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Mar 23, 2011 10:11 AM

Alinea and Graham Elliot?

Hey Chi-Town folks. Coming into Chicago this weekend from new york city for my 30th birthday. Headed to Alinea on Friday night. Probably the most anticipated meal of my life ...

Trying to figure out the rest of the weekend. Right now it looks like this:

Saturday brunch: Longman & Eagle
Saturday dinner: Graham Elliott
Sunday brunch: Publican

Trying to do a more casual place for Saturday dinner - wanted to do Publican or Longman for dinner on Saturday but inability to get a reservation/long wait times convinced me to get a reservation at Graham Elliott.

Any other suggestions for a more casual (aka cheaper) Saturday brunch/dinner combo? Something in the vein of Longman (but tastier?) would be welcome....for the dinner $100/person all in would be great.

Is Graham Elliott something I shouldn't miss?

Thanks in advance?

1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

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

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  1. Well, to a large extent this falls under the general heading of "there are a lot of good places and one is not necessarily better than the others". The choices you've made seem to make sense. But you've asked for input, so here are thoughts I can provide on the places you've mentioned, along with some additional suggestions of places you haven't.

    Let's start with brunch. I haven't been to Longman & Eagle (at all) and have only had dinner at Publican, not brunch, so I really can't comment on either of those for brunch. However, I've tried a lot of other places for brunch, and have posted detailed reports on many of my experiences in the brunch discussion at

    Brunches generally fall into a couple of broad categories. One, which you haven't mentioned, consists of places known primarily for breakfast, which usually serve breakfast all week long, and usually do not accept reservations - places like Bongo Room, M. Henry, Jam, Southport Grocery, etc. Waits at these places are usually lengthy on Sundays (unless you go before 9:30 or after 12:30), sometimes lengthy on Saturdays, but not bad during the week. I'm guessing you've ruled these out because you want a place that takes reservations; if so, that's fine. (If OTOH you think you would love pretzel pancakes with white chocolate caramel sauce, consider Bongo Room.)

    Aside from the breakfast places, there aren't a lot of restaurants that serve brunch on Saturdays. Here are a couple of additional possibilities I can recommend. One is that many of our creative Mexican restaurants are open for brunch on Saturdays as well as Sundays. I would skip Frontera Grill if you don't have a reservation (unless you're willing to wait 90 minutes to be seated - I'm not) and instead head to Mexique in West Town, or to Mundial Cocina Mestiza in Pilsen. I had brunch at Mundial a few months ago with friends from out of town and we all loved it.

    My second suggestion, if you want to stick with contemporary American, is Cafe des Architectes. I had brunch there in January and was really impressed. They have a "brunch sampler" with small portions of a variety of things, all excellent, and they bring a wonderful complimentary basket of French pastries and baked goods to the table.

    All of these options (other than Frontera) are open Sundays as well as Saturdays. Lots of other places do a nice brunch too, but only on Sundays. If I had to choose two places for a really great Sunday brunch experience, other than the ones I've already mentioned for Saturday, they would be North Pond and Shaw's. North Pond is one of our best contemporary American restaurants, featuring local and seasonal ingredients; Chef Bruce Sherman was just named a finalist for the James Beard Award for Best Chef - Great Lakes for the fifth consecutive year. North Pond uniquely represents Chicago via its exquisite setting, located in the middle of Lincoln Park (the park itself, not the adjacent neighborhood of the same name) facing its namesake pond with the city skyline looming over the opposite shore. The renovated building formerly served as the warming shelter for skaters on the frozen pond in the winter. So it's just a very special place, and unique to Chicago.

    Shaw's Crab House is just about the food, and you really need to love seafood to appreciate it. On Sunday they do an all-you-can-eat buffet, and I consider it more of a dinner experience than a brunch experience. Oh, they have breakfast foods too - really delicious thick-cut caramelized bacon, as well as the usual benedicts and other egg dishes. But where they really shine is their seafood dishes: Alaskan king crab legs (yes, all you can eat of those - steamed/hot as well as cocktail/cold), crab cakes (among the best anywhere), shrimp cocktail, and other seafood dishes. Their desserts are also outstanding; they have creme brulee and chocolate pots de creme, both among the best you'll find anywhere. But again, if you're not a seafood lover, or if you're not looking for a huge meal early in the day, this may not be the best choice for you. (At $43, it's also not cheap for a brunch, although it's a bargain for all you can eat King crab legs.


    As for Saturday dinner, I think Graham Elliot seems like a good choice; I haven't been there but I enjoyed his cooking at Avenues (although it seems as though he's jacked his prices recently). It's one of many good contemporary American places in Chicago. My two favorites in the city are North Pond (which I've already mentioned for Sunday brunch - everything applies for dinner as well) and Sable. At Sable, Chef Heather Terhune is working culinary magic, with some of the best such food anywhere. Don't miss the sweet corn creme brulee! I love the fact that many dishes are available in half portions so you can try more things than otherwise. And the food prices are unusually low - not that that matters, but paying less is always nice (just don't do what I did, and get so thrown off by the low prices that I ordered too many savory dishes and didn't have room for dessert). Since you mention looking for a more casual, less expensive place than Graham Elliot, but one that also has great food, Sable is tough to beat; I recently ate there solo and ordered four dishes for $30, and was too full for dessert. Sable also has unusual artisanal cocktails - not my thing, but if you're into that, it's a great place for them.

