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Jun 27, 2011 04:03 PM

Chicgal, nxtasy - I'm finally planning ahead!

Hi and thanks for all your help in the past.
I'm coming in to visit my kids 8/31 thru Labor Day. I just made a res for 9/1 at Topo (yay!).
Two of us are veg and one not at all.
Have been to Zebra and the other usual veg suspects. Loved Sable, liked Russian Tea Time and Mercadito on my last visit in June.
Here's my question: now that I am finally on the ball time-wise, do you have any suggestions for hard-to-get reservations?
Didn't love the veg tasting menu at Trotters and would like to do funkier rather than formal. Love ethnic places, small plates, spicy.
Have been to Chi many times (love it!). I keep up with the Chow posts but, in case there's something off my radar, I welcome your suggestions and thank you in advance!

Russian Tea Time Restaurant
77 E Adams St, Chicago, IL 60603

108 W. Kinzie, Chicago, IL 60610

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  1. I love that you're set at Topo! Congrats.

    I would not bother with Trotters. My last visit there was unremarkable and for that kind of money, I want to remark.

    See if you can get res at Girl and the Goat, Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard's place. I thought the food was incredible (like anything else, some better than others). I really wanted to try more, but even I have my limits. The menu changes and is seasonal so not everything may be available. Best hits: lamb tartare, the vegetable trio that our waitress made up special for us (green beans, roasted pepper and blistered shishito peppers -oh, so good!) and pig face (Iknow, I know! I expected this huge head of pig coming to the table on a big white platter, Lord of the Flies style.) Instead we got was a small crispy disk of perfectly cooked pork with a tiny disk of tongue in the center, topped with a fried egg. Delectable! I would not order the fried oysters or the wild sockeye salmon.

    I also love Spiaggia Cafe. Authentic Italian Slow Food destination. Same location, kitchen, website as big, expensive sister Spiaggia.

    I also love some of the local gastropubs. The Publican is pretty well-located and takes reservations (outdoor and indoor seating) but a couple of other favorites are in neighborhoods and don't take reservations so it may depend on transportation. They include The Bristol on Damen and Longman and Eagle, which has one Michelin star. It's totally rock-and-roll (I was the only person there without a tat). We went early one Sunday morning (9:30-10-ish) for brunch. Sat outside. No long wait. Incredible food. I'm not a fan of The Gage, but others do like it.
    I also really like a couple of others outside the main tourist area: Browntrout, Sola, Bistro Campagne, and Sprout (also the restaurant of a Top Chef contestant). I also really like Sardine for French.

    Let me know what you think of these or if anything else especially appeals.

    You might want to explore these or others in more detail at

    Bistro Campagne
    4518 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60625

    980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

    4111 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

    Girl and the Goat
    809 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60661

    1 Reply
    1. re: chicgail

      Got an early dinner res for Girl and Goat for Sat nite of this trip. Looks very veg friendly.
      Have no interest in Alinea, even if I could get in. Trotters was enough to take the edge off that level of dining.
      Italian I can always get, and French just isn't veg friendly from my experience.
      Schwa, Next, Naha....nah.
      Thanks, guys! Hope you are having a great 4th!

      1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

    2. Well, there's one restaurant above all others that you should definitely go to: Alinea. It's widely regarded as the best restaurant in the entire United States. The food is incredibly delicious and huge fun. Not inexpensive - you'll probably pay $300 per person, give or take - but SO worth it. It’s really the culinary experience of a lifetime. They accept reservations on the first day of the month for two months following, so they will start taking September reservations on July 1. Call them that morning - preferably shortly after they open.

      Beyond that? You’ve already been to Sable, which is my favorite restaurant for contemporary American cuisine. That three-month window applies to the Girl and the Goat, mentioned by chicgail above, so you can get a reservation there now; I really liked most of the savory dishes there, but I absolutely hated the desserts, which were the worst I’ve ever had anywhere in Chicago (even worse than Publican). There's another contemporary American restaurant that I absolutely love - Deleece on Southport, in the Lakeview neighborhood. It’s one of those “undiscovered gems” that’s every bit as good as the places that get all the hype.

      Our Italian restaurants have come a long way, and while Café Spiaggia has always been good, I think some of the best places have surpassed it in creativity and just overall goodness. In particular, Piccolo Sogno in River West is simply outstanding, the best mid-priced Italian I’ve had in Chicago in years. The Florentine in the Loop is right up there with Piccolo Sogno. Both represent a contemporary take on Italian cuisine. Take a look at the menus on their websites to get a better idea of their cuisine.

      Chicgail mentions La Sardine, and I like it a lot. It’s not exactly cutting edge, just conventional French bistro fare, but it’s prepared extremely well, and not overly expensive either.

      So that ought to give you some ideas.

      Oh, and beware - a couple of the places mentioned above (the Bristol, and Longman & Eagle) don't accept reservations, and typical waits for tables vary from 60 to 120 minutes at desirable times. The Tribune did a photo-essay on these and other places around town, describing typical waiting times and suggesting when you can go to avoid the worst waits, so if this is a concern for you you'll probably find their advice helpful:

      3 Replies
      1. re: nsxtasy

        First post on chicago board but with bad news....

        Tried to make Labor Day reservations for Girl & the Goat yesterday, no times available except for 10:45 or so. I understand the demand must be crazy but coming from Phoenix this is unheard of, especially books opening 3 months in advance. Also. glad mrsdebdav got Topolobampo reso's because I just tried that as well and nothing...I love the move to chicago so far but this type of planning for dining will take some getting used to!!

