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NY Hound Returning for 3rd Visit-Where to go if I don't get Alinea?

ellenost Feb 11, 2012 04:46 PM

Depressed that I failed to get season tickets to Next, so I'm returning to Chicago for Memorial Day weekend. I will try for a reservation at Alinea, but if I don't succeed, where else should we go for fine dining? We've already dined at Tru, Everest, and Charlie Trotter. Also looking for a mid-priced restaurant ($75 per person before drinks, tax & tip). Not a fan of Mexican/Italian/Greek cuisine. Don't want to take a chance on Schwa since I've read that they frequently cancel. Thanks very much!

  1. k
    kathryn Feb 11, 2012 08:47 PM

    Ellenost, I'm sorry you didn't get season tickets!

    BUT if you still want to try some elBulli bites (and cocktails), The Aviary has a menu right now with an elBulli section:

    Cocktails - $15
    pina colada, the disappearing barbarpapa (970)
    yuzu/sake/Kyoto (1463)
    coco-loco (1340)
    cosmopolitan-mallow (1339)
    white sangria in suspension (1093)

    Snacks - $4
    bacon and date (401)
    duck foie gras and mango caramels (347)
    toast corn croquant flute with guacamole (338)
    steamed brioche with rose and mozzarella (1125)
    huckleberry marshmallow (711) (“bilberry marshmallow” in the catalog)
    passion fruit diamond (604)

    For mid-range-ish I would try Publican (they're on OpenTable), Girl & the Goat (book via phone now -- they take reservations 6 months in advance), and Purple Pig (no reservations). I also have been hearing a lot about Yusho, creative yakitori-inspired Asian.

    6 Replies
    1. re: kathryn
      ellenost Feb 12, 2012 05:06 AM

      Thanks Kathryn!

      1. re: kathryn
        ellenost Mar 9, 2012 08:40 AM

        Just made a reservation at Yusho (based on a very interesting blog report from the ulterior epicure) for my Sunday reservation (many of the restaurants in which I had interest are not open on Sunday). I was looking for a menu that was not pork-centric since my sister doesn't eat pork. Any recent reviews about Yusho? BTW, Yusho has a great on-line reservation system.

        1. re: ellenost
          elysiumarie Mar 9, 2012 09:03 AM

          Longman & Eagle and Cafe Lula are right around the corner form Yusho, and I like them much better; but they don't take reservations.

          Yusho was ok; there were a few delicious bites, but some of the portion sizes were small, or awkward to share. The fried chicken they served us was literally raw. They were mortified, and tried to make it right, but it was a pretty unappetizing blunder.

          If you're going for the casual small plates thing, and require reservations, then Publican is also delicious, and despite the seeming porkiness of the place, their mussels, fish, oysters, chicken, vegetables, and desserts make for scrumptious dining. The Aviary is right down the street, so after you're done eating, you can head over there for some whimsical and weird cocktails.

          1. re: elysiumarie
            elysiumarie Mar 9, 2012 09:10 AM

            Purple Pig is also awesome. Do not let the name fool you. Their non-pork offerings are extensive, and delish. I take vegetarian friends there-- between the burrata, crispy brussel sprouts, salads, eggplant caponata, mushrooms, etc, you can have quite the feast without any flesh at all.

          2. re: ellenost
            kathryn Mar 9, 2012 10:44 AM

            Big long Yusho thread w/ tons of photos is on LTHForum:

            1. re: kathryn
              ellenost Mar 9, 2012 11:38 AM

              Thanks a million kathryn! The photos on the thread are wonderful. This will be our dinner for the night after Alinea (my sister gave me strict instructions that she would go to only one "dress-up" dinner for this trip. She's already looked at the Yusho website menu, and gave me her approval (thank goodness since she wanted to go to The Cheesecake Factory--don't know why she loves that place so much).

