HOME > Chowhound > Chicago Area >

Discussion

Special Event Dinner

  • 30
  • Share

My family is coming to Chicago next week to celebrate my wife's 50th birthday. We are all foodies, even my two girls have pretty sophisticated palates. I am looking for a real experience dinner.

I am looking for a combination of great food and a real wow experience. I plan to see if the Chef's table is available at Charlie Trotter's. I am not budget conscious. I would prefer something with a hip vibe over something that is traditional and stuffy.

We are staying at The James on Michigan Ave, but we are willing to cab it for a great experience.

Thanks for all of the advice on the board, it is a great community.

-----
Charlie Trotter's
816 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago, IL 60614

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
Delete
Posting Guidelines | FAQs | Feedback
Cancel
  1. It sounds like you would enjoy one of Chicago's high-end restaurants, the places with the utmost in food creativity and service, which characteristically feature lengthy tasting menus, armies of serving staff, formal dining (jackets required for gentlemen), high prices, etc. That group of restaurants consists of Alinea, Everest, Avenues, Charlie Trotter's, TRU, Spiaggia, and Les Nomades. (Borderline entries in the group - based on food as well as general style - include L2O, Ria, and Sixteen, all of which have opened within the past few years and IMHO have not yet shown that they deserve consideration, based on my dinners there.)

    There's a near-consensus that Alinea is the very best of this group, but there's no way you'll get a reservation there; reservations fill up when the book is opened two months in advance, and there's a lengthy waiting list. (When you look for one of these places at the last minute like this, some of them just won't be available to you.)

    All of these are excellent places and you can have a wonderful dinner at any of them. There are differences among the others that may steer you towards one or another. While all feature exceedingly creative cuisine, Everest is unique for its French-Alsatian cuisine and its view from the top of the Midwest Stock Exchange Building, and Spiaggia is unique as the only one serving Italian cuisine. It's probably not a consideration for you, but Avenues, TRU, Spiaggia, and Les Nomades are within walking distance of your hotel.

    There is no consensus on which is "second best" after Alinea, as there are a few negative reports floating around about all of the rest. Beware, as some of those negative reports (particularly Spiaggia and Charlie Trotter's) are long in the tooth, based on dinners two or more years ago, which in my experience typically reflects someone with an "ax to grind" and rather than a recent, balanced opinion.

    My advice is to first, find out which ones have availability on the night in question. (You can check availability on Opentable.com for all except Alinea. If there's someplace else you have your heart set on and it doesn't show availability on Opentable, you can also call; sometimes they can squeeze you in over the phone. But Opentable will show you which ones are definitely available and is a good place to start.) Then, take a look at their websites and see if one appeals to you more than the others:

    www.alinearestaurant.com

    www.everestrestaurant.com

    http://chicago.peninsula.com (Avenues)

    www.charlietrotters.com/restaurant

    www.trurestaurant.com

    www.spiaggiarestaurant.com

    www.lesnomades.net

    Incidentally, David Burke's Primehouse is located in your hotel. I wouldn't put it in the same category as these other restaurants, but it's worth considering for a lunch or dinner while you're here; many of us (including myself) consider it the best of our steakhouses.

    Good luck with your choice, and congratulations!

    1. In addition to the other suggestions and since you mention wanting more of a hip vibe, I'd suggest Moto which does delicious future fun food. We did the Grand Tour Moto and had the most wonderful time - and laughed nonstop. It's a very different experience from the more white glove high end but you might find it just right fore the whole family.

      -----
      Moto Restaurant
      945 W Fulton, Chicago, IL 60607

      4 Replies
      1. re: Siun

        Moto is interesting because of its creative use of molecular gastronomy techniques. But I would not describe it as "a combination of great food and a real wow experience", which is what the OP is looking for. Food can be interesting, but the challenge is making it exceedingly delicious as well, and that's what those other places do so much better than Moto. Moto is a fun place to try once with friends, but when you have only one shot to celebrate a very special occasion, I'd go elsewhere.

        1. re: nsxtasy

          Actually many of the dishes I had last time doing the GTM were definitely wow's in terms of taste. I expected Moto to be fun but was surprised at how truly lovely the flavors were.

          Given the OPs request for "hip vibe over something that is traditional and stuffy" and mention of two daughters who are apparently on the younger side, the fun of Moto seems a potentially good fit.

          What makes a spot the right "special experience" is so personal, it seems worthwhile to have a range of options rather than simply the usual list.

          I'd also suggest keeping a close eye on the Next restaurant facebook page and twitter feed on the chance a table opens up ... you never know!

