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Restaurants Rec's needed, little different, I promise!

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I know restaurant recs are requested every day on this forum, and here is another one! But I have a couple of special requests!

In downtown this weekend (Mag Mile), and looking for some advice. I've spent a little time downtown, but this is a bday weekend for my SO, so I want to make it special. We're in our 30's-40's, and from the LA area.

Here are the parameters:
- Most important - must be uniquely Chicago
- SO does not eat pork or beef, so menus need to have plenty of chicken, or especially seafood options.
- Not particularly price sensitive, under $50 for an entree is a general guideline (but no jacket requirements please)
- Prefer to stay in the downtown area

Here's where my head's at:
- I'd really like the restaurant to either have a killer view or very "Chicago-y" ambiance (not kitschy though).
- I've looked at Bayless's restaurants, while I'm sure they are amazing, where we live in LA, Mexican restaurants are rife.
- The gastropub style restaurants seem rough for a non pork eater, and not very "Chicago-y", like they could be in any cosmopolitan city (please correct me if I'm wrong!). I love small plates, but my SO is more like, "when's my meal coming?". (Sushi is the exception)
- SO loves sushi, would eat it at every meal if given the chance. Are there any sushi places that fit the "Chicago-y" criteria?
- Are there any restaurants on the river that are worth a rec?

Restaurants I'm considering (please comment and add more!)
- Sunda , How's the location, food?
- Cafe Spiaggia, Is there a view?
- John Hancock - Killer view, but how's the food? Should we just stick to cocktails here? Clementine Martini - yum!
- North Pond - Seafood heavy menu is a plus, but mixed feedback on here about the food.

TIA everyone!

-----
North Pond
2610 North Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL 60614

Cafe Spiaggia
980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

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  1. First of all, you're working at a disadvantage this close to your visit; some of our more desirable restaurants book up several weeks (others, months) in advance, so your options are already narrowing. Make your reservations NOW!

    There's no view at Sunda or Cafe Spiaggia. I haven't been to the Signature Room at the top of the Hancock in a while, but most of what I've heard is that it's okay, nothing great, not necessarily terrible. I would just stick to cocktails there.

    North Pond is definitely my top recommendation based on what you've requested. They have seafood, but it's not really known for that; it's more of an emphasis on local and seasonal ingredients. They have quite a few vegetarian items, too. The setting in the middle of the park, facing its namesake pond with the skyline looming over the opposite shore, is exquisite. If you get seated in the front room with the big windows facing the pond, even better; no place has a view that's more "killer" or "Chicago-y". And even if you're in the rear dining room, with its view of the open kitchen, it can be kind of fun too. I think the food is excellent. Chef Bruce Sherman has been a finalist for the James Beard Award for Best Chef - Midwest for five years in a row. I've been there for numerous dinners and I've always enjoyed the food (despite the complaints of those who have only been there once). I like the way he plates his dishes, with a lot of interesting accompanying sides; even if you don't think every single one of them is terrific, you're likely to be wowed by at least one or two things on every plate. It's IMHO one of the two most romantic restaurants in the city (along with Everest), and the only one that doesn't require a jacket of gentlemen. The only caveat is that they book up in advance so getting a res at this late date is iffy, at least for a weekend dinner; Sunday brunch may be easier.

    I agree with what you've said about the restaurants/gastropubs specializing in pork and organ meats, like Publican, the Purple Pig, etc. They do have a few seafood and vegetarian dishes but I don't think she'll be too happy there.

    How about one of our seafood restaurants? It's been a while since I've been to Fulton's on the River, but they have good seafood and they're one of the only restaurants here with a view of the river. Shaw's is also good, but doesn't have the view. If you don't go to one of these for dinner, you may want to consider Shaw's for Sunday brunch. It doesn't have the view or the romance of North Pond, but their Sunday brunch is an amazing experience for any seafood lover. It's an all-you-can-eat buffet. In addition to the usual breakfast foods (including yummy caramelized thick cut bacon), they have lots of seafood, with a cold buffet including shrimp and sushi etc, and a hot buffet with Alaskan king crab legs and crab cakes.

    6 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      Thank you for your reply!

