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Please help finish my Chicago eating itinerary!

Hi everyone,

I'll have 3 days in Chicago. I've managed to secure an Alinea reservation already (thrilled!). My husband and I are NYC foodies so our goal is to find things that we can't really get in New York. With that in mind, I'd love your suggestions

Brunch:
Frontera Grill (already reserved this)

What are your thoughts on Bongo Room, Jam, Xoco, any others?

Lunch:
Lou Malnati's (post-Shedd aquarium)
open to suggestions for other days

Dinner:
Alinea one night so I was thinking more casual places for the other 2

What are your thoughts on:
Girl & Goat (is it actually good or just hyped because of Top Chef?)
Publican
any other places

For drinks, I was thinking Aviary and Sable - thoughts?

I love pastry - is Vanille considered the best? We'll probably be staying near North Michigan Ave. so any patisseries near there?

Thanks!

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Alinea
1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

Bongo Room
1470 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60642

Frontera Grill
445 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

XOCO
449 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

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  1. For me, Lou Malnati (heavy) and Alinea (21-courses) would be way too much food for one day. If possible I would move Lou Malnati to another day and eat something lighter. Showing up to Alinea a little hungry will help maximize the experience. Just my opinion.

    I prefer Publican over Girl & Goat. I'm in the minority, but I think G&G is overrated. For me everything was oily and over seasoned. Publican rarely fails, and it's easier to get a reservation.

    Assuming you're no interested in food - Aviary over Sable.

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

    3 Replies
    1. re: PopMegaphone

      Hi PopMegaphone,.

      Lou Malnati and Alinea are on different days. Sorry for any confusion

      Day 1:
      Dinner: TBD

      Day 2: Friday
      Brunch: Jam, Bongo Room, ?
      Lunch: Lou Malnati
      Dinner: TBD

      Day 3:
      Brunch: Frontera Grill
      Dinner: Alinea
      will probably only have a light snack or perhaps pastry midday if anything

      Day 4: Sunday
      Brunch: TBD

      Would you recommend Sable just for drinks or also for dinner? I've read some people rave about the dinner they had there and I do love the mix-and-match with the half-size plates to allow us to try more items.

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

      Bongo Room
      1152 S Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60605

      Frontera Grill
      445 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

      1. re: ManhattanLawyer

        I haven't eaten enough at Sable to say for sure. Honestly, it's the type of place you can find in NYC.

        On the other hand, The Aviary is a great and unique experience. I'm not sure there is another place in NYC like it.

        1. re: PopMegaphone

          Sable is fun if you're doing bartender's choice, but it's much like Death & Co in NYC.

          The Aviary is one of a kind. Nothing like it in NYC.

    2. Frontera is great brunch. So is Publican. I adore Jam. Ate there this morning. Bongo Room is good if you like really sweet stuff. I had a red velvet pancake there recently that was so sweet I couldn't eat it.

      The Girl and the Goat is that great. But you can only get a res about 3 months out. Another really Top Chef restaurant in town in Sprout (Dale Levitski).

      Both Aviary and Sable are great places for drinks. You might also want to consider the Violet Hour in Wicker Park.

      -----
      Bongo Room
      1152 S Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60605

      Violet Hour
      1247 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

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

      1 Reply
      1. re: chicgail

        Just an additional thought about Jam. I really like this place.

        This morning I had a dish that was their seasonal play on biscuits and gravy. It was fresh creamed corn, smoked crudo, a biscuit and perfectly fried egg topped with black salt. The last time I was there, a few months ago, I realized I had another variation on the same theme: asparagus cut into even discs, maybe 1/4-inches long - some slices were cooked; some were served raw. This was highlighted with touch of pickled red onions, a brunoise of pork belly, a basic b├ęchamel sauce with ... a fried egg topped with black salt. I'm in a rut.

        My husband, who is watching what he eats these days, had two poached egg whites with arugula, and other greens, topped with black salt. He loved it.

        Here's way more. http://foodbeest.com/?p=2974

      2. >> What are your thoughts on Bongo Room, Jam, Xoco, any others?

