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Special dinner for Special lady

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My sister and I are surprising my Mom with a trip to Chicago to celebrate her 55th birthday this weekend. (Yes, this weekend and we don't have reservations yet... shame, shame.) Any suggestions for a special place to take her? She is not a super fancy person or a foodie but does enjoy delicious food. I want somewhere that will make her feel comfortable and not worry about the price of the entrees. I would prefer for the ambiance to be "magical" (think Serendipity NYC) and the food to be yum, and not too fancy. Any suggestions?? Thanks so much!

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  1. Will you be accompanying your mother or is she on her own? If you are accompanying her, take her to The Czech Plaza Restaurant on Cermak Road near Harlem Avenue in Berwyn. The food is great, and the prices are reasonable.

    I grew up in the area, but have lived on the East Coast for 4 decades. When we visited family in Berwyn, we went to that restaurant. I still carry their business card in my wallet altho I may never be able to go there again since immediate family members have passed on.

    Czech Plaza Restaurant
    7016 Cermak Rd, Berwyn, IL 60402

    2 Replies
    1. re: ChiliDude

      While I'd like to think that Berwyn is "magical" it may not be the experience that they're looking for.

      1. re: ferret

        The Berwyn looks fun but I probably didn't describe what I'm looking for properly. I don't want any place stuffy (which the Berwyn doesn't seem to be :-).) However I would like something whimsical and fun since this is an all girls trip. My mom is not a hip chic so tapas, tasting menus, and community tables are not needed. Just something delicious and memorable for her 55th. While my sister and I are paying for the trip I know my mom would panic if she saw the menu had $50+ entrees so I know we will not be visiting one of Chicago's finest. Thank you for the Berwyn suggestion, maybe we'll try lunch there.

    2. Will you be staying in downtown Chicago, or in the suburbs? Better yet, if you can provide the name of the hotel or neighborhood where you are staying, that would help. Surely she will appreciate being able to walk a few blocks to dinner, rather than driving halfway across town. Fortunately, there are great restaurants all over Chicagoland.

      Also, which night would you like to celebrate her birthday dinner? And do you have a time preference (early, late, etc)? We can look up availability for you for restaurants on Opentable.

      When you say she is not super fancy but enjoys delicious food, would she enjoy a fancy place anyway, or would a somewhat casual place be appropriate?

      How about types of food? Many of our better (but casual) restaurants serve contemporary American cuisine. Italian is also very popular. Or does she enjoy more unusual ethnic cuisines?

      Let us know more information and we can make appropriate suggestions.

      5 Replies
      1. re: nsxtasy

        Thank you so much! We are staying at the James, downtown and some place walkable or a short cab ride is best. We have talked about taking her somewhere more "fancy" but I don't want her to be out of her comfort zone since our trip is to celebrate her. Italian, contemporary American, Thai are all some of her favorites. Thanks in advance!

        1. re: steph38018

          Terrific! You don't mention which night, so I'll assume Saturday, which is always the toughest reservation to get.

          I'll start with a few places close to the James. One obvious choice is David Burke's Primehouse, which is right in the James itself. It's one of our very best steakhouses, but it's also quite comfortably casual. Some of the steaks which are aged for long periods are quite pricey, but many of the other items on their menu are not as expensive. As always, you can check the menu on their website to get an idea of pricing. Right now they have openings for four people this Saturday at 5:30, 6:45, and 9:15, but not in between. www.davidburkesprimehouse.com

          Naha is a contemporary American restaurant close to the James. It's excellent but a bit pricey, perhaps too much so for your/her tastes. They have openings up to 6:00 and then 9:00 on. www.naha-chicago.com

          Coco Pazzo and Coco Pazzo Cafe both serve Italian food, and are comfortable places for a nice dinner. Coco Pazzo Cafe is closer to the James (although both are walking distance) and a bit less expensive. Coco Pazzo has openings up to 6:30 and after 8:45; Coco Pazzo Cafe is wide open. www.cocopazzochicago.com www.cocopazzocafe.com

          The next couple of recommendations are a couple miles north in Lincoln Park, so you'll want to take a cab or drive. North Pond is as "magical" a restaurant as I can think of; it's in the middle of the park, facing its namesake pond, with the city skyline looming over the opposite shore. The contemporary American food from Chef Bruce Sherman is very good. They have openings this Saturday up to 6:00 and then at 9:30. www.northpondrestaurant.com

          Boka is another contemporary American restaurant which manages to be casual and professional at the same time. The food is excellent, the service is efficient, and they just do everything well without making a big deal about it. They have openings this Saturday up to 6:00 and then 9:15 or later. www.bokachicago.com

          All in all, I would choose North Pond (or Boka) if the distance isn't a factor, one of the others if you'd like to stay close to the hotel.