      I searched Open Table after my post, and it looks like I'm out of luck w North Pond, w no availability. I will call tomorrow, just in case they hold anything back from OT. In my defense ... my SO just committed to this weekend, so I'm adding my flight change fees to his bday tab! We unfortunately are leaving Sunday am, so no time for brunch.

      I checked out the menu for Fulton on the River .... right up our alley, and reservation availability! They have Chicago's Largest Tater Tots according to the menu, I'm in! But ... just checked out the yelp reviews, latest ones are less than stellar ...hmmm...

      In my panic of checking Open Table, and seeing the lack of availabilty, snagged a couple of resevations, Sunda for a late dinner Sat (after late lunch at Uno's), and Cafe Spaiggia for Saturday, Does Cafe Spaiggia have any view? I think I remember Spaiggia on the second floor of a building, looking out towards the Chanel store? Does Cafe Spaiggia, have a similiar view?

      So my plan is he arrives Fri afternoon. Late luch at Uno's, late dinner at Sunda. According to Yelp, Sunda appears to have a "scene", but we go to Vegas a lot so "scene"sushi we do often. Sat luch, where ever we stop while siteseeing, dinner at either Cafe Spaiggia or Fultons of the River. Fireworks at Navy Pier Sat night.. Fitting in sunset cocktails at John Hancock one of those nights (did I mention Clementine Martini, yum!?!)

      Feedback is greatly appreciated!

      PS. ... Your OES is adoreable!

      -----
      North Pond
      2610 North Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL 60614

      1. re: aimeekm

        How about the Lobby at the Pennisula? The menu seems to fit my needs pretty closely, how about view or ambiance?

        Any view at Boka (I think not by the address??), L20? I really like the seafood focused menu of these ... but are they "Chicago-y"?

        -----
        Boka
        1729 North Halsted, Chicago, IL 60614

        1. re: aimeekm

          I suspect you may not be able to find everything you're looking for in one single restaurant - a view, Chicago-y-ness, great food, etc. If so, you may need to decide what meets your needs best.

          As I mentioned, it's been a while since I've been to Fulton's, and I know they've changed chefs at least once since then, maybe more. OTOH you know you'll get the view, and however the food is, it is. (It doesn't come up much in discussions here, FWIW.)

          >> In my panic of checking Open Table, and seeing the lack of availabilty, snagged a couple of resevations

          That's fine - you can always change or cancel if you find something somewhere else.

          >> Does Cafe Spaiggia have any view? I think I remember Spaiggia on the second floor of a building, looking out towards the Chanel store? Does Cafe Spaiggia, have a similiar view?

          The short answer is no. There is indeed a view from some of the seats in Spiaggia (the expensive restaurant where jackets are required) - not all, but some of them have a view of the lake, IIRC. However, Cafe Spiaggia, its less expensive sister restaurant which is located next door, doesn't have the view.

          Cafe Spiaggia has always been very good, though. Chicago has had several really good mid-priced Italian restaurants opening lately, and I've been working my way through them. Most of the new ones feature a menu with contemporary global influences. I loved Piccolo Sogno, which I went to recently; the atmosphere is lively bistro. Also excellent is Cibo Matto, whose decor is more contemporary (and more spacious, with a greater sense of privacy).

          >> According to Yelp, Sunda appears to have a "scene", but we go to Vegas a lot so "scene"sushi we do often.

          A friend of mine says it's like going to a singles bar for dinner. :)

          >> PS. ... Your OES is adoreable!

          Thanks. He's a bearded collie, although many people think he's an Old English Sheepdog.

          >> How about the Lobby at the Pennisula? The menu seems to fit my needs pretty closely, how about view or ambiance?

          I really like the Lobby a lot. (You've probably read my description in the recent topic here about romantic restaurants.) The ambience is "classy hotel"; I say that because it also functions as the place where people in the hotel would meet for a drink and a bite, as well as being a full-service restaurant. It's right off the registration area for the Peninsula, one of our top luxury hotels, so there's a small but steady flow of people walking by. It's a very large room, and very spacious, with tables spaced far apart. It has very high ceilings too (I'm guessing 50-75 feet); one side of the room is all windows, looking out on some other tall buildings nearby, including the Allerton Hotel IIRC. The view isn't of the lakefront but it adds a sense of spaciousness to the already-spacious room. I've enjoyed the contemporary American food and I've found the service extremely accommodating.