        I love Bongo Room. They have unusual pancake dishes, such as pretzel pancakes with white chocolate caramel sauce. Plus, one order is three GIGANTIC pancakes, but you can get one-third and two-thirds portion sizes at a reduced price, so you can try multiple items. This is a great and unique place, if you enjoy sweeter dishes for breakfast. Jam is also very good indeed. Not as unique as Bongo Room, it's sort of a contemporary American riff on a breakfast restaurant. For me, XOCO is more of a "if you happen to be in the neighborhood and want something quick" type of place. Especially since you already have a reservation for Saturday brunch at Frontera Grill next door. There are other excellent breakfast restaurants in and around Chicago, notably Southport Grocery, M. Henry/M. Henrietta, and Walker Brothers, but all of those are some distance (5+ miles) from downtown. If you're limiting it to those places close to downtown, my very first pick would be Bongo Room (but only if you enjoy sweeter dishes for breakfast), second choice is Jam. Maybe you can work both into your visit.

        Also note that none of these places take reservations, and they all tend to get very busy on Saturdays and particularly Sundays, roughly 9:30-12:30. Weekdays, you can walk right in and be seated.

        >> Lunch:
        >> Lou Malnati's (post-Shedd aquarium)
        >> open to suggestions for other days
        >> Dinner:
        >> Alinea one night so I was thinking more casual places for the other 2

        Most of the nicer places in the greater downtown area are open for both lunch and dinner, so these recommendations apply to both meals, except where noted otherwise: Sable for contemporary American, Piccolo Sogno or Cibo Matto for Italian, Mercat a la Planxa for tapas (dinner more so than lunch), Nacional 27 for Latin fusion, Sunda for pan-Asian, David Burke's Primehouse for steaks (burgers at lunch), La Sardine for French bistro fare. Top picks? The best dinners I've had recently in Chicago were at Sable and Piccolo Sogno.

        >> What are your thoughts on:
        >> Girl & Goat (is it actually good or just hyped because of Top Chef?)

        I thought it was pretty good overall; you can read my detailed report at www.chow.com/topics/742267#6486004 Some of the savory dishes were outstanding (e.g. pig face), others were generally good too. I hated the desserts, and I really think good desserts are an important component to a dinner. Overall, I didn't think it was just hyped; in particular, her culinary style is interesting (basically, throwing a lot of ingredients together). But there are other places in the city (e.g. Sable, Deleece) as well as the suburbs (Michael, Inovasi) where I've had dinners consisting of one terrific dish after another after another, including the desserts, and this wasn't one of them. (For a NYC comparison, I felt the same way - one terrific dish after another - about Craft.) I recommend checking out the menu on their website, and reading the reports, and if you think that's where you want to go, make a reservation. Note that they first take reservations three months in advance. They fill up quickly, but this is one of those places that doesn't release all their spaces on Opentable, so if you don't see availability on Opentable, try phoning.

        >> Publican

        This is more of a mixed bag, for various reasons. The Publican is more of a pub-type drinking place, with a large space in the middle of the room for standing next to high-tops while drinking. About half of the seating consists of those awful looooong communal tables where you're stuck dining next to strangers - not bad if you are dining solo, not great if you want some privacy with your companions. Fortunately, you can mention your preference for a private table when making a reservation in advance, and they will try to accommodate that. They have a great beer list. As for the food, I found some of the items very good (mussels), others not so great (pork rinds) and it, too, has desserts I found dreadful. (Awful desserts really isn't that common for me; the only two places I can recall where they were totally unsatisfying are Publican and Girl and the Goat, and you happened to mention both.) One more consideration is that the Publican is REALLY LOUD. I have no desire to go back. I think the food is significantly better at Blackbird, another of Kahan's restaurants, as well as many other places. But if you're looking for more of a beer hall type place, rather than a finer dining place, it might be exactly what you want.

        >> For drinks, I was thinking Aviary and Sable - thoughts?

