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Apr 19, 2012 01:40 PM

Chicago Visit

I'm am off to Chicago May 19th-22nd. It's my first vacation in almost three years. I live and work in Seattle Washington as a line cook. I've traveled to Chicago countless of times and when I go, I always take my good friend out to dinner. I've eaten and worked at Alinea. I've done the tasting menu at Blackbird. And have had wonderful experiences at Topolobampo, and Frontera Grill.
I am looking to go somewhere like the places stated above on my trip this May. I cannot afford a visit to Next, although I would love to go.
I've read and heard form other restaurant people about Schwa, Tru, Everest, The Girl and the Goat, Sprout, and Graham Elliot as all good places to eat while I'm there.
Any thoughts on where to eat?

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  1. If possible, pull whatever strings you can with former Alinea coworkers to get a reservation at Schwa.

    You probably won't be able to get a reservation at Girl and the Goat. Yusho is a treat.

    3 Replies
    1. re: aburkavage

      If you do get a reservation at Schwa, have a backup plan in case they cancel on at the day of.

      1. re: kathryn

        I've always assumed that regulars get bumped for VIPs. If a certain chef from Alinea (wink wink) called to make a reservation, I'd be willing to bet that reservation would be honored!

        1. re: aburkavage

          I've heard stories where they cancel and just close for the night (and the doors are shut if you walk by).

    2. Oh man.... you may have picked a really bad weekend to be in Chicago. NATO will be here from the 20-21. It will be crazy - in theory anyway. Who knows. Point of this is and since you've been to Chicago several times - I'd get the heck of dodge and start looking at some of our neighborhood restaurants. At the very least, start making reservations at the places you want to eat at.

      GATG will probably be a non-starter since they take reservations like three months out. Schwa is bad with keeping reservations. Everest I would avoid because it is in the Chicago Stock Exchange building and it could be crazy with protesters, etc that weekend. Sprout and Graham Elliot are supposed to be really good and in good locs.

      In the neighborhoods - I would check out Lincoln Square, Easy to get to via the el and not an expensive cab ride back. I would check out Fork, Bistro Camapagne, Los Nopales (BYO), Spoon Thai (BYO), Bad Apple, Tiny Lounge for fun cocktails, Goosefoot - BYO high end dining. Have not been.

      16 Replies
      1. re: lbs

        Why does everyone keep saying Schwa is bad at keeping reservations? Reading this board makes it sound like they cancel 4 out of every 5 nights which certainly isn't the case.

        El Ideas sounds like it would be up your alley.

        1. re: BeanTownGolfer

          Probably because most people here who have made ressies at Schwa have been cancelled on at least once. Happened to me.

          1. re: Gonzo70

            It just seems to be becoming a bit "Yelp-ish" here where people only come to complain about it. Out of the 150 or so covers they do per week, the percentage is probably very very low in actually getting cancelled on.

            I get that it stings if it happens to you, but ultimately it's his restaurant and he'll run it how he wants. If you don't like it, don't go. It's already well documented that it could happen, but it could happen anywhere.

            1. re: BeanTownGolfer

              Where are you getting this information that it is "very very low" chance of being cancelled on? It happens all the time! And this coming from someone who loves Schwa and Chef Carlson. My meal at Schwa ranks as one of my five best meals. To me it is worth the aggravation of having to jump through hoops to score a reservation and worth the risk of being canceled on because the food is so amazing and creative and the experience so unique and fun (in a way the elusiveness even enhances dining there). However to say that they rarely cancel is a ridiculous comment. They are famous for frequently cancelling on little notice and I know several people (including myself) that this has happened to. In fact I was at a charity event this past weekend at Ripasso and Chef Carlson was a guest chef there for the event; there were jokes made by the Riapsso chef (a longtime friend of Carlson) about Schwa's tendency to frequently cancel on people. Yes, this you can be canceled on anywhere - but at most restaurants this is an extremely rare occurrence and only due to a highly unusual situation; at Schwa it is common and normal.

              1. re: BeanTownGolfer

                It's exactly BECAUSE it can happen anytime that everyone is careful to include the disclaimer. Scrambling around to find a last minute backup because Schwa cancelled at the 11th hour is not an agreeable way to spend a vacation.

