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Where am I going to dinner on Tuesday? Help me decide, please!

Thanks to folks on Chowhound, I've successfully eaten my way through notoriously uneatable London in addition to dozens of other food friendly destinations. Amazing recommendations, always.

Now I'm off to Chicago week after next for a work conference and have a reservation secured for Monday evening at Tru (very excited!) leaving me to fill dinner on Tuesday evening.

Dinner will be for 2, likely on the early end (6ish) and must have a respectable wine list - I realize there are a number of breweries/beer bars with sensational lists, but we're oenophiles this trip. Where we end up doesn't need to be of Alinea's caliber, but it should be food focused. If my socks were knocked off, I wouldn't mind. That sort of establishment.

My research has turned up avec, The Girl & the Goat, Sprout, and Frontera time and time again. Can you weigh in on which of these (if any) would make for a rewarding Tuesday night in Chicago? Many thanks in advance, as always...

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  1. I haven't been to Sprout, but I would not recommend Avec, the Girl and the Goat, or Frontera Grill - not because of the quality of the food, which IMHO is variable (very good at G&TG and Frontera, only so-so at Avec), but because you are MUCH too late to get reservations at any of them, and you're going to be stuck waiting for well over an hour to get seated at any of them, even at 6 pm. Instead, I recommend going to a place where you can still make a reservation. In particular, I think Sable is a great restaurant, with food that's better than any of these three (don't miss the sweet corn creme brulee!) and artisanal cocktails in addition to their wine list. That assumes you're trying to eat at a more casual, less expensive restaurant based on your choices (although Sprout is pretty pricey); if you're interested in another high-end experience, you might consider Avenues, Charlie Trotter's, or Everest, all of which have superb wine lists (especially Everest, which may have the best wine list in the city, with over 1700 bottles including the best selection of French-Alsatian wines in the country). More choices with great wine lists as well as excellent food include Vivere, Cafe Spiaggia, Coco Pazzo, and Piccolo Sogno, all with Italian food; Salpicon, with great Mexican food (it's a "Best of Award of Excellence" from the Wine Spectator); Boka for contemporary American food; and David Burke's Primehouse, for steaks. You can make a reservation, either on Opentable or over the phone, for all of these places, so you won't be stuck waiting forever to be seated.

    11 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      If you're going to Tru, you may want to find another less pricey and high-end, more more casual wonderful spot.

      Sprout is not especially "pricey." Their serve a three-course prixe fixe for $62 and chef Dale Levitski throws in two additional entre-courses (in our case it was a tiny, but nicely layered butternut squash soup and a lovely comforting little grilled cheese course that he said was his signature). He does mostly creative deconstructions of standards like surf and turf and salad Lyonaise. Some of our food worked better than others, but we enjoyed it all. You will especially enjoy it if you are a Top Chef fan. Photo attached. More here: http://foodbeest.com/2011/04/01/top-c...

      I would not recommend Charlie Trotters based on my visit there a few months ago. We paid premium prices for well-prepared (nothing wrong with it) food that was "meh." Not surprising that it fell off the S. Pellegrino Best Restaurants List.

      Highly recommend "Slow Food" destination Cafe Spiaggia, little sister to Spiaggia. They share a location, a website, a kitchen and Chef Tony Matuano, but come in at a much lower price point. Ate there very recently and had NOTHING I would change. (also recently reviewed on the above-mentioned blog)

      Look at Browntrout as well. The food is really thoughtful and well-prepared. The atmosphere is casual. The chef and his wife (who runs FOH) obviously care. Other places you might like include MK and Naha, two long-time consistent favorites.

      Going to try Sable this weekend for the first time myself, but it does get high marks here.

      You also may enjoy the gastropub experience: Publican and the Gage (both take reservations) or Longman & Eagle and Purple PIg (which don't). I am a big fan of Publican and L&E. Less so the Gage and I haven't yet tried Purple Pig.

