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Boyfriend's birthday dinner for two (under $100?)

My boyfriend and I have been together for many years in Chicago and we have gotten to eat at a lot of great places. I'd like to take him to a nice restaurant we haven't been to yet for his 24th birthday, but one that's not *too* pricey (so no Trotter's, L2O, Tru etc). His tastes run New American / French / Italian, he does not like raw food (tartare or sashimi) and he's a big desserts person.

Some places we have already been: Alinea, Spiaggia, Graham Elliot, Topolobampo, Blackbird, Avec, Takashi, Gilt Bar, Otom (RIP), Province, Il Mulino, Blue 13, Bluebird, Purple Pig, Hopleaf
Some of our staples: Sola, Fox and Obel

I'd rather not take him to Girl and the Goat or Longman and Eagle. I dropped those two subtly over the last few weeks to gauge his reaction and he seemed really apathetic to them. Initially I was thinking along the lines of Boka or Publican, but those menus would appeal a lot more to me than him. He is not a seafood person.

I'd prefer a little romantic ambiance, but if the food is good I won't care if they're blasting metal. Right now, I'm thinking Piccolo Sogno, Le Bouchon, Davanti Enoteca, or the Bristol. Thoughts? Recommendations?

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  1. >> His tastes run New American / French / Italian, he does not like raw food (tartare or sashimi) and he's a big desserts person.

    Sounds like me! However, I immediately noticed that your list of places you've already been does not include my favorite restaurant in each of those three categories, all of which are moderate in price: Sable, La Sardine, and Piccolo Sogno.

    >> Right now, I'm thinking Piccolo Sogno, Le Bouchon, Davanti Enoteca, or the Bristol. Thoughts? Recommendations?

    Your thinking is pretty close to mine. I was really, really impressed with Piccolo Sogno when I went there a few months ago. Le Bouchon is the sister restaurant to La Sardine. I haven't been to the last two you mention (although it's worth at least mentioning that the Bristol does not accept reservations, with waits of 90+ minutes at peak times; neither does Longman & Eagle, which you have ruled out).

    In addition to Sable, I would also add Deleece (on Southport) to your list for consideration. I've eaten there twice in the past year, and both times I thought it was absolutely terrific. They serve great contemporary American cuisine, and like Sable, it's remarkably reasonable in price. Note that they are supposed to move a few blocks south on Southport some time soon, so make sure you verify the address with them.

    Just throwing out some comparisons... The French bistros (La Sardine and Le Bouchon) serve conventional French bistro cuisine. It's excellent, but not all that unusual/creative. Hope that makes sense. From a pricing standpoint, you'll probably pay about the same at Sardine/Bouchon/Piccolo/Sable/Deleece, where you can fill up on 2-3 courses for around $30-35, but you'll pay more at Boka, which you also mentioned. (You'll spend that $30-35 on just the entree at Boka.) Sable has the advantage of offering half portions of many of its dishes, so you can try more items there. Sable also has artisanal cocktails, if that's of interest. Sardine, Deleece, and Piccolo Sogno are all very bistro-ish in atmosphere, lively and casual, the kind of places with exposed brick walls (I'm pretty sure Sardine and Deleece had them, not PS), whereas Sable is lively and casual but the decor is more strikingly contemporary. Piccolo Sogno, Sable, and Deleece are all restaurants where I've left thinking about how much I'd like to go back, and I still recall the great meals there even weeks afterward - which is about the highest praise I can give any place. Oh, and all of these places accept reservations, so you don't have to worry about waiting a looooong time for a table. (All of the ones I've mentioned accept them on Opentable.com as well as over the phone, except La Sardine and Le Bouchon, which accept them on their own websites as well as over the phone, just not on Opentable).

    Sorry I'm not narrowing down my three top recommendations of Piccolo Sogno, Sable, and Deleece, but I think they're all great and you can't go wrong with any of them. If you're still not sure, take a look at the sample menus on the restaurant websites, and feel free to have your BF do the same (remember, it's HIS birthday). Maybe one will appeal to both of you more than the others. This will also give you an idea of their pricing.

    HTH

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    Boka
    1729 North Halsted, Chicago, IL 60614

    La Sardine
    111 N Carpenter St, Chicago, IL 60607

    Le Bouchon
    1958 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60647

    Deleece Restaurant (on Southport)
    3747 N. Southport Avenue, Chicago, IL 60657

    Piccolo Sogno
    464 N Halsted, Chicago, IL 60622

    Sable Kitchen & Bar
    505 North State Street, Chicago, IL 60654

    1. I haven't been able to get reservations for Piccolo Sogno, which is a good sign.

      Some people may consider LeBouchon (and sister restaurant LeSardine) conventional. I would call them authentic. Le Bouchon, more than Le Sardine, has a feel of a real French bistro.