          >> Any view at Boka (I think not by the address??)

          No, no view. I ate there a few months ago and liked it a lot. It's not all that different from many other contemporary American restaurants, but I thought they really had their act together, with very good food and impeccable service. The atmosphere is bistro-ish - not overly spacious, but not cramped either.

          >> L20? I really like the seafood focused menu of these ... but are they "Chicago-y"?

          I was a little disappointed when I ate there, but others have enjoyed it. Their attire is... well, let's put it this way. They are one of the most expensive restaurants in Chicago. Their Opentable listing says that attire is "jackets preferred"; when I ate there a couple of years ago, many of the male diners wore jackets, but there were a few others who were business casual and a few who were extremely casual (to the point that I was rather surprised they were seated in the main dining room). It's a beautiful room and very classy. I'm not sure I would refer to it as "Chicago-y" though. And if your SO is willing to wear a jacket, I'd recommend Everest for what you're looking for (great view, great food including seafood and vegetarian options, Chicago-y, etc).

          HTH - feel free to ask more questions!

          1. re: aimeekm

            As someone who gets to LA yearly and Chicago twice yearly or more I have a few comments. First I'll note that aside from being in a Park, North Pond is incredibly average. There are better restaurants in LA and Chicago.

            L2o was very creative and different under Gras than anything you have in LA, but it is dressy and I'd be uncomfortable without a jacket. I can't comment on the new chef, but IMO it was better than Providence (which I love) and Le Bernardin (which was okay) making it one of my favorite seafood focused experiences ever.

            I like Cafe Spiaggia's view, and the food is good, but it doesn't scream "Chicago."

            I'd definitely do Chicago Pizza - it is something very not-Los Angeles.

            I'd also strongly recommend rethinking your opinion on Bayless - his Mexican is quite different from LA Mexican and he is very "Chicago."

            Since Molecular Gastronomy has not become quite as prevalent in LA I'd find a way to fit it in - L2o dabbles in it, so does Avenues, Bonsoiree, Schwa, graham elliot, moto, and Alinea - Obviously some are MUCH better than others, but I imagine you can get reservations at Bonsoiree, Avenues, and Graham Elliot on short notice.

            A Kahan joint is needed - Publican, Blackbird, Avec........but you do have similar spots in LA.

            Grab a breakfast at Bongo Room and then when back in LA compare it to Griddle Cafe.

            http://uhockey.blogspot.com

            -----
            Alinea
            1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

            Bonsoiree
            2728 W Armitage, Chicago, IL 60647

            Bongo Room
            1152 S Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60605

            North Pond
            2610 North Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL 60614

            Cafe Spiaggia
            980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

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

          2. re: aimeekm

            I thought Fulton's was very average when I went. I really, really liked Sunda. The Kobe beef "sushi" was melt in your mouth delicious. I also really like the soft-shelled crab dish. Everything is made to share so you can really get a lot of different tastes. I didn't find it like a singles bar at all. It is vibrant but not crazy loud. Just to throw out another suggestion - Riva at Navy Pier. Sea-food emphasis with views that will knock your socks off. Especially if you go right when dusk starts. I went a couple of months ago with clients from NYC and they loved their food and the view. It doesn't get much mention here but it has always been consistent and good when I go.

            1. re: lbs

              >> Riva at Navy Pier. Sea-food emphasis with views that will knock your socks off.

              I haven't eaten at Riva, but the views of the skyline from Navy Pier are indeed pretty darn great!

        2. I would reconsider Publican -- as much as they're focused on pork and beer, their seafood is top notch (and they have more than a few selections available). The menu online may not be current but it is representitive of what you'll find. Their half-chicken and fries is outstanding, too. The place is usually very lively, bustling and full (and with good reason!). Is it a very "Chicago-y" restaurant? Maybe? Paul Kahan is one of the most respected and talented chefs in Chicago and all of his places (Avec, Blackbird and Big Star) reall shine in their respective aims.

          You'll have to call Publican, though, for up-to-date availability since they don't release all of their tables to Opentable.

          There's a new restaurant on the river called Bridge House Tavern. It replaced a fairly mediocre place and the menu/decor has been overhauled. It doesn't aim high, it looks like, but it's fairly crowded after work whenever I walk by so they're doing something right (or lucked out with a great location).