          HTH - Feel free to ask more questions!

          1729 North Halsted, Chicago, IL 60614

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

          North Pond
          2610 North Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL 60614

          Coco Pazzo Cafe
          636 N St Clair, Chicago, IL 60611

          Coco Pazzo
          300 West Hubbard, Chicago, IL 60610

          500 North Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

          1. re: nsxtasy

            Here are a couple more places I would recommend, both in the Peninsula Hotel, three blocks north of the James.

            The Lobby is their contemporary American restaurant. It's a huge rooms with high ceilings and full-length windows along one side, very spacious. It's a very relaxed place, since some people go there just for drinks, but I've found that the food is also surprisingly good. Friday and Saturday nights (after 8 pm, I think), they also offer "the Chocolate Bar", an all-you-can-eat buffet of around 40 chocolate-based desserts, all in small portion sizes so you can try a lot of them. Availability on Opentable is wide open.

            Shanghai Terrace is a Chinese restaurant in the Peninsula. It's very good, and unusually luxurious for a Chinese restaurant. Prices are similar to contemporary American places. So it's really very much an upscale experience. They have openings up to 5:30 and then 9:00 on.

            Shanghai Terrace
            108 E Superior, Chicago, IL 60611

            The Lobby
            108 E Superior, Chicago, IL 60611

            1. re: nsxtasy

              All those are good recommendations and I'll add Carnivale to the mix. It's a lively - and lovely - place with great food. And a short cab ride from your location.

              702 West Fulton Market, Chicago, IL 60661

              1. re: ferret

                I agree, Carnivale is very good, and worth considering if you want a more festive type place. They serve Latin fusion cuisine. It's in the West Loop, about a mile west of the James. Opentable shows openings this Saturday up to 6:30, then 9:00 on.

                702 West Fulton Market, Chicago, IL 60661

        2. Check out West Town Tavern (contemp. American)

          Great Italian would be La Scarola or Piccolo Sogno

          I will keep thinking and get back to you. Chicago has many many wonderful restaurants within the scope of what you are looking for. I would suggest staying out of Berwyn, though

          West Town Tavern
          1329 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60642

          Piccolo Sogno
          464 N Halsted, Chicago, IL 60622

          3 Replies
          1. re: cccat81

            >> Great Italian would be La Scarola or Piccolo Sogno

            I love Piccolo Sogno - they offer great contemporary Italian cuisine, in a lively bistro atmosphere, a mile west of the James - but they are shown as completely booked on Opentable.com You could try calling them to see if they have anything not shown on Opentable, but in my experience they have been consistently filling the reservations book several weeks in advance, even on weekdays. (I've been making and changing an upcoming weekday reservation there for the past few weeks, so I'm very familiar with their availability.)

            At many of our best restaurants, you can still get a reservation at the last minute if you're willing to eat early or late (as you can see above), but Piccolo Sogno is one of the exceptions.

            Piccolo Sogno
            464 N Halsted, Chicago, IL 60622

            1. re: cccat81

              Graham Elliot has openings at 5:30 and 9 for a bit of whimsy and magic.

              And HEY, I live in Berwyn. Knock it off!!

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

              1. re: hoppy2468

                Graham Elliot is very good (and fun), but I'm not sure whether the food might lean a bit too much towards molecular gastronomy for someone who is not a foodie...? It's also a bit on the pricey side, similar to Naha. On both counts, take a look at their website menu (at www.grahamelliot.com ) to help you decide. It's about eight blocks walk from the James.

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

            2. I would throw Fleming's steakhouse into the mix since it's only a block from your hotel.


              1 Reply
              1. re: camusman

                Fleming's is a nationwide chain, so it's not really a Chicago-specific experience like these other places are.