      -----
      Cafe Spiaggia
      980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

      The Gage
      24 South Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60603

      The Publican
      837 W. Fulton Market, Chicago, IL 60607

      Naha
      500 North Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

      Browntrout
      4111 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

      Purple Pig
      500 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

       
      1. re: nsxtasy

        A couple more types of food I'd add to my previously-posted recommendations: tapas at Mercat a la Planxa, and Latin fusion cuisine at Carnivale and Nacional 27. All of these are in the downtown area.

        Browntrout is in North Center, some distance from downtown. If you don't mind traveling away from the greater downtown area, I also recommend Deleece in Lakeview, which is a relatively inexpensive, casual bistro whose contemporary American cuisine from Chef Brandon Canfield has been creative and consistently superb. Even further, there are some equally great restaurants in the suburbs, including Michael in Winnetka, Inovasi in Lake Bluff, and Vie in Western Springs; all are just steps away from stops for Metra commuter trains to and from downtown Chicago ( www.metrarail.com ).

        All of these accept reservations (on Opentable as well as over the phone). Beware, the previous warning about excrucatingly long waits at restaurants that don't accept reservations apply to the Purple Pig and Longman & Eagle, mentioned above. You can often avoid those long waits by going to such places at lunchtime rather than dinner.

        1. re: nsxtasy

          As was discussed on another thread, while there may be waits for places like Purple Pig and L&E (and The Bristol, which I also love), whether or not they are "excruciating" may be more a function of interpretation than of time. Often you can enjoy a drink or even a bite while you wait for your table and the atmosphere can be fun.

          1. re: chicgail

            Since my words are now being picked apart, I will note that I use the term "excruciating" for waits at restaurants where weekday waits are typically 60-90 minutes or more, and weekend waits run over two hours. The purpose of noting such lengthy waits is to provide you as much information as possible, to help you decide whether you wish to go to such places and spend a significant portion of your brief visit waiting to be seated, or to go to one of the many others where reservations are accepted so you don't need to endure long waits. As noted above, you can also avoid such waits by going to such places at lunchtime. Dining early is another strategy, but at these places that means 5:00 (the long waits have usually already developed by the "6ish" you've mentioned at the places we're talking about). You can read more about typical waiting times at "Chicago's always-crowded spots" (including all of the ones noted above for their long waits) in the Metromix photoessay at http://chicago.metromix.com/restauran... It's your visit, and having as much information as possible about the places you're considering will help you decide where to go.

            1. re: nsxtasy

              Thanks so much for all the suggestions.

              I read the metromix article, actually, which began to sway me from many of the above listed restaurants for those very reasons.

              nsxtasy - I've been reading many of your reviews of restaurants on CH and thank you for your feedback here...I know you're a fan of Sable and I've put it on my radar...for no good reason, I've become skeptical of hotel restaurants which is REALLY odd because we were married at (and then had a wonderful dinner at!) a Hotel Monaco in DC (same hotel group where Sable is located...) and I love david burke which is ALSO in hotel, but that's neither here nor there.

              Bottom line: I've added Sable to the short list, removed those with a no res policy, kept Sprout because, yes Top Chef fan, but also the menu looks so creative and the price point not unreasonable. Everest is too much, I think, on the wake of Tru, but Cafe Spiaggia sounds lovely and I think we'll toy with that as well...

              Will keep you posted...decisions, decisions!

              -----
              Cafe Spiaggia
              980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

              1. re: nycreba

                >> for no good reason, I've become skeptical of hotel restaurants which is REALLY odd because we were married at (and then had a wonderful dinner at!) a Hotel Monaco in DC (same hotel group where Sable is located...) and I love david burke which is ALSO in hotel, but that's neither here nor there.