      And I love the Bristol. It is a first-rate farm-to-table gastropub. Great drinks and wonderful food.

      As nsxtasy knows, I am less enthusiastic about one of his favs: Sable. It feels more like a great bar to me - the cocktail menu is serious reading material. The food is very good, but it seems more to me like an adjunct to the booze than vice versa. Good for tourists in the area. Good for drinks and a bite, but not my first choice for dinner.

      One more recommendation I would make is Antico. By day it is a coffee shop; by evening a relatively new, excellent and also very authentic Italian restaurant in Bucktown. I've been there twice in a couple of months and I am ongoingly surprised and delighted by the food.

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      Le Bouchon
      1958 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60647

      Antico
      1946 N Leavitt St, Chicago, IL 60647

      4 Replies
      1. re: chicgail

        And again, chicgail raises that non-issue of semantics. Sable is a terrific choice AS A RESTAURANT. It is as much a restaurant as any other place being discussed!!! Yes, if you want to go there for cocktails, you can - just like you can go to La Sardine or the Bristol or those other places for drinks, but that doesn't mean they deserve false derision as only "bars" for "tourists" any more so than Sable. In that regard, they are no different from Sable. The simple fact is, if you want to go to Sable just for food, you'll find Chef Heather Terhune, one of the city's most accomplished and respected chefs, working the line, creating her wonderful cuisine. I absolutely LOVE her cooking - and I rarely get anything alcoholic to drink. For me, and for anyone who goes there for the food, IT IS A RESTAURANT - serving some of the very best contemporary American food in town. For me, it IS my first choice for dinner.

        1. re: nsxtasy

          For us, some of the food worked and some of it didn't.

          Like my mother always said,
          "That's why there's chocolate and vanilla. Something for everyone."

          1. re: nsxtasy

            Bristol is a good choice. I've been to Sable twice in the last couple of months and loved it both times. They do a lot of 1/2 plates and if you are into sharing plates or trying a bunch of different things I don't think you will be disappointed. We went with a large group last week and had a great time. I get the bar scene issue at Sable but I get a bit of that at the Bristol, too. Plus, you can make a reservation at Sable where you cannot at Bristol-if that matters to you.

            Of the places mentioned I like them both.... Haven't been to the others.

          2. re: chicgail

            I have to agree with chicgail- Sable is a fun cocktail bar that serves arguably decent food. Excellent place to stop before dinner if you're in the area, but not my idea of a place for the nice dinner you're looking for.

            Although I haven't been there, it sounds like Piccolo Sogno might be just what you're looking for.

            Also, check out Province in the West Loop-I think it meets all of your requirements, and I've had two really good experiences there- they use lots of fresh, local ingredients, prices are great and they have a good mixture of small and large plates, so you can choose to share a few things, or each order on your own. Don't be deterred, by the small raw menu, because there are many many other great options.

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            Province
            161 N Jefferson St, Chicago, IL 60661

          3. One other practical suggestion. Savored.com shaves 30% off your total bill (for a flat $10 fee) ata number of restaurants (including Sola). Not necessarily the hottest spots in town but still a great deal.

            2 Replies
            1. re: ferret

              I know you posted previously about that deal, as it appears on Opentable.com Is there any advantage to going to the deals on savored.com vs on Opentable? For example, are there restaurants shown on Opentable that are not on savored.com or vice versa?

              1. re: nsxtasy

                I believe the deal is only available for the restaurants and time slots featured on Savored (appears to be a way to fill open spots) - and you have to pay the $10 fee.

            2. I would consider Terragusto as an option as well. Its off the beaten path, very romantic and I've always had a fantastic meal. I would second the other suggestions as well, with two exceptions: I was disappointed by both Bristol and Sable. (Found them overpriced for the amount/quality of food.)

              BTW, Longman and Eagle is worth a try at some point, as is Publican.

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              Terragusto
              1851 W Addison St, Chicago, IL 60613

              3 Replies
              1. re: lchifoodie

                Terragusto has closed.

                http://chicago.eater.com/archives/201...

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                Terragusto
                1851 W Addison St, Chicago, IL 60613

                1. re: mcgeary

                  Very disappointing - was there 3 weeks ago and had yet another outstanding meal. Hopefully Gilbert's next spot will be just as good. (Pasta flights? Yes please!)

                2. re: lchifoodie

                  I also found Sable to be "overpriced for the amount/quality of the food"- very well put.

                3. How about Ruxbin? It's BYOB, won a Best New Restaurant from Bon Apetit, and the chef there is a Thomas Keller protege. VERY reasonably priced. If you get the two most expensive appetizers, two of the most expensive entrees, and two desserts, you max out at $88 so about $100 with tip.

                  Place gets crowded in a hurry though almost every night, specially Friday and Saturday. Pop in at 5:30 though and you'll be just fine. No reservations though, which is both good and bad.