        2. h
          HoosierFoodie Feb 12, 2012 07:32 AM

          If you're looking at high end dining, given where you've already been, I would recommend both Ria and L2O. Been to both in the last 6 months or so and both are fabulous.

          13 Replies
          1. re: HoosierFoodie
            ellenost Feb 12, 2012 07:49 AM

            Thanks for the great suggestions. I was thinking about L2O, but had not heard about Ria. Just checked their menu, and it looks very good.

            As to Alinea, if I'm seeking a reservation for the end of May, is it correct that I need to call on March 1?

            1. re: ellenost
              camusman Feb 12, 2012 08:42 AM

              Take a shot at Schwa, but just have a backup. If you successfully navigate the challenges at Schwa, it's the next best thing to Alinea.
              Good backups are Naha, Ria, or any of the places that Kathryn mentions.

              1. re: ellenost
                Gonzo70 Feb 12, 2012 12:30 PM

                Yes, that is correct regarding March 1st being the date to call Alinea for May reservations. You also can try for same day tickets via Facebook for Next, so do not completely rule Next out, but it will not be easy. Alinea will be much easier to score; just be persistent calling on March 1st until you get through and odds are good you will get in.

                A restaurant that is a bit similar to Schwa, but is more dependable is El Ideas. Tiny restaurant with just 16 seats. They encourage you to come into the kitchen and hang out and chat with the chefs in between courses. It is a tasting menu and BYOB, like Schwa. Not as loud as Schwa and a bit more refined, but still a very fun and unique dining experience with incredible food.

                1. re: Gonzo70
                  kathryn Feb 12, 2012 12:45 PM

                  You must pre-pay for your meal there, correct? How far in advance can you book El Ideas? And it's a lottery? From what I understand, you get a confirmation email (if you win) and must call or email them back ASAP...

                  Ellenost--it is also worth pointing out they don't take odd numbered parties. Not sure if you're dining solo or not.

                  1. re: kathryn
                    ellenost Feb 12, 2012 12:51 PM

                    I'll be traveling with my sister. Thanks Kathryn for pointing out no odd numbered parties.

                    1. re: kathryn
                      Gonzo70 Feb 14, 2012 10:23 AM

                      At least for now El Ideas if not that difficult to get into. They have a new person running their reservations; you can e-mail her via an address on El Ideas' website. Also monitor El Ideas' Facebook page as they periodically post information about upcoming availability. They do take your credit card information to secure your reservation; you are not charged right away but a couple of days prior to your meal. It is a good deal considering that it is BYOB, many courses, great service, great food and an interactive, unique experience. I will definitely be going back there some time this spring.

                      1. re: Gonzo70
                        kathryn Feb 15, 2012 06:25 AM


                        Here's a link to El Ideas' Facebook page (Facebook search SUCKS, I had to Google to find it):

                    2. re: Gonzo70
                      ellenost Feb 12, 2012 12:55 PM

                      Thanks for the info. Wouldn't that be poetic justice if I could get same day tix at Next for el Bulli after not getting season tix (me and 7,000 other hopefuls).

                      1. re: ellenost
                        kathryn Feb 12, 2012 12:58 PM

                        Well do you have $4k to spare? For the Dutch Auction they're going to do? ;) The money does go to a good cause. What with the U of C cancer center saving Chef Achatz's life and all!

                        1. re: kathryn
                          ellenost Feb 12, 2012 02:20 PM

                          Not me, but wish I did. I am certain that there are a number of die hard fans that will think nothing of dropping the $4k (regardless of whether it went for charity; at least they'll be able to get a tax deduction for a fantastic meal).

                      2. re: Gonzo70
                        ellenost Feb 22, 2012 08:11 AM

                        Do you know at what time on March 1 Alinea starts taking reservations for May?

                        1. re: ellenost
                          kathryn Feb 22, 2012 08:36 AM

                          This is what their site says now (it appears they may have changed their office hours since I last booked since I remember calling at 10:30am or 11:30am Eastern):


                          Alinea is open for dinner only, Wednesday through Sunday.