                1. re: BeanTownGolfer

                  Okay, I don't live in Chicago, but this statement:

                  "It's already well documented that it could happen..."

                  is proof enough that this is clearly more of a problem for Schwa than anywhere else. Maybe it's different in SF than Chicago, but I eat out a lot, like several times a week, and this has NEVER happened to me, out of hundreds of meals at restaurants I've eaten in my life. I know it happens sometimes, but it's not very common, and it clearly IS common at Schwa, or at least far more common with Schwa than anywhere else.

                  You're right, it's his restaurant, he can do whatever he wants, and in fact I'm trying to make a reservation there myself. But the tone of your responses suggests that you think there is little difference between Schwa's reservation honor rate and that of other restaurants. There very plainly is.

                  1. re: dunstable

                    I really don't think that it is as wide spread as it's written about. Of course, like everyone else only those that work at Schwa know the truth.

                    I did a quick search on these boards for "Schwa" and "cancel". It was mentioned about 45 different times by 20 different people since early 2011, but I could only find 4 people who actually had an experience being cancelled. Those 16 people are also the ones that appear to post the most about the "beware of cancels" while they themselves have never been cancelled on.

                    The restaurant world is hard enough to survive in and having a bunch of people speculate on things they've read doesn't seem quite fair to Schwa.

                    1. re: BeanTownGolfer

                      Maybe you should have searched a board with higher volume. Here you go, I did it for you:


                      What's alarming is not that so many people have had their ressies canceled (and as you can see, it happened to many, many people), but that the same diners had their reservations dumped multiple times in a row. This is obviously not just bad luck; this is a pattern.

                      I appreciate that you are probably a fan of the restaurant (and hopefully not an employee), but fact is fact.

                      1. re: BeanTownGolfer

                        ...Or nobody is posting about it to CH when a cancellation happens because it's not really interesting news.

                        If you really want to dig stuff old up, there's a bunch of people on who have posted personal experiences of being cancelled on during 2011, which is where a lot of this stuff came from in the first place. Someone got bumped for dinner, the bumpee posted to LTH, Patton Oswalt posted photos of his dinner that night to Twitter hours later.

                        Regardless, it appears the restaurant is swiftly rebooking people as soon as it happens now, so there's less of a reason for someone to go online just to complain you got cancelled on. Maybe people are just used to it now.

                        Myself and my friends haven't had the pleasure of getting cancelled on because we can never get through in the first place.

                        1. re: BeanTownGolfer

                          First off Girl & the Goat is awesome. If you go there ask for one of the "chef's tables" from the hostess - effectively two different counter seatings overlooking the cold station and hot appetizer station. I'm sure you've seen a kitchen once or twice :) but you do get some freebies.

                          RE Schwa: Do a quick search on other websites, and you'll see many, many 5 star reviews who all admitted on they had been canceled on before they got to eat there as well as 1 star reviews of people who got canceled on. People can run their business however they want but when the two close friends I know who ate there each got canceled on I'm not interested in dining there and it's not just what I read. Out of town visitors have a right to know good and bad about restaurants. That being said once both close friends got into Schwa they said it was in their top 5 meals ever. And look at any website like Yelp as well and you'll see constant reviews mentioning's not a CH conspiracy.

                          1. re: PHXeater

                            I think you hit home my point. There are already numerous places where people mention the possibility of being cancelled, so why is it that every time someone posts about Schwa, someone else feels the need to bring it up? If someone is posting here (or Yelp or LTH) they're probably doing a bit of research beforehand (or should since most posts repeat the same things about popular restaurants). My guess (and yes it’s just a guess) but most likely the person who takes pride in bringing up that a reservation could be cancelled, probably has never been cancelled on. Those posts aren’t adding anything that hasn’t already been said here or other sites before.

                            Write about the food experience (good or bad). If you had the current menu and had highlights or disappointments, that seems a bit more useful to the current conversation. Speculating that someone was cancelled because Patton Oswalt wanted to eat there is just speculation. No one knows the facts other than the chefs. Of the 8 or 10 times either I've been there or friends have had reservations, we've never been cancelled on. And no, I don’t work there. I wish I did just to make getting a reservation easier.