                Well, I wouldn't necessarily say "for no good reason". Hotel restaurants vary, but have come a long way. Not all that many years ago, it was rare to find superb food in a restaurant located in a hotel; hotel restaurants got by by providing mediocre food to the captive audience of their guests. That's less true today, because many hotels have found that they can get far more restaurant business by preparing food good enough to attract locals. In addition to increasing the business and revenues from the restaurants themselves, having a top-flight restaurant helps the hotels in marketing their rooms. Some higher-end hotels have gone out of their way to attract big-name chefs to manage their restaurants as well as their banquet operations, while others have contracted out their restaurants in partnerships with chefs and restaurant companies known for their food (as well as business acumen). Today, some of Chicago's top restaurants are located in hotels - some with their own entrance from the street, while others are accessible through the hotel. In addition to Sable and David Burke's, other top restaurants located in hotels include Avenues, Shanghai Terrace, Ria, Balsan, NoMI (being renovated), Deca, Seasons, Atwood Cafe (which Chef Heather Terhune ran for ten years before leaving for Sable), Cibo Matto, the Florentine, and Mercat a la Planxa - which is quite an impressive list!

                1. re: nycreba

                  nycreba
                  I've done the TRU/Cafe Spiaggia combination on consecutive nights and I thought it was a nice contrast. I also had a great meal recently at Sable which is even more relaxed than Cafe Spiaggia. So, I don't think you can go wrong with either choice. I understand your concern about hotel restaurants but you can hardly tell that Sable is part of a hotel.

                  -----
                  Cafe Spiaggia
                  980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

                  Spiaggia
                  980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

                  1. re: ChemWork

                    Appreciate your insights...I've narrowed to Cafe Spiaggia, Sable or Sprout. For some reason, I'm really attracted to the creativity in the menu at Sprout...haven't been yet, obviously...
                    If its one of the 3 (and on the tail of Tru...), what should be my final decision?? Kind of a win win win at this point but part of the pleasure of having precious few nights is deciding where best to while them away...

                    -----
                    Cafe Spiaggia
                    980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

                    1. re: nycreba

                      I vote for Sable, for several reasons. The small plates format allows you to try a lot of different dishes. The artisanal cocktails are fun. The food prices are surprisingly low (significantly lower than the other two). And Heather Terhune is a magician in the kitchen! :)

                      However, I've also found from experience that if you look at the menus on the restaurant websites and you find one menu especially appealing, that's a good reason to go there, as you'll probably enjoy it.

                      1. re: nsxtasy

                        I would vote for Sprout, but it also depends on what you're looking for. Sable does allow you to try a lot of different dishes and is a more casual spot, but I really liked the food at Sprout and thought it was very creative and delicious and it had a great atmosphere too.

                2. re: nsxtasy

                  I'm not trying to pick apart anything, nsxtasy. You know I have great respect for you.

                  The only point I was making is that a 60 - 90 minute wait can be irritating and unbearably forever and a problem - or it can be just time passed with friends over a drink or two.

                  I don't usually like waiting that long, but whether or not it is excruciating ("extremely painful; causing intense suffering; unbearably distressing; torturing") or just time spent is a matter of personal interpretation in the moment.

                  Carry on. :>)

          2. Avec is delicious, and doesn't take reservations (so you've got a pretty good chance of getting in)

            -----
            Avec Restaurant
            615 W Randolph St Ste A, Chicago, IL 60661

            8 Replies
            1. re: loveballet101

              I'm not a fan of the food at Avec, although some people like it. Aside from that, the seats are the most uncomfortable in the entire city (they consist of wooden boxes, backless wooden stools, or wooden benches), the room is the noisiest in th entire city, you can ONLY sit in communal seating (tables of eight or at the bar), and often the waits to be seated are well in excess of an hour.

              1. re: nsxtasy

                Ahhh...avec will not make the cut then, sadly.
                Is now a battle of the "S"s...Sprout, Cafe Spaiggia or Sable...

                And I'm having a seriously tough time with this one. All different, all uniquely appealing for different reasons...hmmm...

                1. re: nycreba

                  The dilemma for serious food lovers in Chicago (including us locals) in deciding on a place to eat is always a matter of too many great choices. Welcome to our world!