          If you want sushi, I'd suggest Arami. It's in the West Town neighborhood. I'd say it's "Chicago-y" in that it's a great place in one of the neighborhoods around town, rather than off the main tourist drags (having said that, it's only 2.5 miles from downtown proper). Arami is also close to Black Dog Gelato, home to the best gelato I've had outside of Rome (and, really, it's not like you can get a chocolate milk stout gelato in Italy anyway...).

          -----
          Arami
          1829 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

          9 Replies
          1. re: danimalarkey

            I would NOT recommend the Publican for this OP's needs. It's incredibly noisy, one of the noisiest rooms in the entire city, so you'll need to be SHOUTING at each other to be heard - quite the opposite of a romantic restaurant. Also, although you can request a preference for a private table, you may still get stuck at one of the loooong communal tables - also extremely UNromantic. The food is exactly the opposite of what the OP is looking for, with its emphasis on pork, meats, and charcuterie. And just because a big-name chef has an ownership interest, doesn't make a place Chicago-y. I can think of hundreds of restaurants that are more appropriate than the Publican for this OP's needs.

            1. re: nsxtasy

              Well, I WOULD recommend it. I wasn't aware that the OP was looking for somewhere romantic. Half the menu at the Publican is seafood. I have never had to shout at my dining companions there (also, they have outdoor seating - the weather might even cooperate this weekend). The OP mentioned Bayless and I figured I'd toss out another local chef who cooks great food (and believe it out, I've seen Kahan at all of his restaurants (in the kitchen, even!) - Brian Huston may be in charge day to day, but don't assume that Kahan isn't involved past a partial ownership role.

              1. re: danimalarkey

                >> Half the menu at the Publican is seafood.

                LOL! Absolutely NOT true. Even if you bend over backwards by counting every different kind of oyster as a separate menu item, it's still not even close.

                >> I have never had to shout at my dining companions there

                I have. I've been in a party of six - three on each side of the table (they put three two-tops together for a six-top) - and those at one end could not hear those at the other end, just two seats away.

                1. re: nsxtasy

                  Looking at the online menu, I'm counting 40 options (oysters and aged ham selections coutning as one choice each). 14 seafood, 16 meat and 10 vegetables (with one salad featuring pork). I'll admit when I'm wrong - not nearly half, but 35%, just under the percentage of meat dishes (many of which are beef/pork) at 40%.

                  I'll grant you that there are many reasons to avoid Publican - glossing over 1/3 of the menu (IMO) shouldn't be a contributing factor. Publican has a wide variety of non-pork/beef dishes (see above) and you can order larger plates (half chicken with fries) or smaller (many of the others). It fits a number of criteria suggested by the OP.

                2. re: danimalarkey

                  I agree completely. What's more I consider wonderful food to be totally romantic and an aphrodisiac in and of itself and I am totally enamored of the gastropub concept as it is showing up in Chicago: The Publican, The Bristol, Longman & Eagle. But romance was not what the OP asked for. S/he asked for something special and Publican is that. I've never had a hard time being heard there and I've never understood nsxtasy's problem there, but it may be that some people are more sensitive to noise than others. And you can request a table for two -- even outdoors if the weather is good.

                  1. re: chicgail

                    I'm not overly sensitive to noise (and I resent the accusation). I go to restaurants all the time. Even full ones with a lively vibe - such as Piccolo Sogno, where I went earlier this month - may not be quiet, but are not especially noisy when you take into account that a lot of people are there. Granted, some are noisier than others, but unless a place really stands out for being ear-splitting, I rarely even notice. But that's how the Publican is. It's much much MUCH noisier than almost any restaurant in Chicago (the only one I can think of offhand that's equally eardrum-shattering is Avec, although I'm sure there are others). Others in my group of frequent dining companions swore they would never return, for that specific reason, and have never said that about any other place we've dined. It is extremely unusual for me to dine in a group where we can't hear normal conversation two seats away. The Publican is simply an extreme when it comes to noise. I'm surprised anyone who has been there would claim otherwise.