          -----
          Moto Restaurant
          945 W Fulton, Chicago, IL 60607

          1. re: Siun

            I just haven't been all that impressed with the food at Moto - interesting, yes, but exceedingly delicious, not so much. And the overall experience is okay, but I've never felt as though it were pampered and special the way the high-end places accomplish it, or even as well as some of our other casual places do it. (And FWIW while there is a certain tradition in fine dining, I don't consider any of the high-end places to be stuffy; in fact, at pretty much all of them, the staff goes out of their way to be friendly and approachable.)

            If you'd like to consider a place that has more of a hip vibe AND has food that is thoroughly and consistently outstanding, then I would consider one of our other somewhat more casual restaurants instead. In particular, for a special event dinner, I'd recommend Boka and Perennial Virant. Both have delicious contemporary American food served in an upscale bistro atmosphere. Boka is a place that unobtrusively does everything well, from the food to the service to the atmosphere, and it doesn't get as much notice for this as it should. I haven't been to Perennial Virant since Paul Virant took over as chef recently, but I've enjoyed my meals there under the previous chef; the atmosphere with the full-length windows with passersby on the sidewalk right outside is fun, and I've had Virant's wonderful food at Vie, his other restaurant. If you want to go in a different direction food-wise while staying in this more casual "bistro-ish" category, you could also consider contemporary Italian (Piccolo Sogno, the Florentine), Latin fusion (Nacional 27), tapas (Mercat a la Planxa), or contemporary Mexican (Mexique). All of these have a younger, hipper, more casual vibe than the high-end restaurants (not crazy busy/loud/frantic though), and the experience is different in other ways as well - the menus are a la carte, the attire is business casual (no jackets, although if you wanted to dress up, you could), there may or may not be a sommelier, and of course you'll spend half as much as you will one of the high-end places. So if you're looking for a range of other options, you can get it from these other places, with the best food in this category. However, if you're looking for all of the qualities you get from a high-end experience, as the OP has actually posted that they are looking for, you may prefer to go to one of the high-end places. You could go either way; these are the places I would be considering in either category for a special occasion for that "combination of great food and a real wow experience".

            I purposely didn't mention Next because it's even more unlikely that you'd be able to get a reservation there than at Alinea. The phrase "snowball's chance in hell" comes to mind. :)

            1. re: Siun

              Regarding Next - you can get tables for 2 or 4 from time to time offered by the management on that day (other than the offers of tables from others) but this is probably not practicable for the OP and you do have to watch their Facebook page incessantly (I certainly don't) and respond instantly. ::rolleyes::

              In any case, for myself, the food [and even service, initially] did not quite fully live up to the hype. For example, I felt the pièce de résistance of its current menu - the pressed duck - was undercut by the potatoes that accompanied it (too creamy, too cheesy - it interfered with the taste of the duck) and I simply abandoned the potatoes and ate the duck by itself (which WAS delicious). There were various issues with other courses, to me. The hors d'oeuvres and salad were perfect, however.

        2. You guys are awesome. This is very helpful.

          1. Personally, I'd recommend Tru. I've been there many times and actually think its better than when Tramonto was there-particularly near the end of his tenure. Its within walking distance of your hotel, too. Spiaggia is an option and if you do a search you'll see that pretty much the only complaint there is price. My problem, specifically is the wine pricing.

            I was at Trotter's in July of 10 and would not go back given the price and what it used to be. I've posted this in other places on this board. Nothing really negative just not what it was or, really, what it should be. I've done the kitchen table twice and both of those experiences were absolutely fantastic but my last visit at the chef's table was about 5 years ago.

            Regardless of my past experiences with Everest, I haven't been there in a long time so I'll reserve judgment. I haven't been to Avenues in quite some time, either. I've been to L2O three times (though not since L. Gras left) and I would say without hesitation that it deserves to be mentioned among the very top in Chicago.

            I would agree that Alinea is the best in the city but getting in will probably prove problematic. For the record, I like Les Nomades a lot more than others here.

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

            L2O
            2300 Lincoln Park West, Chicago, IL 60614

            Les Nomades
            222 E Ontario, Chicago, IL 60611

            Spiaggia
            980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

            2 Replies
            1. re: HoosierFoodie

              >> For the record, I like Les Nomades a lot more than others here.

              With this last statement, do you mean you like it more than other *people* here do, or do you mean you like it more than other *restaurants* mentioned here?