        I absolutely love the food at Sable. I'm really not much of a drinker, but those who are, appreciate the craft cocktails there. They have one of the best mixology/barkeep staffs in the city. I haven't been to Aviary, can't really say.

        >> I love pastry - is Vanille considered the best? We'll probably be staying near North Michigan Ave. so any patisseries near there?

        I love pastry too. I've tried most of the patisseries and bakeries around the Mag Mile (North Michigan Avenue) and haven't been impressed by any of them. Fox & Obel, our premier gourmet food store (think of NYC's Dean & Deluca, Balducci, etc) is nearby and has some excellent baked goods, but I primarily like them for their bread baking, rather than pastries - things like wonderfully rich cinnamon swirl rolls, brioche, rustic fruit and nut breads, etc. They also do some nice pudding type stuff - bread pudding, chocolate brut (a chocolate version of bread pudding), classic Americana banana pudding, etc.

        Vanille is indeed one of our very best patisseries, with terrific entremets (individual-sized mousse cakes) and very good French macaroons and croissants. They have two locations. One is a satellite location in the French Market in the commuter train just west of the Loop. The French Market also features Pastoral (our best cheese market, also sandwiches) and Canady le Chocolatier (an artisanal chocolate-maker). Their main location is on north Clybourn. Four blocks east of Vanille's Clybourn location is another of our very best patisseries, Floriole, so it's easy to hit both of them in one trip. Floriole has great baked stuff, including French macaroons etc, as well as great desserts like panna cotta and pots de creme. Those three - Fox & Obel, Vanille, and Floriole - are IMHO the very best patisseries within a few miles of downtown Chicago.

        >> Would you recommend Sable just for drinks or also for dinner? I've read some people rave about the dinner they had there and I do love the mix-and-match with the half-size plates to allow us to try more items.

        The dinner I had there this past weekend - as I reported in the Sable topic at www.chow.com/topics/704524#6786486 - was one of the very best dinners I've had in the past year, for the food. (I'm not particularly interested in alcoholic beverages, just food.) I too love the mix-and-match, so you can try a lot of things. The first time I went there I got so full that I didn't have room for dessert, which was a big mistake, since Chef Terhune's desserts are as outstanding as her savory dishes. I learned not to order everything at once, so that now I order a few dishes at a time, and hold onto the menu, doing several iterations this way to judge how I'm doing.

        I would encourage you to look at the menus on the websites of the restaurants you're considering, to help you decide on which ones to go to. Doing this gives you a pretty good guide of what you'll have to choose from. Of course, not everyone likes the same things, so a place whose menu sounds amazing to one person, may not be as interesting to someone else. But I've found that in most cases, if a website menu sounds like food I'll enjoy, it usually turns out to be just that.

        Feel free to ask more questions, and enjoy your visit!

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        Fox & Obel Food Market
        401 E Illinois St, Chicago, IL 60611

        Alinea
        1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

        Blackbird Restaurant
        619 W. Randolph, Chicago, IL 60606

        La Sardine
        111 N Carpenter St, Chicago, IL 60607

        Bongo Room
        1152 S Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60605

        David Burke's Primehouse
        616 N Rush Street, Chicago, IL 60611

        Frontera Grill
        445 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

        Nacional 27
        325 W. Huron, Chicago, IL 60610

        Mercat a la Planxa
        638 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60605

        Southport Grocery & Cafe
        3552 N Southport Ave, Chicago, IL 60657

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

        Michael
        64 Green Bay Road, Winnetka, IL 60093

        Piccolo Sogno
        464 N Halsted, Chicago, IL 60622

        M. Henry
        5707 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60660

        Cibo Matto
        201 N State St, Chicago, IL 60601

        Sunda
        110 W. Illinois St., Chicago, IL 60654

        Inovasi Restaurant
        28 E. Center Ave, Lake Bluff, IL 60044

        XOCO
        449 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

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

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

        French Market
        131 North Clinton, Chicago, IL 60661

        Vanille Patisserie
        2229 N Clybourn Ave, Chicago, IL 60614

        Floriole Cafe and Bakery
        1220 W Webster Ave, Chicago, IL 60614

        M. Henrietta
        1133 West Granville, Chicago, IL 60660

        Jam Restaurant
        3059 W. Logan Blvd., Chicago, IL

        1. As a fellow NYer:

          Frontera Grill is great but I think their brunch menu is on the limited side, isn't it? I assume you're less interested in the egg/French toast/etc-type dishes.