                  1. re: nsxtasy

                    It's a rough life.... but we manage to struggle through it! LOL

                    1. re: lbs

                      I had a magnificent meal at Sprout last May, simply wonderful. From the inventive cocktails to the excellent wine list. From start to finish the evening was just fabulous - and I was so hoping since I came all the way from Hawaii and was dying to eat there. The menu of course will be different but full of Spring's flavors and textures. The manager Brittney is well versed in wine selection and has created a great list. I did not fine the price "pricey" at all, more of a bargain if you will for the artistry, presentation and exceptional quality of the ingredients. I am coming back in May and have this on my list in my short weekend there. Definitely consider Sprout high on your list!

                      1. re: lbs

                        Definitely not a bad problem to have. :)

                    2. re: nycreba

                      So sad for Avec. My husband and I had a wonderful dinner there a few tuesdays ago. The food was delicious... especially the chorizo stuffed dates wrapped in bacon. One of the most delicious things I've ever eaten!

                      -----
                      Avec Restaurant
                      615 W Randolph St Ste A, Chicago, IL 60661

                      1. re: Gelato_in_Roma

                        had a wonderful evening at sprout last month and highly recommend it. it's a fun menu, the service was excellent and casual and the food blew me away....i also love love avec - i've never had to wait too long, and the food is always incredibly tasty and fresh and inventive.....but, with an expense account and a need for reservations, opt for sprout!!

                2. Ok! Ended up making a reservation at MK for tonight - totally not the original plan but have been wooed by the menu on their website and by generally positive reviews here.

                  Is it: as formal as Tru (i.e. men are required to wear sport coats) or a touch more casual? Will it break my bank entirely, or can two of us scoot out of there departing with less than $200?

                  And finally: if I was to offer Sable as the lone fallback, which would YOU opt for, for an early dinner this evening??

                  SO....torn....

                  Thanks...

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: nycreba

                    >> Is it: as formal as Tru (i.e. men are required to wear sport coats) or a touch more casual?

                    It's more casual. "Business casual" attire predominates - not that a sport jacket would look out of place (it won't), but more men won't wear one than will.

                    >> Will it break my bank entirely, or can two of us scoot out of there departing with less than $200?

                    With moderate alcohol (say, an inexpensive bottle of wine split between the two of you) and tax/tip, you can expect to pay around $200.

                    >> if I was to offer Sable as the lone fallback, which would YOU opt for, for an early dinner this evening??

                    Well, they're really both great choices, depending on what you're looking for. Both have great food. So let me describe the differences between the two. Sable is a bit more casual, MK a bit more formal; a gentleman wouldn't look out of place in a sportjacket in either place, but could also have the option of going to Sable in rather casual attire (even, say, a t-shirt and worn blue jeans) that would look out of place at MK. The menu has more of a formal structure at MK, where you can get the tasting menu and otherwise you're likely to get a conventional three-course meal by ordering a la carte; at Sable, the availability of so many of the menu items in half portions lets you construct your meal however you like, and try a lot more dishes if you want. Sable offers artisanal cocktails from one of the best bartenders and mixology teams in the city. Sable is significantly less expensive than MK; you can expect to pay around $100-140 for two of you, inclusive. From a decor/atmosphere perspective, it's a toss-up; both places are super contemporary and both are quite loud (although I enjoy watching Heather Terhune in the open kitchen from the main Sable dining room). So those are the differences. I've enjoyed great dinners at both places. Because of the differences in formality and price, I tend to think of MK as more of a "special occasion" place, and Sable as more of a "gotta drop by every so often" place. But if you press me by asking which place I miss more and am quicker to return to, that would be Sable.

                    HTH

                    1. re: nsxtasy

                      Wow, the more and more you write about Sable the more I want to go there. You give quite the detailed experience and I can imagine it would be as you say. I see that the NRA has free shuttle busses that drop off at various areas around town and I may do that to get there after the show.

                      1. re: nsxtasy

                        It depends on what you are looking for. MK is an excellent restaurant that serves good drinks and wine. Sable is an excellent bar that serves very good food.