    One other thing I'd like to mention is that your meals are all contemporary American. Not that there's anything wrong with that - it's your trip, you should eat what you want - but Chicago has so many other types of great food, and you're missing out on much of what we have to offer. If I had to add only one place to vary your itinerary, it would be one of our creative Mexican restaurants serving provincial food you can't get in most U.S. cities. I mentioned Mexique and Mundial as possibilities for brunch, and doing so (or maybe going to one of them for dinner) would give your itinerary a bit more variety. But if you still want to stick to contemporary American, by all means do so!

    I hope this information helps. Feel free to ask more questions, and enjoy your visit!

    1. I love your choices. They are some of my favorites, also.

      Saturday brunch is a little harder than Sunday brunch. I would have suggested The Bristol, which you would love, but they only do Sunday. Longman and Eagle has a wonderful Saturday brunch. Nxstasy's suggestions for one of the fine regional Mexican options are also very good. Or head to Chinatown for dim sum. Francesca's Forno in Wicker Park has a really nice weekend brunch as does Bin, right across the street.

      Other good places in a slightly different vein include the Bongo Room, M Henry and the Original Pancake House. I also really like Meli's in Greektown and Ina's on Randolph in the West Loop.

      I have not been impressed by Cafe Des Architects, although I haven't tried their brunch. It's a decent hotel restaurant, but not IMO a destination.

      1235 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60607

      Bongo Room
      1470 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60642

      Bongo Room
      1152 S Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60605

      Francesca's Forno
      1576 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL 60647

      Meli Cafe & Juice Bar
      301 S Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60661

      Bongo Room
      50 E Roosevelt Rd, Chicago, IL 60605

      11 Replies
      1. re: chicgail

        >> I have not been impressed by Cafe Des Architects, although I haven't tried their brunch.

        You should try it! I thought it was better than many of the a la carte type brunches I've been to, such as Perennial, etc. I really loved the brunch sampler - it reminded me of the great "American dim sum" brunch that David Burke's used to do, with a lot of different delicious items - and the basket of pastries is just wonderful!

        I haven't had dinner there since Chef Biggers took over in January (around the time I had brunch there), but I would assume that their brunch is not likely to change much under his regime.

        1. re: nsxtasy

          Thanks so much everyone - this is really helpful. A friend has convinced me to give up the Graham Elliot resy so now I have to pick a dinner spot and a brunch spot. The same friend recommended Boka. Anybody been? Looks like it got a michelin star...which may not mean much considering some of the michelin starred nyc restos. Are any of these places (sable, girl & goat or any of the Kahan restos specifically) amenable to walk-ins or is that impossible? I'm not talking about a 5:00 walk-in either.

          I'm thinking Mundial for brunch on Saturday now.

          Thanks again everyone - this has been very helpful.

          1729 North Halsted, Chicago, IL 60614

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

          1. re: johnsofats

            Don't think walk-in at G&G is going to happen. I was going to recommend Topolobampo, but walk in is nearly impossible unless it's early or late hours. I like Boka and Sable. But honestly, while they are really good, they are not something you can't find in NYC. In terms of fine-dining level food, I think Chicago trumps NYC in molecular gastronomy, gastropups, Mexican food and certain fusion cuisine. Molecular gastronomy - check. Gastropups - double check. Now, since Topolobampo is probably not going to happen at this point, I'd second Mexique (Mexican French fusion). I'd also recommend Yoshi's Cafe (Japanese French fusion done right).

            1. re: johnsofats

              I'll be in Chicago next week and when I tried to get reservations for G&TG, the only spot they had (in a two night block) was a single 10pm slot.

              Walking in as a single might get you somewhere, but I wouldn't count on it.

              1. re: johnsofats

                >> The same friend recommended Boka. Anybody been?

                I been! Someone else asked about Boka earlier today, so I can copy and paste what I wrote about it. :) I ate there a couple of months ago, and my dinner was excellent. It wasn't one of those "best of the year" type dinners where every dish was amazing and something I'd never seen before; rather, its food is similar to other contemporary American restaurants, but what it does, it does exceedingly well, with food that is well prepared and interesting, service that exceeded expectations for the category (I can give you an example if you're interested), and just a nice place doing a great all around job.

                So if you're looking for a place where you'll have good food and an enjoyable dinner, Boka is worth considering. If OTOH you're looking for a place where you'll still be thinking two weeks later about that incredible dish you had (like the sweet corn creme brulee at Sable), maybe not so much. Hope that makes sense.

                >> Are any of these places (sable, girl & goat or any of the Kahan restos specifically) amenable to walk-ins or is that impossible? I'm not talking about a 5:00 walk-in either.

