mountsac

              mountsac, thanks for your comments. I'm starting to become unsure about Trotter's. I've heard mixed feedback from a couple of hounds, which shouldn't occur at that price point. Michelin stars and other ratings aside, I know people understandingly have high expectations re the restaurant but I wonder if these experiences were merely outliers or are sadly more common occurances. I initially was interested in the restaurant because of its reputation but will be sure to do some more investigating.

              I'm very much considering Bonsoiree as a replacement in the likely event that I don't get a Schwa reservation. I'd love to hear any hounds' experiences re L2O post-Gras. I get very uncomfortable when such a high profile Chef leaves a restaurant. However, I do like seafood and this seems to be one of the best seafood restaurants in the Chicago, if not all of the Midwest. I have an upcoming Le Bernardin reservation (2nd visit) and initially thought this was the closest comp to that, or to Providence in L.A. Thanks for the Yoshi suggestion, I'll have to take a look, although, as you said, we have plenty of great Japanese restaurants in NYC.

              I am now set on doing Xoco for breakfast/lunch and possibly both. I love the concept and have heard great reviews. I'm also most likely going to make a lunch reservation for Toplobampo and avoid the hassle of Frontera altogether.

              I have to hit Portillo's for a Chicago dog and Italian Beef. I've been interested in Hot Doug's (especially the foie dog) and might go if a friend is willing to loan me their car for an EARLY (10:30) Friday afternoon lunch - duck fat fries. Thanks for the Crisp rec, will be sure to take a look. Not such a fan of gastro pubs either due to how loud/crowded they are, but am looking to book Sunday brunch at Publican. Speaking of Chef Kahn, will be sure to book a lunch reservation for Blackbird as well.

              Looking at Bongo Room, Jam, M. Henry, Southport Grocery and Walker Bros. for breakfast too.

              Thanks for the list of places for cocktails. Violet Hour, Sable and Drawing Room all look great.

              -----
              Hot Doug's
              3324 N California Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

              Bonsoiree
              2728 W Armitage, Chicago, IL 60647

              Bongo Room
              1152 S Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60605

              The Drawing Room
              937 N Rush St, Chicago, IL 60611

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

              L2O
              2300 Lincoln Park West, Chicago, IL 60614

              Violet Hour
              1247 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

              XOCO
              449 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

              1. re: TheDegustationAsian

                If you are going in thne next few days, you might want to stick to snow cones.

                1. re: TheDegustationAsian

                  Sounds like your plans are coming together very nicely! A few more comments about things you've mentioned...

                  >> I'd love to hear any hounds' experiences re L2O post-Gras. I get very uncomfortable when such a high profile Chef leaves a restaurant. However, I do like seafood and this seems to be one of the best seafood restaurants in the Chicago, if not all of the Midwest. I have an upcoming Le Bernardin reservation (2nd visit) and initially thought this was the closest comp to that

                  L2O is the only one of Chicago's high-end restaurants that supposedly specializes in seafood. I say "supposedly" not as a slam, but rather, because (a) they also serve non-seafood items, and (b) most other nice restaurants have plenty of seafood options on the menu. So when you go to Alinea, or Everest, or anywhere in the high-end group, as well as North Pond, Blackbird, or just about anywhere in our more moderate finer dining places, you'll see quite a few seafood dishes on the menu, and these good places all get the freshest supplies and cook them expertly. The point being, the lines blur between restaurants that specialize in seafood and those that don't. In fact, it wasn't until after I had eaten at Le Bernardin that I heard that they specialize in seafood, and I didn't really notice it while eating there!

                  All of that being said... if you love seafood and want to go to our very best restaurant that specializes in seafood, I strongly recommend Oceanique, in Evanston. Their seafood preparations are superb, and you'll also find that they do some of the best soups, sauces, and desserts anywhere in Chicagoland. Evanston is the first town north of the Chicago city limits on Lake Michigan, and Oceanique is half a block from the Main Street stations for the CTA (subway/el) and Metra (commuter trains), or 25 minutes from downtown Chicago by car/cab. They sometimes have seafood specials on their website at www.oceanique.com and also have prix fixe bargain menus on weekdays.

                  >> I've been interested in Hot Doug's (especially the foie dog) and might go if a friend is willing to loan me their car for an EARLY (10:30) Friday afternoon lunch - duck fat fries.