                    Oh, and for the OP, to give you a local point of reference back home in L.A. - I ate at Animal (which I loved, BTW) on a night when it was full, and I thought it was somewhat noisy, maybe a 6 or a 7 on a noise scale that goes from 1 (empty restaurant) to 10 (ear-splitting and makes you want to leave as soon as you can). On that scale, the Publican is an 11. IT IS ONE OF THE NOISIEST RESTAURANTS I HAVE EVER BEEN TO IN MY LIFE.

                    1. re: nsxtasy

                      See I went with a group of 6 as well, sat at the communal table (3 on one side and 3 on the other) and could hear each other just fine. But that was my one time only experience versuses your one time only experience. Neither of us are right or wrong. Two different experiences. I will always recommend the Publican because I do NOT think it is too noisy.

                      1. re: lbs

                        I completely agree. The Publican is one of my favorite Chicago joints -- I've been a couple of dozen times, have sat everywhere possible (at the bar, at communal tables, in the "fattening pens" and outdoors) and have never had a problem with the noise level. I was there last night, in fact; my two companions and I had a perfectly pleasant and audible conversation even though the place was hopping.

                        Biggest hits of the night: the cucussa, the ham tasting plate, and the rapini. Lamb tongue with asparagus was just okay. Nearly everything on the menu sounded great to me and I'll be back again soon for the sweetbreads.

                      2. re: nsxtasy

                        <<I'm not overly sensitive to noise (and I resent the accusation).>>

                        No accusation here; nothing to resent. You have said on a number of occasions that the noise level at Publican (and Avec) are ear-splitting and uncomfortable. Others of us haven't found those places to be "extreme when it comes to noise" so perhaps it's a matter of some people being more sensitive to noise than others or a matter of personal preference, like whether one thinks Chef A does short ribs better than Chef B - or not.

              2. Restaurants I'm considering (please comment and add more!)
                - Sunda , How's the location, food?
                - Cafe Spiaggia, Is there a view?
                - John Hancock - Killer view, but how's the food? Should we just stick to cocktails here? Clementine Martini - yum!
                - North Pond - Seafood heavy menu is a plus, but mixed feedback on here about the food.

                For what it is worth Sunda is just a scene. Lot's of fun but the food never reaches expectations that it seems to promise.

                Cafe Spiaggia has views of Oak Street Beach but not from all tables. I like the food and the price point compared to it's big sister restaurant Spiaggia. I feel vaguely robbed when I eat at Spiaggia but the food can be seriously great.

                As an alternative Italian and seafood centric restaurant you might want to consider Pelago located a couple blocks south and east at the Raffaello Hotel. They also make some great pastas and the seafood crudos there have been really special for me.

                I wouldn't do anything but have a cocktail at the John Hancock but I have been taking my own advice for so long that I don't think any of their food has crossed my lips in many years.

                I am not a fan of North Pond. If in the area (and I live in the area) I'd try Perrenial Virant but I haven't been since the redesign and change of chef although I am excited to go

                -----
                North Pond
                2610 North Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL 60614

                Cafe Spiaggia
                980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

                Spiaggia
                980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

                Pelago
                201 East Delaware Place, Chicago, IL 60611

                5 Replies
                1. re: KateBChi

                  I wouldn't even bother with mixed drinks at John Hancock. They were not at all impressive! Stick with a beer or wine and admire the view :-)

                  1. re: KateBChi

                    Wow .... Thanks for so much feedback. This is great!

                    So, my SO has specifically requested sushi, so that is a definite. I have a reservation at Sunda, but Arami looks really good as well, and has reservations available. I'll have to decide on the mood I want for that meal, high energy & "hip" or a more relaxed, leisurely meal. I'm leaning towards Arami, as the reviews of the food seem better (plus gelato!). But my SO will have had a long day, so maybe Sunda's vibe would be better at keeping him awake. Decisions, decisions.

                    For Saturday night .... now I have even more options to ponder.