                            1. re: BeanTownGolfer

                              Just by looking at the sheer number of threads all asking the same "where should I go question," it's clear that most people do NOT do research. But when making recommendations to out-of-towners who may only have a few dinner slots to work with, I feel it's common courtesy to make sure they understand the good and the bad that may come from risking Schwa. If our being informative is hurting Schwa's business end, I would say it's their fault for not trying to improve their reputation by cutting down on this practice (common or uncommon as it may be).

                              That said, I'll stop driving this thread further off track and allow it to focus back on recommendations for the OP.

                              1. re: BeanTownGolfer

                                Oh, wow, did you misread that guy's response. He is saying the exact opposite of what you seem to think he is saying.

                                For that matter, you clearly didn't read my response or Kathryn's. Both of us pointed you towards a specific place on the Internet that provided the source for our conclusions. I just looked, Patton Oswalt's tweet is still up.

                                Whatever, believe what you want, surely by now the OP has his/her answer regarding Schwa.

                                1. re: dunstable

                                  I read it. He points to Yelp that shows a few diners who were cancelled on back in 2011 and 2010. I don't think you're getting what I'm saying. There are plenty of people out there on plenty of sites that have already said this. If people (locals or visitors to Chicago) don't do their research before hand, then it's their fault. Why can't people say I had a great meal there recently or had bad service or whatever their experience is. Why does someone always have to point out what's been said numerous times (even when it hasn't happened to them).

                                  Also, can you point me to Patton's tweet that says that Schwa cancelled someone else's reservation so that he could eat there? All I could find was where he mentioned eating there. All speculation.

                                  1. re: BeanTownGolfer

                                    It was well documented at the time that Schwa called multiple reservation holders to tell them the restaurant was closed for the evening. Shortly thereafter, Patton pretty much live-tweeted his entire meal.

                                    Can we move on now? Please?

                                    Where's the fascist Chowhound Team when you need them?! Let's get this thread back on point!

                                2. re: BeanTownGolfer

                                  I do not take pride in warning out of town people looking for a special restaurant of Schwa's propensity to cancel; I wish I could tell them otherwise but I feel I would be doing a disservice if I did not mention this. It would be horrible to be in town for a short stay, have picked a couple of special dinners, not be familiar with the city and be canceled on as you are heading to dinner. I have been canceled on myself but I hold no hard feelings; as I said before I love Schwa and feel that Chef Carlson is one of the most talented chefs around (not just in Chicago, but in the US). I wish Schwa was a reliable place for out-of-town guests to choose or locals to pick to celebrate a special occasion, but IMHO Schwa is not the best option for these situations. The times I bring up this issue is when there is a thread where someone from out-of-town is seeking advice on finding a couple special venues and is not already familiar with Schwa. Aside from for an out-of-town guest on a short stay or someone celebrating a special occasion I think Schwa is an outstanding choice for a great and memorable dining experience.

                  2. Since you're a line cook, I would definitely look into El Ideas. Plus, it's BYOB.

                    Even if you can't get into Next, go to The Aviary instead. They will an el Bulli section of the menu until the end of May.

                    If you're looking for itinerary ideas, here is a good thread:

                    And also "where can I go if I can't get Alinea"?

                    Sounds like you haven't done Purple Pig, Longman & Eagle, or The Publican yet.

                    BTW, Girl and the Goat is showing some availability for your dates on OpenTable right now, but at 10:45pm for two people. GATG also takes walk in customers, it really depends how early/late you're willing to dine. You can dine at the bar, too.

                    1. Just my 2cents, I was really sorry I wasted a Chicago meal on TheGirl and the Goat last year. nothing special at all, IMO, except for the lively atmosphere.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: danna

                        Well I'm still going to G&TG next month, I know I will enjoy it, no doubt.

                        1. re: manomin

                          Yes definitely still go- G&TG has some great food. I've eaten there several times and have really enjoyed the food. There is a reason why it has sustained its level of popularity.

                          1. re: ms. mika

                            Thanks! I'm looking forward to it. I'm going really early like 5:00 or something like that, I like early dining every now and then.

                      2. Ok, so I'll try to get into Schwa, knowing they could cancel on me at any time.
                        As a back up plan where should I go eat? From the sounds of it Girl and the Goat seems to not be a big hit. I'm going to try to have a cocktail at the Aviary but what about Sprout or Graham Elliot? Maybe a trip to Charlie Trotters before it closes? Or somewhere I've not mentioned...

