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2 nights in Chicago - Alinea and ???

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Coming to Chicago for a weekend in April and am very excited to have a reservation at Alinea for one night but looking for recs for the other. Not necessarily looking for something super-fancy and would like something that we can't find at home (in NYC). Currently have reservations at Graham Elliott, Sprout (less excited by those two but was able to get better times), Girl & The Goat and Topolobampo and need to pick one (or am open to other options). Also would love recs for best breakfast/Sunday brunch and deep-dish pizza not too far from the "Magnificent Mile" area where we're staying. And are drinks at Aviary and/or the Violet Hour (less unique but easier to get into?) not to be missed?
Thanks in advance for your advice!

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  1. My favorite brunch spot would require a cab ride - it is North Pond and is in the heart of Lincoln Park in a beautiful setting. Awesome food, great views of the pond and the Chicago Skyline, and great service. I love the Aviary and definitely recommend trying to get in; if you are coming on a weekend it can get busy but you can try to e-mail them for a reservation. If on a weeknight it usually is not hard to get in even without a reservation. As for your other dinner, there are really so many great options that it would be helpful if you provided more information as to what you like and are looking for; out of the places you listed Topolobampo is more unique to Chicago than the other venues you listed and also is a nice contrast to Alinea.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Gonzo70

      Thanks - helpful info. If we can't get a reservation at Aviary, is it worth just showing up or will the wait be ridiculous (on a Fri./Sat.)? As for the other dinner, we really are open - really just looking for the best (and most interesting/unique) food. Would prefer it not to be insanely noisy or have communal tables, so that my husband and I can actually hear each other, but it doesn't need it to be quiet. And also not looking for something too fancy, high-end (e.g., Everest) since it's back-to-back with Alinea. We're staying by the Magnificent Mile and would prefer not to go too far, but can take a cab anywhere within reason. For North Pond, is it your favorite because of the setting or is the food really special too?

      1. re: snaz04

        I love North Pond for the food as much as the setting. Definitely the best brunch I have had in Chicago food quality wise. It is a hearty, savory brunch - it is a three course prix fixe menu that resembles their dinner menu. Portions are fairly hearty for an upscale venue. There are four choices for each course. I have not yet dined at the Publican (which others have recommended on this thread) so I cannot compare the two (though I do know that Publican has communal tables and has the reputation of being somewhat loud, but as having great food). As for Aviary, the wait time can be long on weekends, but it does vary quite a bit how long. Try for reservations, if you can't obtain them it might be worth stopping by to see if the wait is not bad. If you can arrive near opening (6:00pm) that might be your best bet.

        1. re: Gonzo70

          I have found that The Publican does a good job of filling requests for booths or individual tables if you don't want to sit at communal tables.

        2. re: snaz04

          The Aviary takes reservations via email two weeks in advance. Their policy changed recently (used to be same-day only) so you may not have a problem getting one. I believe the slots are still 6pm, 8pm, or 10pm, with 8pm being the easiest to get in since that's normal dinner time for many people.

          1. re: kathryn

            This is one of the many reasons I love Chowhound - info that can't be found anywhere else - thanks so much!

      2. I'd agree with Gonzo that out of the places you listed for your second dinner, I would choose Topolobampo- I just ate there for the first time a couple weeks ago and it was one of the best meals I've had in Chicago. We got the ceviche sampler, 2 fish entrees, one prickly pear margarita- all amazing.

        For your brunch, I'd see about getting reservations at The Publican- my favorite brunch by far. Heavy on the savory items, but the Belgian waffle with seasonal fruit is fantastic too if you prefer something sweet with brunch. Service is great and don't let the comments about noise and communal seating deter you (it's not that loud at brunch and if you really don't want to sit at the communal table, just note it on your reservation and they can probably accommodate you).

        -----
        Topolobampo
        445 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

        The Publican
        837 W. Fulton Market, Chicago, IL 60607

        1. Although there is no guarantee that you'll get a reservation (or even have it honored), I'd highly recommend Schwa. It is certainly unique to Chicago, and, in my opinion, among the three best restaurants in the city.

          5 Replies
          1. re: aburkavage

            Schwa is an awesome experience, but the only problem is they quite frequently cancel reservations at the last minute - while this is not as big a deal to someone living in Chicago it can be really disruptive to somebody visiting from out of town. El Ideas is another somewhat similar dining experience that does not incur a significant risk of having one's reservation canceled an hour before their dinner. Both Schwa and El Ideas would require a taxi from the Magnificent Mile area.