                    - I actually really like the look of the menu at Publican, but despite the seafood dishes on the menu, I just can't see my SO being happy there. I probably should have clarified that I'm more of the foodie in the relationship. My SO loves good food, but isn't naturally very adventurous. He thinks I'm crazy for the amount of time I put into researching restaurants and such, but is always grateful in the end.
                    - As far as jackets go, I'm afraid that is a definite no go. Putting on a jacket to go to dinner is not my SO's idea of a good time. Since it's his bday, I should probably respect that. Now if it were my bday ....
                    - I'm on the waiting list at North Pond. I think this location is potentially the best mix of view and food. (Yes, views on the food a split). So my chances are pretty slim.
                    - Have reservations at Cafe Spiaggia, the menu looks good, but I'm not excited by it. Maybe because I cook a lot of Italian at home, it's never my choice when I go out. I know this would be on an entirely different level, but I have a bit of a mental block.
                    - I REALLY like the Riva suggestions. Ironically I had a late snack there last weekend, but it didn't even cross my mind even though it fits my criteria nearly perfectly. From reviews it seems the food rarely rises above average. But the seafood and views are pretty compelling. Also planning on Navy Pier fireworks, so it would be really convenient.
                    - I'm thinking lunch on the river on Saturday. Bridge House Tavern’s menu is too pork centric (6 of the 9 small plates excluding oysters include pork, even their pancakes are bacon pancakes). Fulton on the River looks like it might be my choice for lunch. Any other on the river lunch options worth recommending?
                    - I've decided against the Lobby at the Peninsula, L20 & Boka. I'm thinking SO will find them a little too formal.


                    Here's where I'm at:
                    Friday lunch - Uno
                    Friday dinner - Sunda or Arami
                    Sat lunch - Fultons on the River
                    Sat Dinner - Cafe Spiaggia or Riva

                    I appreciate everyone’s input!

                    -----
                    Boka
                    1729 North Halsted, Chicago, IL 60614

                    North Pond
                    2610 North Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL 60614

                    Cafe Spiaggia
                    980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

                    Arami
                    1829 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

                    1. re: aimeekm

                      Re Publican, I'll make one more suggestion for the (amazing) farmer's chicken and fries (acknowledging that traveling and going out of your way for... a roast chicken might seem not worth it). :D Having said that, if you don't feel it would work for you, I'll leave it that!

                      Re Black Dog, I thought to check their summer hours, and they appear to be the same as their winter hours. Which is to say they close at 7pm. If you wind up going to Arami with the specific goal to hit up Black Dog afterward, it looks like that plan wouldn't work. I do think you've nailed it, though, with Arami vs. Sunda -- one has better food, the other a more lively, energetic atmosphere.

                      Re river-front/Navy Pier dining, I think this is an area that Chicago has really dropped the ball. Some of the most beautiful spots to eat serve only mediocre food. I don't think any restaurant along the river truly stands out for its food. I'm not saying it's bad, but it's not the best of what this city offers. Navy Pier probably fairs a little better, food-wise, if only because there are more options. Again, you probably won't get anything bad (particularly at Riva), but the view is the star rather than the food. As mentioned, Cafe Spiaggia doesn't have much going for it, views-wise, but the food is well executed and the service is good. Also, while North Michigan Avenue has its fair share of tourists, Navy Pier can often be really, really crowded -- depending on how much you want to push through hordes of teenagers, it might be nicer/easier to go to Cafe Spiaggia.

                      Oh! This just occurred to me re river-front dining, but if you really want to eat well along the river, I'd suggest grabbing food from Pastoral (probably the city's best artisan cheese/sandwich shop and eating in the Vietnam War Memorial Park along the river. I suspect you're looking for restaurants, but Pastoral makes killer sandwiches and has great cheese and charcuterie options. While the park is certainly not BYO, you could probably grab a bottle of wine/beer from Pastoral and no one would think anything of it (whether or not you would want to drink at a park designed as a war memorial is up to you). Pastoral is at Wabash and Lake, just in the Loop (though there is another location downtown, near the commuter train station & farther from the park), and the park is along the river at Wabash and Wacker, two blocks from Pastoral. Again, probably not what you want, but also the best food you're likely to have along the river.

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

                      Arami
                      1829 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

                      1. re: aimeekm

                        "Here's where I'm at:
                        Friday lunch - Uno"

                        I guess that's a place to start if you are a deep dish pizza fan. I am not so what do I know?

                        Friday dinner - Sunda or Arami

                        Don't know Arami but Sunda is just a scene without substance. The food is boring!

