Gal's Birthday Idea-Please help!
Hi, have been taking an annual trip to Chicago (from Toronto) in June for my friend's birthday for the last 3yrs now. . .we LOVE Chicago! Last year we had afternoon tea at the Peninsula followed by a walk through the city hitting the highlights of Chicago public art, capping the night off at Topolobampo. It was a spectacular day!
Am needing to plan something again this year, but have to out do last year! Was thinking of checking out Alinea after all the wonderful reviews, but sadly, can't get a reso.
Desperately need help! Would like to have some champagne somewhere and end up for nice but fun place for dinner. We are fantastic 36yr old single girls, but definitely not into the meat-market scene (if you know what I mean). We love the art and architecture of Chicago and are total foodies!
Anyone have any ideas how to spend the day?!!
1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614
445 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610
Well, I know the Chowhound Team frowns upon extended discussions of activities that aren't related to food and beverage, so I won't go on at length. I know the Chicago Architecture Foundation has architectural tours of the city, including some held by boat, that might be fun. www.architecture.org But really, it's up to you what to do - Chicago has everything you can imagine, including shopping, museums, etc. You might want to go through the city's official tourism website at www.choosechicago.com for ideas.
As for recommendations on where to eat, I'm having a little trouble trying to figure out whether you are looking for a truly high-end dining experience, or something a bit more casual. (You mentioned Alinea, which is of course our very best.) The high-end restaurants are all rather formal (jackets required for gentlemen) and expensive (typically $200-300 per person including alcohol/tax/tip); have high levels of service with veritable armies of serving staff; offer extensive tasting menus; have big-name chefs using exotic ingredients; etc. Our more casual finer dining restaurants are more casual in attire (no jackets), not as expensive ($100ish or less), are typically a la carte; etc. Topolobampo falls into the latter category in terms of attire, pricing, staff, decor, etc. The high-end, formal places are often a bit more sedate, not quite as festive/raucous as the casual places, but can be wonderful; it's all a matter of what you're looking for.
If you want to go high-end, there's no consensus on a "second best" after Alinea; there are a number of them, including Charlie Trotter's, Avenues (in the Peninsula), Everest, Spiaggia (the only Italian), and TRU. All are very good with mostly (although not necessarily unanimously) positive reviews. You should be able to get a reservation at any of these as long as it's not truly last minute.
If you want to go with something in the casual finer dining category, there are literally hundreds of great places all over the city, many of them in or near the downtown area where you're probably staying. Cuisine may be one way to help you decide. Some of our very best places include contemporary American (Sable, noteworthy for its artisanal cocktails; North Pond, with its exquisite setting in the middle of the park), Italian (the Florentine or Cibo Matto with their contemporary take on Italian, Cafe Spiaggia or Coco Pazzo which are slightly, but only slightly, more conventional); Mexican (I'm guessing you might want to do something else since you did Topolobampo, but if not, Mexique is worth considering); Latin fusion (Carnivale, Nacional 27); tapas (Mercat a la Planxa); pan-Asian (Sunda); French bistro (La Sardine).
Of course, there are also our very casual "cheap eats" type places, including our delicious local specialty of Chicago-style deep-dish pizza at Uno and Due, Lou Malnati's, etc. - worth considering at least for a lunch. And there are all kinds of options for weekend brunch, including the creative pancakes at Bongo Room, Mexican (again, Mexique), the sumptuous seafood-focused buffet at Shaw's, and lots of other places.
All of the places mentioned above accept reservations on Opentable.com as well as over the phone, except Bongo Room which doesn't accept reservations at all, and La Sardine, which doesn't use Opentable but takes reservations on its own website.
So that's sort of an overview and way to look at places you might consider. Finally, here are links to two discussions that will give you an overview of what Chicago has to offer. This discussion tells what foods and places are unique or specialties in Chicago, foods that Chicago is particularly good at:
first time Chicago - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/693477
This discussion has an overview listing some of our best in various food categories, as well as advice for getting the best value for your dining dollar:
Where are the best Chicago dinner *values* - the hidden gems? - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/697829
That should give you plenty of ideas and things to think about. It may also spark some more specific questions, and of course feel free to ask them! Enjoy your visit!
Thank you very much for your (always) kind, considerate and very thoughtful posts! Actually took a couple of your suggestions from your other posts. . .settled on cocktails and oysters at The Publican, and dinner at Sable. My idea of a treat is small plates for sharing, sampling and savoring! The menu has me salivating already, I'm so excited!
Great plan! I think you'll like Sable as much as I do (i.e. A LOT). The decor is very contemporary/trendy (although it's a bit on the loud side) and you can see the kitchen from much of the main dining room. Don't miss the sweet corn creme brulee (it's a savory dish, not a dessert)!