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Alinea and then ?? Trotter or L20 or ?

Out of towner, flying in mainly to dine, and have a rez for Alinea, our 2nd time there and our favorite restaurant anywhere.

Thinking of adding a 2nd night but not sure where to eat. Normally if a city has two Michelin 3 stars we'd try both, like a recent trip to Napa where we hit Meadowood and French Laundry on consecutive nights. Especially if the resto just rose to 3* I'd figure they were on a roll and likely to keep it up (like Meadowood, which was excellent).

But I guess the chef that drove L20 to 3* left last fall minutes after the 3* announcement. Looks like it's mostly seafood, sort of like Le Bernardin in NYC perhaps? We've dined at Le Bernardin on the two longer dinner menus and it was fine but maybe we missed the variety of places like Alinea and TFL as we aren't eager to return.

As for Trotter's, I have read the posts that feel he's lost a bit of his edge but I have a couple of his cookbooks and have really enjoyed several of the receipes that I was able to cook successfully. I think we would probably enjoy the longer degustation menu, which seems similar to say Jean-Georges in NYC with the Asian influences, right? Most of the complaints seem to be about the service?

Also I see an A10 Wagyu item on the Singular menu at L20 ... anyone had that, and if so how was it? We only tasted wagyu twice; at Alinea it was apparently the Japanese stuff before the embargo, cooked sous vide, and the best piece of meat I ever had ... 2nd time was at Alex in Vegas and it was domestic (Snake River Farms) wagyu and depressingly mediocre ... if I thought the L20 wagyu was similar to the Alinea wagyu (realizing it might not be on the menu in 2 months when we are coming out) that would be a strong point for L20.

Anyway, your thoughts are welcomed, especially if you've dined at both L20 and Trotter's ... especially if you've dined at L20 after L. Gras left.

Will

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Alinea
1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

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  1. I ate at L2O when Gras was still around and I was disappointed. It wasn't bad, but it was just okay, and nothing wowed me except a canele that was part of the mignardises at the end of the meal. I ate at Trotter's and it was wonderful, but it's been a few years. You've probably seen the article about Trotter's in the NY Times this week: www.nytimes.com/2011/03/30/dining/30t...

    Bottom line is this - If you discuss this with those who have dined at most of Chicago's high-end restaurants, you'll get something close to a consensus on Alinea as best, but you will get a total lack of agreement regarding what is second best. You can generally get agreement on which restaurants belong in the discussion: Charlie Trotter's, Everest, Avenues, TRU, Spiaggia, Les Nomades, Carlos, and L2O (some would also add Ria and Sixteen; maybe NoMI but it's currently closed for remodeling and they are changing chefs too). However, at every one of these, there have been one or more significantly negative reports along with the positive ones. Frankly, I think your best bet is to look at the website menus for all of them and go to whichever one sounds most appealing to you.

    1. My last visit to Trotters a few years ago was fine. No service or culinary flaws but it was boring and I hate spending serious money for boring. Others disagree, but these days I don't get it about CT.

      To my surprise, nsxtasy did not mention my first choice for you, which would be Rick Bayless' Topolobambo. Ate there shortly after Bayless won Top Chef Masters and were lucky enough to get the tasting menu he won with. Amazing.

      7 Replies
      1. re: chicgail

        The reason I didn't mention Topolobampo (or any other restaurants) is that, based on the opening post, it seems that willyum is interested solely in high-end restaurants. Now, I don't mean to spark a debate over what constitutes high-end eating, as it can be one of those "eye of the beholder" concepts. But to me, the places I've mentioned above are the ones that, in general terms, fit that term in Chicago. Just as do the ones that willyum mentions from other cities (based on my own meals at four of the five mentioned).

        Now, if willyum is interested in expanding his/her consideration to restaurants that are in what might be called the next tier, in terms of price, formality, etc., then there are plenty of excellent restaurants that could also be considered, including Topolobampo and Mexique for provincial Mexican, North Pond and Naha for contemporary American, the Florentine and Cibo Matto for contemporary Italian, just to name a few, and many more. (I'm not sure where willyum is from, but if it's New York, the analogy would be to expand the discussion from Le Bernardin and Jean Georges to consider places like Craft.) But based on the post, it sounds like he/she is looking for the top-tier places, in which case I'd stick to my original list. Perhaps willyum can let us know!

        1. re: nsxtasy

          >> Perhaps willyum can let us know!

          Nsxtasy, your first list was spot on ... having enough trouble choosing between CT and L20 to add others into the mix unless another option is clearly superior, which doesn't seem to be the case. Probably Everest would be the 3rd option, from what little I've heard.

          >> I'm not sure where willyum is from

          From the southwest, where we can get excellent Mexican (hence little interest in Topolobampo, plus, not to be too petty but I can't stand the guy's brother) but there are no good French or avant-garde places here so I like to hit those when we travel.

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          Topolobampo
          445 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

          1. re: willyum

            Perhaps I'm confused. With the kind of food, service and prices at Topo (entree prices in the $30+ range and tasting menus @$75) I don't think of Topolobamo as a second-tier restaurant.

            I understand there is excellent Mexican in the southwest, but I don't know of anyone else in the country who consistently produces creative, upscale, high-end Mexican cuisine (and I intentionally didn't use the word "food") on this scale.

            I'm not trying to "sell" a restaurant - if a Mexican flavor profile is not what you want, that's ok -- I just wonder what it is I am not understanding.

            And just for reference, willyum, who is "the guy's brother" that you can't stand - and why?

            1. re: chicgail

              Rick Bayless' brother is Skip Bayless, an analyst for ESPN. willyum is correct, Skip is a big douchebag.

              1. re: albatruffles

                You can tell I'm a big sports fan. LOL

              2. re: chicgail

                >> With the kind of food, service and prices at Topo (entree prices in the $30+ range and tasting menus @$75) I don't think of Topolobamo as a second-tier restaurant.

