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Apr 25, 2011 05:25 PM

Looking for Unique Experiences (Recs please!)

Hi all! First of all great site! Anyways, I enjoy new and creative experiences when I eat. Places similar to Moto for example. To me, the revelation of a unique atmosphere needs to almost match the food I'm eating in order for me to enjoy myself. Odd I know...

Just curious if anyone could recommend other fun experiences similar to Moto. Raunts that perhaps take a step outside the box. Willing to travel anywhere in Illinois really, not just Chicago.

As far as price range goes, I'm open for anything, but Moto is really pricey for what they offer. Maybe a Moto-lite exists in the city? Cheaper the better. lol. Thanks all in advance!

Moto Restaurant
945 W Fulton, Chicago, IL 60607

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  1. Well, it depends on what you mean by "creative". If you're referring to the unusual preparation and presentation techniques you find at Moto and are often associated with the term "molecular gastronomy", there aren't a lot of such places around. There's Alinea, of course - sort of a "Moto on steroids" if you will, in terms of those techniques as well as the food all just tasting so amazingly great - but it will cost you at least double the price of Moto. The food at Schwa is also significantly more expensive than Moto, although if you enjoy a high quality or quantity of wine/alcohol, the BYOB policy at Schwa makes the bottom line more affordable. (And Schwa has the problems of making a reservation and then they may cancel it on you at the last minute.) Avenues too is a lot more expensive and not nearly as avant garde as these others. I haven't been to ING, Homaro Cantu's new place next door to his Moto. AFAIK, that's really it if you're looking for food that is truly avant garde.

    However, there are lots of fun experiences with great, unique food - creative in terms of food that you might not have had elsewhere, but not really "molecular gastronomy". I would start with three new contemporary American places that specialize in small plates: Sable, the Girl and the Goat, and Inovasi. Sable offers half portions of many of its food items so you can try a lot of them, and also offers amazing artisanal cocktails. The Girl and the Goat and Inovasi both have menus in which there is no distinction between appetizers and entrees, but rather, dishes are slightly smaller than traditional entrees; you can pick and choose your dishes and have them served in whatever order you or your server prefer. Sable is in River North, the Girl and the Goat in the West Loop, and Inovasi in north suburban Lake Bluff. All accept reservations on Opentable (as well as over the phone); you'll need to make them close to three months in advance for G&TG, just a few weeks ahead for the other two, even less for weekdays. If your alcohol intake is moderate, you can eat a complete dinner for $50-60 per person including alcohol/tax/tip at Sable and Inovasi, $80 at G&TG. Overall I liked the food best at Inovasi and Sable, although I liked many of the non-dessert dishes at G&TG too.

    Other fun experiences can be had at some of our more creative, upscale ethnic restaurants such as Mexican (Topolobampo/Frontera Grill, Mexique, Mundial Cocina Mestiza, Mixteco Grill); tapas (Mercat a la Planxa, Cafe Iberico), Latin fusion (Carnivale, Nacional 27), pan-Asian (Sunda), French bistros (La Sardine, Kiki's Bistro), and Italian (Cibo Matto, the Florentine, Cafe Spiaggia, Quartino).

    Website links: (Avenues) (Topolobampo/Frontera Grill)

    4 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      Nsxtasy- You sound like you know your Chicago cuisine.

      Any tips on geting on the list at Alinea? I have tried to make reservations for my wife's birthday for the weekend of June 26th, but apparently I am too late. I wasn't aware of their reservation policies until I tried to make a reservation.

      Know anyone that might be interested in selling their reservation?

      Thanks in advance.

      1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

      1. re: LouMack

        You can call Alinea and ask them to put you on the waiting list. AFAIK that's all you can do. I occasionally see a post from someone who can't use a reservation but it's not very common (unlike with Next, the new concept restaurant from Achatz and company, where tickets are sold and scalping is common).

        The only other thing I can tell you is, I believe they start taking reservations on the first of the month for the entire month 2-3 months later, so June reservations first became available April 1. Which means, if you can adjust your plans to eat there a week later (which is in July), you still have a chance to make a reservation by calling them the moment they open on May 1 or May 2 (I'm not sure but from their website it sounds like they only take reservations Monday through Friday, even though they only serve Wednesday through Sunday). I know, that's not when her birthday is, but it's worth mentioning just in case that works for you.

        If you'd consider another special occasion type restaurant, there are other excellent ones, although there's no real consensus on which is "number two" to Alinea. That next group includes Everest, Charlie Trotter's, TRU, Avenues, Spiaggia, and L2O. All of these are expensive (typically $150-250/pp including moderate wine and tax/tip) and formal (jackets required/recommended for gentlemen). You'll probably have a fine meal and an excellent experience at any of them, although every one of that group has at least a few people here reporting a less than satisfactory experience (which is why there are numerous lengthy discussions here about where to go besides Alinea). All of these accept reservations on and you should find availability at any of them now for late June.

        If I might add one more suggestion, I think North Pond is a wonderful place for a special occasion dinner. It's not as expensive as the previous group (figure $100-120/pp) or as formal (business casual attire is fine). The contemporary American cuisine from James Beard Award finalist Chef Bruce Sherman is excellent. But what really distinguishes North Pond is its unique, exquisite setting. It is in the middle of Lincoln Park (the park itself, not the adjacent neighborhood of the same name) and faces its namesake pond, with the city skyline looming over the opposite shore. The renovated building formerly served as a warming shelter for ice skaters on the pond. When making your reservation, you can ask them to seat you in the front dining room facing the pond, although even the rear dining room is fun, with its view of the open kitchen along one wall. Even if you decide to go elsewhere for the birthday dinner, it's still worth considering for Sunday brunch that weekend.

        1. re: nsxtasy

          Wow! Thank you so much for your response. It is very nice of you to take my question so seriously.

          I do believe my wife had her heart set on Alinea, so while the other restaurants might be find dining, I have to keep trying at Alinea.

          Thank you so much for your help!!!!

          1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

          1. re: nsxtasy

            >> you still have a chance to make a reservation by calling them the moment they open on May 1 or May 2 (I'm not sure but from their website it sounds like they only take reservations Monday through Friday, even though they only serve Wednesday through Sunday).

            I found out for sure, they don't take reservations calls on Sundays such as May 1. So if this is of interest, call them at 10 a.m. on Monday May 2.

      2. Have you checked out the menu at iNG, Homaro Cantu's other restaurant?

        I haven't tried it, but it looks still creative while being less pricey, and I've heard at least one good review.

        Another option might be graham elliot - Chef Bowles also likes "playing with his food" (see, e.g. foie-llipops).

        1. Along with Ing, try to get drinks at Aviary - the new cocktail kitchen for Next. Just opened, sounds amazing, first come first served - and they may hold tables at Next at times for Aviary guests.

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