                It depends on time of day, day of the week, and the number in your party. Some places there's a decent chance, others not so much. Eat early or late, and/or on a weeknight, and you may be able to be seated immediately. On a Friday or Saturday night at popular times, it's extremely unlikely. If you're dining solo, you may have a decent chance for a short wait at some of the places with communal seating (like Kahan's Publican and Avec) because they can often squeeze you in at an opening for one.

                I would strongly recommend making a reservation any of the "hot spots". Preferably as far in advance as you can. But even if you can't for some reason, I would still try to make one, even at the last minute. For example, if you are uncertain of what time you will be able to eat, when that time comes you could still hop onto Opentable and look for openings there and then (yes, you can make a reservation for the same time you're looking it up). And you will be able to see at a glance which of the restaurants on Opentable - which is most of these - have an opening for you.

                Another strategy is, if you're staying at a downtown hotel with a concierge, they can make a reservation for you; they can sometimes get openings when you can't do so via Opentable or over the phone.

                The Tribune just did an article about how long a wait to expect at various times at some of Chicago's most popular restaurants:

                Trust me: You really really REALLY don't want to find yourself on a Saturday night with no reservation, just wandering down the street looking for a place that doesn't have a wait. You'll probably find one and it will probably be awful. Been there, done that. Make a reservation if at all possible.

                >> I was going to recommend Topolobampo, but walk in is nearly impossible unless it's early or late hours.

                Not exactly. Topolobampo consists of the rear dining room at Frontera Grill. It's usually completely booked in advance - even early or late. However, most of the seating at Frontera Grill is held for walk-in customers, and on the odd chance there's a last-minute cancellation at Topolobampo, they'd offer it to whoever is waiting for Frontera; you won't be able to walk right in. Yes, waits at Frontera are excrutiatingly lengthy unless you get there before they open the doors. But if you decide to get seated at the bar at Frontera - which will probably take as long as getting a table - you can order from either menu, Frontera's or Topolobampo's.

                1. re: nsxtasy

                  So that metromix said waits of 2 to 2.5 hrs for parties of 4 on a Friday or Saturday night at G&G. Is that right? I thought it was impossible. We're cool with waiting as long as there is some booze to be had. I mean 2 hours is a long wait...but if it's good.....

                  mountsac above mentions gastropubs but doesn't list any. Does The Publican fall under that label? Purple Pig?

                  1. re: johnsofats

                    >> So that metromix said waits of 2 to 2.5 hrs for parties of 4 on a Friday or Saturday night at G&G. Is that right? I thought it was impossible. We're cool with waiting as long as there is some booze to be had. I mean 2 hours is a long wait...but if it's good.....

                    Waits that long are absolutely possible. Even longer. I haven't been there yet, but all reports are that it's good. Seriously, though, I don't know why anyone would go somewhere and wait that long, when there are plenty of good places where you can just make a reservation, but that's your choice.

                    >> mountsac above mentions gastropubs but doesn't list any. Does The Publican fall under that label? Purple Pig?

                    Gastropubs typically refer to places with a lot of unusual beers in addition to food. That would include the Publican (which TAKES RESERVATIONS including on Opentable) and the Gage (which TAKES RESERVATIONS including on Opentable) as well as Purple Pig (which does NOT take reservations and has excrutiatingly long waits). And there are good gastropubs in New York as well as here; I don't consider that something you can't get at home.

                    1. re: johnsofats

                      The Publican and L&E are both gastropubs. You've got that covered.

                    2. re: nsxtasy

                      Well perhaps dinner is harder. I've walked in on Topolobampo twice for lunch - party of two - with no problem. The trick is to go line up 20 min. before opening.

                      1. re: mountsac

                        Topolobampo accepts reservations starting three months ahead of time, and the dinner reservations book up within a couple of weeks of being available. Lunch reservations are much easier, and generally only book up a couple of weeks ahead of time. They may be able to squeeze you in for lunch when you first arrive. There's no way that would happen for dinner.

                        1. re: nsxtasy

                          Unfortunately - the trip is reservations at some of the places that have been mentioned (and actually take reservations) were hard to come by. The best I could at any of the places was a 9:45 at doing a walk-in is our best bet right now.

                          Any any rate - thanks for the help everyone. I really appreciate it. I'll report back next week with details.

              2. Check out Kith and Kin in Lincoln Park. Very low key, casual but very well executed food. Wine list is spot on and you can find a few great drinks but don't pass up the bar. They mix a mean cocktail as well. For me this is a great example of a neighborhood Chicago restaurant that cares about the food they put out. They don't get a lot of press and that's good (for customers who go there) and bad (because the place is great. Plus you're just a 10 minute cab from Big Star for dessert tacos (read pork belly, al pastor) and whiskey. Don't skip Kith and Kin's dessert menu, just go easy at lunch. If you can get a seat at Big Star, belly up.

                Kith and Kin
                1119 W. Webster Ave., Chicago, IL 60614

                1 Reply
                1. re: BeanTownGolfer

                  I've heard great things about Big Star. May check it out for lunch.