                        1. re: chicgail

                          I think that description does not do justice to the food at Sable. You can look at Sable as primarily a restaurant every bit as much as a bar. It's possible to go to Sable looking only for outstanding food without ever touching a drop of alcohol, and be sublimely happy after doing so. It just also happens to serve two purposes; it's equally possible to go to Sable looking only for outstanding cocktails without ever touching a bite of food, and also be sublimely happy after doing so. So to one person it's an excellent restaurant, and to the other it's an excellent bar. There aren't a whole lot of places that are so thoroughly excellent at both, but Sable is one of them.

                          1. re: nsxtasy

                            I was there for dinner and I agree that most of what we had of Sable's food was excellent (do not missed the truffled deviled eggs - and I don't care for deviled eggs!). We mostly had the small plates which were the best of upscale, sophisticated bar food. If we had had any of the actual large plates (or entrees) perhaps we'd have come away with the different feeling. The hype was a bit excessive and while we loved the experience, we were disappointed with some of the food.

                            But with a drink menu with "chapters," plus the long narrow layout Sable does feel more like a great bar in design and ambiance than a traditional restaurant. And the drinks are awesome with something for everyone if you drink alcohol.

                            So I'm not saying don't go there. I'm saying you want an accurate expectation of the place before you go. It's fun. The drinks are amazing and the food is very skillful and tasty.

                            It is not, IMO, a romantic, lingering over dinner place, which MK is.

                    2. So last night we ended up at MK restaurant. Nsxtasy - you made Sable sound absolutely unmissable and for sure it will be tops on the list for a repeat visit to Chi, but MK was...unbelievable.

                      Seamless service - exec chef Erick Williams came out of the kitchen for a visit and our server, Sergio, had been with the restaurant since inception - the likes of which I'm used to in far more stuffy and formal environments. Gracious without hovering, efficient and smooth. We marveled repeatedly at the competence and flow of the entire staff that night.

                      The food: superb. Shared the arugula salad and a crab special to start. The salad was perfection. I never say that about a salad - but it was a hang from the rooftops kind of salad, the kind I envision people might beat their chests over in a different time. The crab...succulent and dressed beautifully with microgreens. My dining companion had a food allergy and the kitchen recrafted a dish specifically for her, taking her needs into consideration. This after careful deliberation in the kitchen, per Erick and Sergio, and an equally careful explanation tableside. We very much appreciated the thoughtfulness put into the preparation of our meal.

                      Followed our starters with the whitefish/lobster combo and the off menu filet...both in ample portions (neither of us could finish) and bursting with flavor. Really amazing presentations on the plate and delivery, both. We lingered over our dinner and then ordered the cake & shake for dessert. Best pint sized - or otherwise - vanilla milkshake I've ever had coupled with a decadent multi layered/flavored cake. Finished off our meal with a glass of moscato, savoring our dining experience.

                      Best dinner I've had in a long time: service unparalleled, presentation remarkable. And for all of the above - really not unreasonably priced. Thrilled we found it - thanks for all the recs in this thread. More restaurants to enjoy on return trips!!

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: nycreba

                        My husband and I were at MK over the weekend to celebrate our anniversary. We were very happy our choice. Service, as nycreba describes above, was impeccable. On par with Alinea, in my opinion. I know this is a small detail, but we loved the bread basket. Overhead another diner (who obviously frequents MK) that they bake their own bread...impressive!

                        We ordered the gnocci as a starter...the kitchen split it for us...delicious...fava beans with light as air gnocci. My husband wanted more.

                        I ordered Whitefish/Lobster...I thought this was good, but I was a bit disappointed that the tail meat was a bit over-cooked and chewy/tough. However, the claw meat was fantastic. The beurre blanc sauce complimented all components nicely. My husband ordered the port tenderloin dish and was pleased as well. We also ordered pommes frites...excellent.

                        We had Bert's Waffles for dessert, as my husband didn't want anything chocolate. We were also impressed with dessert...flavorful, every bite. Crispy, fluffy waffles and the brown butter ice cream was delicious.

                        The staff treated each of us to a glass of moscato with our dessert...nice touch! and unexpected.

                        Overall, I would recommend MK to anyone. It was a great place to spend our anniversary. Thanks to nycreba for the detailed report because that was what convinced me to give it a try!