        445 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

        1. re: AnonymousWaitress

          Well, keep in mind that the number of restaurants for which that's needed is exceedingly small; AFAIK it only applies to Alinea, Topo, G&TG, and Next, the impossible reservation. It's no different in other cities for the very best and/or hottest places (like French Laundry and Per Se on the two coasts).

          As for Girl and the Goat, I'm guessing you only tried via Opentable. If so, try giving them a call by phone (and do it today). I've heard they don't give up their prime-time openings to Opentable, so you may be able to get one by phoning when Opentable shows no availability.

          1. re: nsxtasy

            Absolutely. Great advice. I have had good luck at a lot of places by calling the restaurant directly when Opentable says nothing is available.

      2. You can always keep your fingers crossed for Next -- tickets for their next menu go on sale... any day now? No specific word. Also, no menu yet and they may not be able to accomodate a vegetarian option. Just the same, hard to find something more different than Bangkok 2060 (or whatever year they choose).

        You can also try for Schwa. This is certainly a recommendation with reservations since the reservation process is about as annoying as Next and there seems to be a higher degree of last-minute cancellations from them for a restaurant of their caliber. Again, they may not be able to accomodate a vegetarian request.

        In Wicker Park, check out Mana -- completely veg, small plates and it gets favorable reviews from steadfast meat-eaters I know. It's pretty small, though, and I'm not sure if they accept reservations.

        6 Replies
        1. re: danimalarkey

          I would be careful with Schwa. They are certainly interesting, but they have, without warning, canceled on the day-of-reservations and if you have nothing else lined up, you would be out of luck. I loved someone else's recommendation for Naha and also wanted to add Bonsoiree. It is small (no smaller than Schwa) and not in the central tourist area (neither is Schwa)
          and is both very innovative and the source of really excellent food.

          2728 W Armitage, Chicago, IL 60647

          500 North Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

          1. re: danimalarkey

            Next is virtually impossible to get reservations at, unless you're (a) constantly hitting their website and you just happen to hit it at the instant they release tables, or (b) willing to pay profits to someone who re-sells a reservation there. Although I'd like to try it, I'm not willing to waste my time doing (a) or my money doing (b).

            And given the multitude of reports about Schwa cancelling out on diners at the last minute - it's not just once or twice, but a whole lot of times - I would NOT recommend going there unless you don't mind if you get cancelled at the last minute, too.

            1. re: nsxtasy

              There is also the same-day option -- watch Facebook for when they announce same-day tables, send in an email (the sooner the better, though tables are not selected based on how fast the email is sent in). Management will select names, mostly randomly, among those sent in by some (unannounced) cut-off time and lucky people will be given the chance to purchase the table for that night.

              They have also been really good about announcing the on-sale time/date for batches of tables later in the run for Paris 1906. Hopefully there will be a date announced soon for the next menu.

              Which isn't to argue your point that reservations are a royal P.I.T.A. -- but the OP did ask about hard-to-get reservations! :P

              1. re: danimalarkey

                I secured some same-day tickets and they are not selected randomly. They are chosen by which are first. The experience is worth the effort.

                1. re: chicgail

                  I swear I read via some of Nick's facebook posts (or whoever handles facebook for Next) that if they see the same name over and over (and over and over, etc.), they'll be inclined to maybe give them a table at some point if they aren't lucky otherwise. When I got my same-day ticket, I really doubt I was an early emailer -- the post had been up for at least an hour and I still got a phone call.

                  Regardless of the specifics, we can agree that it takes some combination of luck, perserverence and effort to get a table -- and I agree, worth the effort, provided the menu is appealing.

            2. re: danimalarkey

              The Thailand menu is supposed to start on July 8th but through some Facebook posts, people have asked if it's going to be vegetarian friendly, and the direction given so far is no, given the use of items like fish sauce.

            3. My two bits.... Alinea is a great recommendation but call to ensure that they know vegetarians are coming! Next is interesting but given its theme or set up it probably isn't a good place for a vegetarian. I would think that any of the other "big" places, Tru, Spiaggia, Everest, Avenues, etc... might be a good fit. I would skip Trotter's, as mentioned here and in other threads, I just don't think it is what it once was and there are better options.

              Love Naha, Blackbird, Bristol (no reservations here) too.

              1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

              980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

              500 North Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

              2 Replies
              1. re: HoosierFoodie

                Alinea will specifically prompt you to ask about food allergies and restrictions when you make the reservation, so you won't have to call them back unless your information changes.

                Oh, and the other places mentioned here - including the high-end places (Tru, Spiaggia, Everest, Avenues, Charlie Trotter's) as well as the mid-range places (Piccolo Sogno, the Florentine, Cafe Spiaggia, La Sardine, Naha, Bonsoiree, Blackbird) are generally pretty available up to a few weeks beforehand. Of course, if you know you want to go to any of them 2-3 months out, you may as well make a reservation anyway, since it won't hurt and you can always change or cancel it later if you need to. But they don't fall into the "gotta reserve it RIGHT NOW" category of Topo, Alinea, and G&TG.

                1. re: nsxtasy

                  Hi N,
                  I've had the Trotter veg tasting menu. I so didn't like it.
                  I am reluctant to deal with Tru, Alinea, etc., as I think a) they are not terribly veg focused and b) I really don't want to do the dressy/money thing. I will def check your other recs and, again, thanks to you and everyone else for your help.

                  1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

              2. Thanks to all! As I said, I'm more into funky than formal, so wouldn't even be interested in Alinea. And since two of us are veg, I think Girl and Goat, even if we could have gotten a res, would be problematic. I will check out some of the recs and get back. In the meantime, THANKS!!!

                1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614