              1. re: nsxtasy

                My wife and I really like Les Nomades. It doesn't get a lot of love on this board, which is fine. What i was saying is that we really like the place. I do not think it is as good as Tru, Alinea, L2O, etc..... But it is walkable from the Mag Mile area and in that context worth consideration.

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

                L2O
                2300 Lincoln Park West, Chicago, IL 60614

                Les Nomades
                222 E Ontario, Chicago, IL 60611

            2. Alinea or L2O would fit the bill - great food (fit for foodies) in a contemporary setting. Graham Elliot also has a hip vibe, but it is less of a fine-dining experience (great food though).

              1. Avenues. Chef's Counter. Seats 6 and was nearly empty when I went on Friday.

                While it may not be as good as Alinea (nothing in the US is,) it is probably the second best "molecular" leaning restaurant I've ever been to.

                I absolutely loved L2o under Gras but can't comment since he left.

                Trotter's food is great, but it is certainly "Stuffy"

                TRU is a definite experience, but probably not hip. It is the most "French" of the restaurants we visited in Chicag in terms of highly creative and delicious food served with ultimately refined service. It isn't quite as good as Alinea or Avenues, but definitely a highlight-real meal.

                Since reservations at Alinea are likely not an option, do Avenues at the Counter - watch Duffy and team work their magic.

                http://uhockey.blogspot.com

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

                1 Reply
                1. re: uhockey

                  I had an absolutely terrific meal at Avenues a few weeks ago. Everything about it was note perfect and the staff was really working hard to make everyone in the place feel special. The tables are widely spaced, the ambiance elegant and not too loud. The food was amazing even dishes that I am not normally fond of. The place wasn't full but we ate late on a weeknight and I really had the sense that the restaurant was stepping up its game in a frightening economy to please.. They succeeded. I like Avenues more than Tru but I have only been once since Tramonto left and everything I have heard suggests it is better than ever.

                2. Out-of-towners visiting 2 weeks ago, had another spectacular meal at Alinea and an excellent meal at L20 on back-to-back nights. Either would fit your requirements (Alinea more so of course) though as mentioned Alinea is a book-2-months in advance place, so highly unlikely you'll get in.

                  We were in Chicago mainly for Alinea and couldn't find a consensus # 2 spot (the same names were discussed as mentioned as in posts here, by mostly the same people). Finally decided on L20 mainly because they had recently received 3 Michelin stars (like Alinea, unlike any other Chicago restaurants), even though the chef left shortly after the Michelin announcement.

                  We felt L20 was very good but not exactly a 'destination restaurant worthy of a special journey' (most of the Michelin 3*'s aren't) and will probably give Trotter's or Avenues a shot when we come back for another Alinea meal.

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

                  10 Replies
                  1. re: willyum

                    >> We felt L20 was very good but not exactly a 'destination restaurant worthy of a special journey' (most of the Michelin 3*'s aren't)

                    I somewhat agree with your characterization of L2O - I'd call it pretty good but not as good as others in the same price range - but would disagree with what you say about the other three-star Michelin places, based on my experience. Ten restaurants in the United States have been awarded three stars by Michelin (five in NY, two each in SF and Chicago, one in Vegas). I've eaten at six of them, in all four cities; of those six, I would consider four "a destination restaurant worthy of a special journey". L2O was one of the other two.

                    1. re: nsxtasy

                      >> would disagree with what you say about the other three-star Michelin places, based on my experience. Ten restaurants in the United States have been awarded three stars by Michelin (five in NY, two each in SF and Chicago, one in Vegas). I've eaten at six of them, in all four cities; of those six, I would consider four "a destination restaurant worthy of a special journey".

                      We've been to eight of the ten the past year, all but Masa and Daniel in NYC. For the meals we had I would definitely say Alinea, Per Se and French Laundry are 'worth a special trip' but they were the only ones. Meadowood was probably our 4th fav but perhaps not quite worth a special trip.

                      Didn't think that the Le Bernardin, Jean-Georges or L20 meals were special enough for a separate trip. Not even close. Robuchon is a bit harder to place, we went three times and the first time my meal was so fantastic we immediately made plans to return, even though one course was not up to par for my wife (chewy lamb). 2nd trip my wife's meal was fantastic but mine (degustation) had a couple of miscues. Third trip they had just changed the menu the day before (Robuchon was there, last November) and I guess the kitchen wasn't up to speed on the new dishes ... good meal but not really worth a special trip, with a couple of misses.

                      This is why we like to hit the best places more than once, just to be sure.