          I found the pancakes at Bongo Room way too sweet, I much prefer Clinton St, Breslin, etc. in NYC

          Jam on the other hand was excellent and creative, I don't think you'd find that type of menu really in NYC

          Xoco is good for breakfast but probably not all that different from Hecho en Dumbo or Casabel

          I found Publican and Girl and the Goat to both be great, buy very different.
          Publican seems very similar to Momofuku Ssam Bar with local ingredients, lots of pork and seafood, but blond wood and beer. G&TG is probably more unique.

          The Aviary is not to be missed. Sable and Violet Hour are similar to Pegu Club, PDT, Death & Co. Both very good, with better food at Sable, but the Aviary is unlike any other cockail lounge I've visited. Don't miss the In the Rocks, Blueberry, Truffled negroni, Chartreuse. We loved it so much we went two nights in a row. And got lucky enough to visit the basement speakeasy, The Office, as well. I'd ask when sitting down of you're interested. Seems like it fills up about 7pm.
          Only 16 seats, totally different menu, more traditional cocktails but insanely decadent food menu with caviar, Spanish ham, oysters, steak tartare, etc.

          We did Aviary and Publican a few nights ago for dinner, which was great. G&TG is also very close to the Aviary.

          Maybe on Friday night, do The Aviary early, late dinner at Girl and the Goat, then perhaps Sunday brunch at Publican (IIRC they take reservations).

          Have a great time! I'm jealous of your Alinea reservation.

          -----
          Bongo Room
          1152 S Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60605

          Frontera Grill
          445 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

          Violet Hour
          1247 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

          XOCO
          449 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

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

          3 Replies
          1. re: kathryn

            >> Frontera Grill is great but I think their brunch menu is on the limited side, isn't it?

            I think it's one of the more varied brunch menus around town. But you can take a look and decide for yourself: www.rickbayless.com/menus

            Topolobampo and Frontera Grill aren't the only places serving creative provincial Mexican cuisine in Chicago; our best also include Mexique, Mundial Cocina Mestiza, and Mixteco Grill, none of which is in the immediate downtown area the way Topo/Frontera are. You can check out all of their menus and decide for yourself which works the best for you. And you might also consider shuffling your meals around, maybe doing a Mexican place for lunch or dinner and someplace else for Saturday brunch. Just don't give up that Frontera reservation unless you're sure you don't need it, because reservations there are very hard to come by.

            >> I found the pancakes at Bongo Room way too sweet

            In most cases, the pancakes themselves aren't unusually sweet; it's the sauces on top that are. Those who don't enjoy sweeter dishes may be better off asking for the sauce to be omitted or served on the side (or going elsewhere). FWIW, I've never found any of the Bongo Room pancakes to be too sweet, but that's probably because I enjoy sweet dishes (and love breakfast because it's a way to make a meal out of dessert).

            -----
            Mundial Cocina Mestiza
            1640 W 18th St, Chicago, IL 60608

            Frontera Grill
            445 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654

            Topolobampo
            445 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

            Mixteco Grill
            1601 W Montrose Ave, Chicago, IL 60613

            Mexique
            1529 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

            1. re: nsxtasy

              I guess Frontera is "limited" in terms of sweet breakfasty options, but if you're ordering the dishes that are also on the dinner menu, it should be ok.

              1. re: nsxtasy

                (and love breakfast because it's a way to make a meal out of dessert).

                Just had to comment that line made me laugh out loud in a good way. :)

            2. I LOVE the chicago food scene... such a yummy city! I have always wanted to try Graham Elliot... but never have.
              PLEASANT HOUSE BAKERY is a great spot, and CRISP is a must stop for me with the best Korean chicken. something I just dont get out here in UT.

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