                  Hot Doug's was a big disappointment for me. I heard about the duck fat fries and tried them side by side with their regular fries, and wasn't overly impressed with either one. The foie dog... well, it was something that I really looked forward to (I love seared foie gras) and didn't impress me either. Of course, waiting 80 minutes in line outside wasn't a thrill either. But it's one of those things that you just have to do... ONCE. Tip: They close and go on vacation from time to time, and those vacations are always posted weeks ahead of time on their website at www.hotdougs.com so make sure you check there beforehand.

                  >> Not such a fan of gastro pubs either due to how loud/crowded they are, but am looking to book Sunday brunch at Publican.

                  Definitely VERY loud and crowded. Tip: About half the seating at the Publican consists of two loooong communal tables, and half is conventional 2-, 4-, and 6-tops. If you have a preference for the communal seating or for your own private table, mention it in the comments when making your reservation on Opentable (or over the phone).

                  >> Speaking of Chef Kahn, will be sure to book a lunch reservation for Blackbird as well.

                  Paul KAHAN.

                  1. re: nsxtasy

                    nsxtasy, agreed with you about the whole "seafood" restaurant. To further illustrate your point, even at Le Bernardin, there is a selection of non-seafood dishes that are always available "upon request."

                    I've heard mixed things about Hot Doug's, especially its location, and the epic lines. By no means do I plan on getting my Chicago dog fix here. It's more of a one-of-a-kind place thats located in Chicago. I've had duck fat fries from other places on a number of occassions and agree they aren't revolutionary (I'm perfectly content with a proper french fry), but may go since friends we'll be visiting have already talked about taking us. That, and the fact that they have cars, haha.

                    Thanks for the info re the seating at Publican. I'll be sure to make a note when I book through Opentable. Finally, thanks for the correction re Chef Kahan!

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                    Hot Doug's
                    3324 N California Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

              2. Although still around a month away, thanks to many of your suggestions and lurking on the lth forum, I've been get a much better idea of my itinerary. Feel free to add comments as you see fit and thank you again for all of your help, will be sure to follow up post visit.

                Thursday - Arrive around 9 AM, plan on checking into our hotel (Courtyard Marriott Downtown) and grab lunch nearby at Pizzeria Uno. Dinner reservations at Schwa. Yes, I know all about Schwa's notorious pipe/sewer issues and am still trying to think of some good back up options. Thinking about some good places that don't take reservations as Schwa has a nasty habit of canceling last minute.

                Friday - Breakfast at Xoco. Have a few friends willing to play hookey and drive us out to Hot Doug's for lunch. Dinner reservations at Next.

                Saturday - Plan on making brunch reservations at Big Jones as we want something a little different than your typical eggs/pancakes. Cubs game in the afternoon. Dinner reservations at the Chef's Counter at Avenues.

                Sunday - Brunch reservations at a private table (thanks for this info nsxtasy!) at Publican. Dinner reservations with a kitchen tour at Alinea.

                Monday - Breakfast at Bongo Room. Planing to spend the rest of the day with my gf's family.

                Tuesday - Breakfast at M. Henry. Lunch reservations at Blackbird. Dinner reservations at Tru.

                Wednesday - Breakfast at Jam. Lunch reservations at Topolobampo. Dinner reservations at L2O. Despite little feedback regarding the restaurant post-Gras, I'm willing to take a chance. Plus, I'll be attending a James Beard dinner with Gras this Friday!

                Thursday - Breakfast at Southport Grocery. Lunch at Portillo's and off to the airport.

                Unsure when exactly, but we also plan on grabbing cocktails at Aviary (if its open and looking late Sunday to "maybe" avoid the crowds, Sable, The Drawing Room and Violet Hour.

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                Pizzeria Uno
                29 E Ohio St, Chicago, IL 60611

                Alinea
                1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

                Hot Doug's
                3324 N California Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

                Bongo Room
                1152 S Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60605

                The Drawing Room
                937 N Rush St, Chicago, IL 60611

                Topolobampo
                445 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

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

                Big Jones
                5347 N. Clark, Chicago, IL 60640

                L2O
                2300 Lincoln Park West, Chicago, IL 60614

                Violet Hour
                1247 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

                XOCO
                449 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

                2 Replies
                  1. re: TheDegustationAsian

                    Can't wait to hear your trip report- you're really hitting up a lot of great spots.