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April Chicago weekend itinerary - need final input (Sable/Frontera Grill/Alinea/North Pond/Lou Malnati's)

My husband and I will be visiting Chicago from NYC for the first time together and we're looking to have the best culinary experience possible. We'll arrive Friday in the late afternoon and have an early evening flight home on Sunday. We'll be staying by the Magnificent Mile and won't have a car (but can take a taxi or public transportation around). After lengthy consideration, here's the plan as it stands:

Friday night: Sable
Saturday brunch: Frontera Grill
Saturday dinner: Alinea
Sunday brunch: North Pond
Deep dish pizza to-go for the flight home: Lou Malnati's

How does this sound? We actually made other reservations which we'll need to cancel (e.g., Topolobampo/Girl and the Goat/Graham Elliott instead of Sable) but thought that the combo of great cocktails/food at Sable made more sense for our first night as we'll probably be tired and won't want to go somewhere like Aviary or Violet Hour pre- or post-dinner. Also thought that with Alinea being such an elaborate meal on Saturday night, we didn't want another meal in that genre.)

Anything we're missing or should change?? Thanks in advance for your input!

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  1. Do you have a reservation for brunch at Frontera? Expect an insane wait if not (and, actually, do they even offer any reservations for brunch?). I'd take a look at Publican for Saturday brunch if only because they accept reservations (but also because the Publican is great, albeit on the loud side for some).

    2 Replies
    1. re: danimalarkey

      Yes, we have a reservation for brunch at Frontera. Publican sounds great (and we actually have a brunch reservation there too at the moment... I went a little crazy to cover all the bases!) - but I feel like Chicago is so famous for their regional Mexican cuisine that we should make a point of having one Mexican meal.

      1. re: snaz04

        No, I think you're absolutely correct to try Mexican while in town and brunch at Frontera is as good a way to go as any (especially if you have a reservation!).

    2. Looks like a great itinerary! Can I join you? :)

      The only tweak I would consider would be subbing Girl & The Goat for Sable (if you have the reservation for Girl & The Goat). GATG is a much more memorable and unique meal and is a nice contrast from the other venues on your list. It is a fairly laid back, casual ambiance - so not a bad option for your first night in town.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Gonzo70

        Absolutely agree- G&TG's food is far superior to Sable and is still a casual and fun atmosphere. No contest- I would go to G&TG on Friday night.

        1. re: ms. mika

          Sable is great for signature drinks and good bar food for sure. Dinner? Not so much.

      2. I agree with the others, definitely don't waste one of your meals on Sable. Girl and the Goat would be a good option. For other options of combination of great food and cocktails you could consider Gilt Bar or Boka (Boka being more upscale and further from downtown, but still a great option).

        For brunch in the Lincoln Park area, I'd personally choose Perennial Virant over North Pond, but I guess it depends on how important the view of the park is to you.

        Enjoy!

        1. If you have a Girl and the Goat reservation - which is a tough one to get - you should use it. I went there a few months back expecting it to be overhyped and it certainly was not.

          6 Replies
          1. re: chris

            You guys are making me seriously reconsider for Friday night.... We do have the GATG reservation but it's for fairly late, and I was hoping not to make it too late a night. But the consensus seems to be that it's really worth it, right? The menu looks good to me but doesn't totally blow me away. Is the food that amazing? Or is it more that it's interesting? Is it truly unique and not like any NYC places? What makes the place so incredible? And if we do decide on GATG for dinner, then where to go for drinks first? Sable still? Or Aviary? Does anyone know the latest on their reservation policy? I've heard same day and also 2 weeks in advance....

            1. re: snaz04

              Just to be not so helpful, I will throw in that Graham Elliot has really upped its game under Chef Brochu, and I now consider it superior to Sable and able to give Chef Steph and the Goat a run for its money.
              ;->

              1. re: snaz04

                Why I like GATG: The prices are very gentle for the portion sizes you get. The service is very, very friendly. They have a nice big open kitchen with multiple wood burning ovens. There's a section of the menu devoted to goat dishes. The flavor combinations are unusual, creative, and delicious. I WISH there was one in NYC; I can't think of anywhere similar with a wood oven, goat focus, creative small plates, AND such a reasonable price tag.