                        "Sat lunch - Fultons on the River"

                        Not awful at all just corporate America. It could be anywhere, literally. This is not even remotely "uniquely Chicago"

                        Sat Dinner - Cafe Spiaggia or Riva

                        Riva is great for when you are going to the Shakespeare theater. It is not uniquely Chicago. Cafe Spiaggia is good.

                        For all of your effort you've managed to choose such pedestrian and homogenous selections that it, frankly, boggles the mind. I am prejudiced against deep dish pizza places but Sunda, Fulton's and Riva? Why leave LA? Their ilk is everywhere!

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

                        Arami
                        1829 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

                        1. re: aimeekm

                          >> - I'm thinking lunch on the river on Saturday. Bridge House Tavern’s menu is too pork centric (6 of the 9 small plates excluding oysters include pork, even their pancakes are bacon pancakes). Fulton on the River looks like it might be my choice for lunch.

                          According to Fulton's website at www.fultonsontheriver.com/contact.html they are not open for lunch on Saturdays. (Not that many restaurants are.) One thing you could do is flip lunch and dinner, IOW go to Cafe Spiaggia for Saturday lunch (yes, they're open) and Fulton's for Saturday dinner. You could choose a seating when you arrive in daylight and finish after dark, which is always a fun thing to do at a restaurant with a view.

                          >> - I've decided against the Lobby at the Peninsula, L20 & Boka. I'm thinking SO will find them a little too formal.

                          Perhaps you've got the wrong impression. L2O is rather formal, but the Lobby and Boka are not. Both are places where you can dress up or dress down - business casual prevails, and nice blue jeans wouldn't be out of place. Neither is any more formal than, say, Cafe Spiaggia.

                          >> Friday lunch - Uno

                          That's a great choice. I can't think of anyplace more Chicago-y, with the possible exception of North Pond. The deep-dish pizza there is still great, a wonderful representation of our local specialty. And this is right where deep-dish began back in 1943. Tip - phone ahead in advance with your pizza order and tell them what time you'll be there. They'll have it ready and you can avoid lines to be seated that way.

                          >> Sat Dinner - Cafe Spiaggia or Riva

                          I gotta say, if you want to try Italian cuisine, as much as I like Cafe Spiaggia (and I do), our more contemporary, newer places have a lot of creativity going on, a bit more so than Cafe Spiaggia these days IMHO. Since you cook Italian food yourself, I think you'd appreciate what Tony Priolo is doing at Piccolo Sogno, and Todd Stein at the Florentine. I posted a detailed report on my recent dinner at Piccolo Sogno at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/743590 What Chef Tony is doing is just amazing, everything from the in-house breads right through to the fantastic desserts and everything in between.

                          >> For all of your effort you've managed to choose such pedestrian and homogenous selections that it, frankly, boggles the mind. I am prejudiced against deep dish pizza places but Sunda, Fulton's and Riva? Why leave LA? Their ilk is everywhere!

                          I totally disagree with this comment. You've asked for advice on finding a Chicago-y place, a sushi place, and places with great views of Chicago, and that's exactly what your itinerary represents, the best places to find what you're looking for. Plus they include one of our most historic restaurants, serving our delicious local specialty. And the choices accommodate your non-adventurous SO while still offering a nice variety of food. I think your itinerary as it stands now is just fine - perfect for your stated needs!

                      2. Lots of to-and-fro about Sunda.
                        Here's some chit-chat about Sunda and its chef/(owner): http://chicago.eater.com/archives/201...

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: huiray

                          There's a lot of back and forth on Sunda- so thought I'd throw in my opinion- I really like Sunda a lot. It's one of the spots we make sure we go back to every couple of months, so I've been there a lot. On the atmosphere- I am not single and do not think of it being a singles scene- although it is a very lively and fun atmosphere, so it may depend on what you're in the mood for. As for the food, I think it's really delicious. We eat there frequently and really enjoy it- it's more than just sushi- some of our favorites there are other small plates (duck hash salad, rock shrimp tempura etc) that you can share, but the sushi is great too and we love the spicy tuna on crispy rice. I haven't been to Arami so can't compare the two, but Sunda is a great spot, it may just depend on what you're in the mood for.

                        2. Quick update. Made it to downtown this morning .... had breakfast at the Bongo room, and picked up some Garrets.

                          SO is on his way from the airport, then assuming he is agreeable, off to Uno's.