                "second-tier" can be a derogatory term, or it can be highly complimentary, depending on how you use it. I meant it in the most complimentary way - those restaurants that are just below the highest end restaurants in the Chicago area. So let's not pick apart words that have been used to imply a different meaning from what was intended, okay?

                The prices, service, and dining experience at Topolobampo don't put it in the same group as Trotter's et al. At the highest-end restaurants, you won't usually see entrees in the $30 range - you may not see a la carte pricing at all - and tasting menus start above $100. You'll typically pay $200-300 or more, including wine/alcohol/tax/tip, at the high-end restaurants. I paid $100 at Topolobampo last year - impossible at a high-end place. At the high-end restaurants, there's a veritable army of servers at your beck and call, sweeping dishes away, with the utmost of politeness and efficiency. The service at Topolobampo is typical of the more casual finer dining restaurants, where almost all interaction is with a single server, you don't have a sommelier automatically stopping by, etc. The seating at Topolobampo is cramped and the room is rather loud - again, typical of the more casual finer dining restaurants, not the high-end places. You rarely see diners dressing up at Topolobampo, e.g. most gentlemen are not wearing jackets, which predominate at the high-end places (even at the few that don't require them). Don't get me wrong; I like Topolobampo a lot, and I often recommend it. I just don't consider it in that high-end category of haute cuisine. (I've also enjoyed some dinners at some of our next-tier casual finer dining restaurants every bit as much as ones at the high-end places.)

                I don't think someone's brother who has no association with a restaurant is a reason for deciding whether or not to go there, but everyone can make his/her own decisions. I also don't think the Mexican cuisine at Chicago's places like Topolobampo, Mexique, Mundial Cocina Mestiza, etc., is anything like what I've found in the U.S. southwest. However, if willyum is looking for a second high-end restaurant in Chicago, that's his decision, and I think we should try to help him make that decision.

                Given the preference for French cuisine, my first choice for a second dinner is Everest. The cuisine is French-Alsatian and simply wonderful, the wine list is phenomenal, and the view from the top of the Midwest Stock Exchange building is breathtaking. Personally, I had the best service experience EVER at Everest, which is all the more remarkable considering that I've been to many of the finest restaurants around the country. I realize that chicgail had a bad service experience there recently, but she has also remarked on their food in the same dinner as great. If I had to choose my personal vote for second best restaurant in Chicagoland, it would come down to Everest or Trotter's.

                1. re: nsxtasy

                  I get your point about Topo being "second tier," but I don't agree with it. No problem. We have agreed to disagree in the past and we will again.

                  And it's not unusual for someone in a region with lots of Mexican food to not get the difference between what they have and what Topo offers.

                  If I had to choose between Everest and Trotters, given my recent experiences with both in the last year, I would go with Everest. Serious service flaws, but extraordinary food there. Trotters service was impeccable, but the food was only ok. I don't go out to eat for service; I go for great food. If you choose Everest, ask for a window table.

                  I haven't been to Tru for some time, but I would consider it, as I would Spiaggia. I know that some people have complained about service issues or the price/portion size there. Still, it's a remarkable option.

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                  Spiaggia
                  980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

        2. Been to both, but haven't been to the post-Gras L20.

          There was no service issue for me at CT. In fact, it was lovely. The food, however, didn't work for me at all. It doesn't compare with Jean Georges. Asian influence? Yes. But was it done well? No. I thought the Asian influence at Jean Georges (and L2O) was handled beautifully. But CT really doesn't handle Asian ingredients with finesse. I had the most awful shiso sorbet at Trotters - bland to the point of being inedible. I also had a salmon sashimi dish. The fish was sushi-grade, but any taste of the fish was completely overwhelmed by a strong rose-emulsion. It was a combination that adds to pretension, not flavors. I can go on. But bottom line is, the food just didn't taste that great.

          L2O for me is the clear choice between the two. But again, it depends on how much difference you think the absence of Gras would make. For whatever it's worth, I like it better than Le Bernadin. As to wagyu, just call and ask. I don't know if the ban is still in effect. If it is, then the A10 is probably from Australia.

          If you will entertain other options, I recommend Avenues.

          1. Dined at both Trotter's and L2O in the last year. However Gras was at L2O when we were there. That said, we preferred our experience at L2O. Having been to Trotter's many times we got the feeling that nothing was as good as it once was but nothing was terrible, either.

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            L2O
            2300 Lincoln Park West, Chicago, IL 60614

            1. I just dined at topo, schwa, alinea, and L2O over the weekend. I would rank schwa right behind alinea. If you don’t mind a very laid back atmosphere with non-obsequious servers I would highly recommend schwa.

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              L2O
              2300 Lincoln Park West, Chicago, IL 60614

              2 Replies
              1. re: PorkyBelly

                It's worth pointing out that lately Schwa has been cancelling a LOT of its reservations at the last minute (only a few hours before dinner).

                1. re: nsxtasy

                  Good point, I was nervous they would cancel on me too and actually had a backup reservation at Avenues. When I got into Schwa at 5:30 I made sure to cancel my Avenues reservation at 8.

              2. I ate very recently at Trotters and ate at L2O with Gras. I greatly prefer Trotters. L2O seemed to me to me more about presently pristine seafood, but without doing anything that wowed me. Trotters was a return after 10 years, and I loved it just as much as ever. I'm not saying Trotters is for everyone (that's a matter of personal preference), but I can say it hasn't "lost" anything.

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                L2O
                2300 Lincoln Park West, Chicago, IL 60614

                1. Thanks for all the replies and opinions, I enjoyed reading them.

                  Ultimately decided to go to L20 ...

                  Will

                  1 Reply