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

                      1. re: willyum

                        >> Robuchon is a bit harder to place

                        Interesting. I went there this past fall (late October), and thought it was one of the three best dinners/restaurants I have ever had in my entire life.

                      2. re: nsxtasy

                        nsxtasy, looking back on your first post I find it strange that now you say L20 is "a destination restaurant worthy of a special journey" whereas in the first post on this thread you said it was "borderline" for inclusion in the first tier, mentioning seven other local restaurants as better ...

                        1. re: willyum

                          Having been to all but MASA (no interest) and Meadowood (just added) on the US list I think L2o was my 4th favorite of the list (Alinea, TFL, then Per Se) and every bit worth the journey when Gras was there. I need to get back to compare, but It definitely trumped Le Bernardin, JG, and Daniel for me and at the pricetag it was just as good and 1/2 the price of Joel Robuchon.

                          http://uhockey.blogspot,com

                          1. re: uhockey

                            Masa just got downgraded to 3 stars by Sam Sifton, who cited sub-par service as one reason. I wonder if difficulties in sourcing Japanese produce/seafood (as a result of the nuclear crisis) play any role.

                          2. re: willyum

                            I think you misread. He thinks L2O is not one of the four destination restaurants worthy of a special journey.

                            1. re: mountsac

                              >> He thinks L2O is not one of the four destination restaurants worthy of a special journey.

                              That's correct. I ate there when Gras was in charge and while it was good, I didn't think it was anywhere near as amazing as most of the other high-end restaurants in Chicago. The room is stunning, the service is competent (with only a couple of very minor glitches), but aside from a canele among the mignardises at the end of the meal, none of the other dishes really "wowed" me. I've had far, far better dinners at Everest, Charlie Trotter's, Spiaggia, etc than at L2O (and while those others have been outstanding, they're still not up there with my all-time best dinners at Alinea or Robuchon). That's why I consider it "borderline" compared with the rest of that group (except Les Nomades, which I've also found a bit below the others).

                              1. re: mountsac

                                >> I think you misread. He thinks L2O is not one of the four destination restaurants <<

                                mountsac, you are correct, re-reading it I see nsxtasy he wrote "L2O was one of the other two" and I somehow read it wrong (don't see how, it's pretty clear, but I did).

                                Apologies to nsxtasy ... we both saw L20 the same way.

                                -----
                                L2O
                                2300 Lincoln Park West, Chicago, IL 60614

                                1. re: willyum

                                  No worries - glad we could clear that up. (And it's okay for us to have different opinions where that happens, too!)

                        2. candidcio

                          I have eaten at some of the higher-end restaurants (Alinea, TRU, Avenues, Les Nomades)mentioned by the other respondents and I agree that Alinea is above the others. I preferred TRU and Avenues to Les Nomades in terms of food (more inventive) and atmosphere (less stuffy, althought Les Nomades was not really stuffy). I think it is hard to go wrong with either TRU or Avenues. You should realize that Avenues has a choice of two tasting menus only (one is vegetarian), while at TRU you can do a tasting menu or prix fixe (and you can do a dessert tasting). So, if your party wants to see a whole bunch of different dishes TRU would be the better choice. I had excellent service (food and wine) at both. Neither one has a particularly good view, although the interiors of both are very nice. The tables are spread further apart at Avenues, but TRU has more interesting art (if you enjoy modern art). I hope this meal is part of an excellent birthday for your wife.

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

                          Les Nomades
                          222 E Ontario, Chicago, IL 60611

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: ChemWork

                            You can order any course at Avenues ALC.

                            http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                            1. re: uhockey

                              uhockey:

                              Thanks for the clarification. The restaurant personnel did not make that clear to us when we were at the restaurant. We were just handed the menu with the two tasting options (no mention on the menu was made that courses could be ordered a la carte). Regardless, I think there are more course choices at TRU than at Avenues. The progression of the courses on the Avenues tasting menu was very thoughtful and delicious (with the exception of the last dessert which was just average). I'm not sure I would order a la carte at Avenues since the tasting menu was so good. When I'm with a larger group I think it's fun to see more dishes.

                          2. And the winner is...Avenues.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: candidcio

                              Request the chef's counter if you can, truly a great experience. And if the chestnut dish is still on the menu it is a must order.

                              http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                              1. re: candidcio

                                A great choice. Avenues was my favorite restaurant during my recent trip to Chicago (a trip that included Alinea) and is in my top 5 all time. The grains dish is also amazing in its apparent simplicity. Definitely ask for the counter seating although ask for a seat not too close to the hot plate.

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