                          Decided on Sunda for dinner tonight. I know the food isn't the best in the city, but I think it fits the celebratory and youthful mood my SO is wanting.

                          Keep you updated!

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: aimeekm

                            Sounds great!

                            Incidentally, on the el this morning, I rode past Chicago Cut Steakhouse and noticed that it overlooks the river with a nice view, particularly their outdoor seating. I haven't been there, but this is one of our newest steakhouses, and they hired Jackie Shen, one of our top chefs, to run the place. www.chicagocutsteakhouse.com

                            1. re: nsxtasy

                              Garret Popcorn
                              I picked this up as an in room snack. I must admit I was skeptical of it at first, everyone telling me I had to try it. I got the Chicago Mix (Cheese & Caramel). First couple of bites was like, "eh, it's popcorn", but then I realized I could not stop eating it. Highly addictive! Definitely seem this becoming craveable. The only downside is it's really messy to eat, not practical to eat while walking down the street.
                              Total Large Mix: $8.36

                              Uno
                              Went to the original location on Ohio. Attempted to call ahead to order in advance and avoid the long wait, but was told they don't accept phone orders. Before you are seated you order your pizza. We got a small spinach w mushrooms on half. SO was famished, so even though I knew we would end up w too much food, we ordered the calamari. It was decent, nothing I would write home about, but perfectly edible. Our pizza arrived w generous amounts of spinach & mushrooms, not to mention cheese. I had the opportunity to compare it to Lou Malnati's which I have had a few times (I come to the Chicago burbs a few time a year for work). I think I would give a slight edge to Malnati's, w a little better balance of flavors. SO really enjoyed it. He revealed that he was skeptical as he really dislikes deep dish in LA. But said this was nothing like that. I was like "don't you know me better than that!"
                              Total w 2 beers and a soft drink: $46.22

                              Signature Lounge @ John Hancock
                              Went here for cocktails at sunset. I really like their Clementine Passion Martini I had had in the past, it was good again, but the sweetness got to me this time. SO had a dirty Blue Olive Martini, he raved about the olives used. In 4 years SO has never order this out w me, or asked for one at home (probably because of a lack of olives!), this became his drink of the weekend, go figure!
                              Total 4 drinks: $59.11

                              Sunda
                              After much debate between Arami and Sunda I settled on Sunda, because it is what SO would enjoy most (I leaned towards Arami). We had 10 PM reservations for the sushi bar, the place was packed when we arrived! We waited about 15 minutes, not able to even get close to the bar to place a drink order. We were seated at the bar, which we instantly regretted. Sunda definitely has a night club type atmosphere, and we had our back to it, not able to people watch at all. We were also a little confused about how service worked there. At sushi bars we frequnet, we place sushi orders w the sushi chef, and everything else, hot dishes, drinks etc. w the server. A waiter took our drink order, and then we were a little frustreated by the sushi chef's lack of eye contact. We were thinking, "Hello, like to order here". When our waiter came back we asked, and he explained he took all our orders. We ordered Tail of Two Tunas, Rainbow Roll, Tuna Nigiri, The Ultimate Handroll & Wamachi roll. The Tail of Two Tunas & the Nigiri were the standouts. One interesting this, they seem to only use real crab, as opposed to krab. It was all tasty, but nothing wowed me. The really large, nice pieces of Maguro were the best thing I ate. SO really enjoyed the energy and the scenery here, so I was glad I chose it over Arami.
                              Total w 2 cocktails & a sake: $118.77

                              -----
                              Arami
                              1829 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

                            2. re: aimeekm

                              Thank you for everyone's advice. I'll post reviews of everywhere I went, as time permits!

                              Bongo Room
                              Went in for breakfast before my SO arrived, and the hotel room was not yet available. I had the Pretzel Panckaes w Caramel and White Chocolate. I was given the option of 2 or 3, got 2, but wish I had been given a 1 option, huge and filling. They were unque and tasty. In the future I would ask for the caramel and white chocolate on ths side. They were generous with the "syrups" and made it a little too sweet for my taste. There was no wait at all at 9 am on Friday morning. Total w coffee $13.76

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                              Bongo Room
                              1152 S Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60605