                        8 Replies
                        1. re: SpencerC

                          I love Girl and the Goat and if you like goat-based dishes, you should try it. It's reasonably priced, and has a pretty adventurous menu. Smoked goat rillette empanadas with mustard seeds, goat feta, tomato sauce, and fresh mint were amazing on our last visit. As was the famous wood oven roasted pig face with a fried egg on top, served on top of crispy potato shoestrings, drizzled in a tamarind sauce. I also love the pan fried shishito peppers with Parmesan and miso (we get those each time). We have also enjoyed the goat, pork and veal sugo with fresh pasta previously as well as the confit goat belly with bourbon butter, lobster. This is one of my husband's favorite places in Chicago; we already have a reservation for our trip in July.

                          I definitely think you should consider Purple Pig, Longman & Eagle, and/or The Publican. Maybe Big Star, too (great bourbon list, good tacos, interesting scene, across the street from the Violet Hour).

                          Publican is famous for their beer list and also known for having great weekend brunch in addition to dinner. They make a lot of their charcuterie: their own njuda (which is amazing), morteau sausage, pork pie, and other delicious meats, etc. The amount of love that goes into their housemade cured meats is awesome. They even make their own faux herbed saltines they serve with their oyster platters (I'm kind of craving on right now). You can also stop into Publican Quality Meats (retail store) after brunch (or before dinner) at the Publican, too.

                          The small plates at Purple Pig are great -- their theme is cheese, wine, and swine. It's a very creative menu, with delicious vegetable sides like Peas & Bacon with Pecorino & Spearmint or the Eggplant Caponata. And also roasted bone marrow, lots of cured meats, "smears," pig's ear, lardo, pork neck gravy, blood sausage, pig's tails, etc. Bring your appetite!

                          For cocktails, Violet Hour, Sable, have been hearing good things about Yusho's program. Also The Whistler, The Scofflaw, iNG for molecular cocktails (Homaro Cantu's place).

                          1. re: kathryn

                            Oh! I've heard really good things about Cantu's place! I might have to go check that out.

                            What about Moto? is that worth a visit?

                          2. re: SpencerC

                            I agree with kathryn. My meal at Girl and the Goat (GATG) was one of the more memorable meals from my trip to Chicago last year. My sister and I will actually be visiting Chicago again the week before you. We liked GATG so much that instead of cancelling in lieu of our reservation at El Ideas, I just moved up the reservation to make it a pre-dinner meal. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, but a majority of the reviews for GATG have been very positive.

                            Also, if you are planning on Purple Pig, be warned that they don't take reservations. So, if you don't get there at an early hour, you'll most likely have a long wait ahead of you.

                            uhockey has a bunch of reviews from his frequent trips to Chicago, so you can browse through that for more ideas:

                            1. re: yangster

                              Right about the Purple Pig. Last year I had just heard of them and when I checked into the hotel called them up not realizing no reservations. It was about 5:00 so I told my husband grab your coat and hat and "LET'S MOVE!!!!!" We practically ran down Michigan Ave. and had only about a 10 min. wait but soon after people were piled up waiting and waiting. We liked it so much we went back for lunch the next day! G&TG res. made 3 months to the day we are going. Should be crowded most places when we are in the city as we're coming for the NRA show and last year every restaurant was just packed to the gills!

                            2. re: SpencerC

                              Graham Elliot has changed chefs and is very good now. I think you'd enjoy it.

                              1. re: SpencerC

                                Having just eaten at Trotter's last weekend, I would advise against it. Tru, on the other hand, was outstanding.


                                1. re: SpencerC

                                  Girl and the Goat is excellent. As with anything, there are detractors, but G&TG t is popular and hard to get into for a good reason!

                                  I'm also a big fan of Sprout and GE is also very good. I would also go to Publican, the Purple Pig, the Bristol and/or Longman and Eagle for the gastropub experience.

                                  Moto is "interesting." They do a lot of playing with food, but much of it is because they can, not because it makes the food taste - or even look - better. Not high on my list.

                                  My most recent experience with Trotters (a few months ago) was disappointing. Nothing really "wrong" with food or service but nothing really great either. I wouldn't consider dropping that much money there again.