            1. re: Gonzo70

              All fair points. I'm headed to El this weekend, and am curious to compare it to to Schwa. I'll be sure to report back so that the OP can make an educated decision.

              1. re: aburkavage

                Thank you - this is all incredibly helpful!!

                1. re: aburkavage

                  Having dined at El Ideas, I can't say that I'd recommend it over some of the other BYOBs in the city. The atmosphere was very interesting and truly felt like a dinner party. And so if that type of dynamic dining experience is important to the diner, it is probably unmatched by any place in Chicago. However, while the ambiance was truly unique, I think the food is better at Schwa, Goosefoot, and even Bonsoiree.

                  If I had to eliminate Schwa because of its flakiness, I think Goosefoot would be my next choice.

                  1. re: aburkavage

                    I would agree that goosefoot has the best quality food of those venues you mentioned. El Ideas definitely is a unique experience though. All depends on if you want top notch food in a nice, but traditional setting, or very good food in a whimsical setting.

            2. Among GH, Sprout, G &TG and Topo, I would go with either of the last two. They're both pretty hard to get and totally uniquely Chicago. Girl & The Goat is more casual than Topo if that helps. It's also more of a contrast with Alinea. The tastings at Topo are wonderful, but very good a la carte also.

              For brunch I agree with The Publican. One of my all-time favorites. North Pond is lovely, but not nearly as much fun and the food not as interesting.

              For deep dish, I would also go with Uno or Due, but in a pinch wouldn't mind Lou Malnoti or Pizzaro's (same family; similar recipe).

              1. One of the city's top chefs is taking over the kitchen of Graham Elliot today, and I expect that by April Chef Brochu will have the place at a high level. I would hold on to that reservation.

                1. I'm not sure this is something you'd like to do but if you tell the folks at Alinea that you'd like to go to The Aviary (or The Office) after dinner at Alinea it's quite likely they could find a spot for you. You might be able to work this out in advance.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: deesher

                    Good point; they do generally try to accommodate Alinea guests at The Aviary.

                    1. re: Gonzo70

                      Great idea.... though I had been thinking the Aviary pre-dinner on our other night. Do you think we'll be up for drinks after Alinea, i.e., not too full?

                      1. re: snaz04

                        Alinea is a good amount of food, but spread out over 3.5-4 hours; I wound up leaving very satisfied but not stuffed. If you have a good sized appetite you likely could handle a cocktail at Aviary afterwards, but might be best to do it the other evening. If you arrive at or just before 6:00pm you more than likely will get in without a lengthy wait.

                        1. re: Gonzo70

                          The 3.5-4 hours is an outside number. Our recent visit was about 2.5 hours - you set the pace for the meal, they're very attentive and will time the dishes differently for each table ( e.g. we were seated after the next table had been served their second course and we ended up being done with our meal before they were - our choice, not Alinea's). We had a shared fish course at about the mid-point of the meal which would pass for a good-sized entree at most restaurants.

                  2. Certainly Topolobampo is a very special Chicago experience. But I would honestly recommend Sprout. It is unlike anything I have ever had, because it is the sole reflection of Chef Levitski's personal tastes, which are blazingly unique. Certainly I would place it above G&TG. I just got my first reservation at Schwa for the end of this month, so I cannot speak from experience, but I would say amongst my industry friends it is thought of the most highly, even often trumping Alinea. But since you are already going to Alinea, it would seem that Schwa might be too close in style (Carlson was supposed to be the sous there before he decided to open Schwa). I second North Pond for beauty and atmosphere, but not for food...it is good, but not amazing in my estimation, especially for the price. Unfortunately, though, a good brunch downtown is hard to find...if you are up for a train trip, Lula cafe is well thought of, but my personal favorite would be Over Easy. It would be a bit of a haul, but man is it good. The Violet Hour always reminds me of several Williamsburg/Brooklyn Heights spots I have been to, so it would either be great for you or just more of the same....my favorite bar in the city is also its smallest, the Matchbox. It is a love it or hate it experience, though, they will gladly kick you out if they think you are being a jerk, and it is mostly filled with regulars with dirty mouths. The drinks are fabulous, though, they have great by the glass pours, and it is definitely unique!