                If I had to compare it to an NYC restaurant, I guess it is like a less expensive Tertulia crossed with Momofuku Ssam Bar crossed with Mas Grillade with a little Casa Mono? We already have a reservation for GATG, in July, when we are back in Chicago, that's how much we love it.

                We are planning on drinks at The Aviary before GATG.

                iNG and Maude's are also nearby.

                Re: The Aviary. A few months ago on their Facebook, they said 2 weeks in advance. When I went on Wednesday of last week, I emailed a week in advance and got no response. We ended up doing a same day reservation (and the place was far from packed -- it was 6pm on a Wednesday). I think it is back to same-day reservations now, although they haven't responded to these questions on their Facebook page, annoyingly.

                You can see my recent trip report here:
                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/841277

                1. re: snaz04

                  The Aviary is just a short walk from GATG, so it is a nice option. I was able to secure reservations for this upcoming Saturday at The Aviary via e-mailing them a few days ago. Some people have reported they did not hear back though when e-mailing in advance. I think they only take a certain number of advance reservations and only respond to the people who land them. If you arrive a bit before opening time (6:00pm) and give your name as a walk-up (if you are unable to score a reservation) you stand a good chance to get in.

                  If your reservation is too late for GATG to be a good option, another interesting place to try that is relaxed and casual, but unique is iNG (mentioned by Kathryn). iNG is the sister restaurant to Michelin Starred venue Moto (same owner), but is significantly more laid back. I actually enjoyed iNG more than Moto. The food is not the greatest, but is good and interesting (molecular gastronomy). They also feature "flavor tripping" with is fun; you at various intervals during the meal eat a substance made out of miracle berries that temporarily convert the taste of sour/bitter to sweet. You then notice the contrast in the food and drinks both before and after consuming the miracle berry. They feature a single six course tasting menu that is also paired with drinks (usually a couple of wines, couple of beers and couple of cocktails). They have some really fun a la carte cocktails as well such as a Snow Cone Margarita. Their menu and cocktails frequently change. They do not usually book up, so you should be able to score a good reservation time. They are on Open Table. They are literally a 30 second walk from the Aviary, so you could try to hit iNG for dinner and The Aviary for a before or after dinner cocktail.

                  1. re: snaz04

                    From my perspective, the point is more that Sable is kind of a waste of a meal when you're only in town for three days and want to make the most of your time here, and less that Girl and the Goat is THAT amazing. I like Girl and the Goat- food is mostly great and it has a fun and energetic, but also laid back vibe. They also have some great cocktails, so if you don't want to go somewhere else first, I don't think you'd be disappointed. With that being said, no, I don't think it is truly unique and unlike any NYC places, but I also think that at this point there is very little in Chicago that you won't also find in NYC (or DC, Boston, San Fran, Seattle etc).

                    There are a ton of great places you could choose if you don't want to eat late, so don't feel like you have to go to Girl and the Goat. Chicago has lots of excellent restaurants with fabulous cocktail programs. A few worth a look are Gilt Bar/Curio or Tavernita in River North, and Maude's Liquor Bar right down the street from G&TG in the West Loop, or if you want to venture over to the Bucktown/Wicker Park area, you will find lots more great options.

                    Good luck!

                    1. re: snaz04

                      If you're looking for the absolute best and are willing to have a late night, by all means, the food at GATG is probably better and if I were going cocktails, I'd go Aviary over anywhere else - they're convenient to each other, so if you're doing one, do both.

                      But, it sounds like they're not ideal for your schedule. If you want an earlier evening and prefer to stay closer to the hotel, you will have a perfectly lovely time at Sable.