                          Our office staff is available to assist with reservation requests Tuesday through Friday, noon until 6pm, and on Saturday and Sunday from 1pm.

                          1. re: kathryn
                            ellenost Feb 22, 2012 10:49 AM

                            Thanks Kathryn. That's what I read too, but I thought I read somewhere that they start taking reservations at 10:00 Chicago time. Maybe they've changed it.

                            EDIT: I just called the restaurant for clarification. On the day they start taking reservations (1st of the month), the telephone line opens at 10:00.

                  2. d
                    deesher Feb 14, 2012 07:58 AM

                    You may also wish to check out Goosefoot, a recently opened BYOB fine dining establishment from the former chef at Les Nomades. His departure allowed for the return of Roland Liccione to Les Nomades, which could be very exciting, although I have yet to hear anything about the restaurant subsequent to his return. Either place would be worthy of investigation.



                    2 Replies
                    1. re: deesher
                      ellenost Feb 14, 2012 08:44 AM

                      Thanks! I've also received another recommendation for Goosefoot. Will definitely check it out.

                      1. re: ellenost
                        Gonzo70 Feb 14, 2012 10:20 AM

                        goosefoot is outstanding food. It is a much different restaurant than Next, Alinea, Schwa and El Ideas (which are as much about having a whimsical experience as they are about outstanding food). goosefoot is simply a meal rather than a unique dining experience, but the food is as good at goosefoot as just about anywhere. Very nice staff at goosefoot as well.

                    2. e
                      elysiumarie Feb 22, 2012 08:31 AM

                      El is great; I will add Bonsoiree as another fantastic choice; intimate, byob, superb food.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: elysiumarie
                        chicgail Feb 22, 2012 08:56 AM

                        I agree about Bonsoiree. I just hate to let too many people know about it.

                        1. re: elysiumarie
                          ellenost Feb 22, 2012 11:01 AM

                          Another great suggestion! Just looked at the menu, and it looks wonderful. Thanks.

                          1. re: ellenost
                            elysiumarie Feb 22, 2012 11:43 AM

                            Fyi: They are byob, but just got a liquor license and serve wine flights. Saturdays they do a special tasting menu--you have to call to book, it fills up fast-- and Sundays they do either 4 or 7 course "chef's whim" menu.

                        2. ellenost Mar 1, 2012 09:28 AM

                          After 75 minutes of hitting redial, I finally got through and was able to get my reservation at Alinea. Thank you to all for your suggestions. Will keep them for my next visit to Chicago.

                          1. d
                            degustingdiary Mar 1, 2012 11:57 AM


                            I'm dining at Tru and Charlie Trotter's next month and have heard mixed reviews. What did you think of your meals there?

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: degustingdiary
                              ellenost Mar 1, 2012 12:12 PM

                              I dined at Charlie Trotter about 9 years ago, but remember enjoying it very much. Our server took great care of us. When we looked at both menus (the regualr and the vegetable), we decided we liked the vegetable menu better. Our server asked whether we were vegetarians, and we said we weren't. She asked if we would object to the chef adding proteins to the vegetable dishes, and we said we wouldn't. Basically, we had our own special tasting menu and it was wonderful! We even were given a tour of the kitchen. I am very sorry to hear that the restaurant is closing.

                              We also went to Tru for our first visit 9 years ago as well as 2 years ago. We loved the dinner 9 years ago. The dinner 2 years ago was very good, but the difficulty in regulating the A/C was a problem. We were at the restaurant during an unexpected heat wave, and the restaurant was too warm. Since the restaurant is in an office building, and we were having dinner on a Friday night, the building thermostat was set too high and not enough A/C, and could not be adjusted until Monday. Service was fantastic.

                              1. re: ellenost
                                degustingdiary Mar 1, 2012 01:20 PM

                                Glad to hear it--thanks for sharing your experiences!

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