Philly foodie in Chicago for 4 nights. 2 or 3 dinners and maybe some lunches or breakfasts open...
Topolobampo is non negotiable. Have a res and haven't been there in years. Since it's not cheap, we were thinking of maybe one "of the minute" moderately expensive place and possibly an upscale ethnic that's not to be missed. I'd say we're pretty adventuresome and love trying unique things. We will be staying at the Conrad, which I guess you'd call the south end of the Gold Coast, but we're driving out, so we can get anywhere. We prefer not going terribly far for dinner because we don't like to drive where we're not terribly familiar after a late dinner with wine.
Been to Charlie Trotter's and didn't love it enough to go again. Also, been to Tru and once was enough. Not a big fan of deep dish pizza and Philly is so well represented with outstanding Italian places, I'd rather not do Italian.
Topo was at the top of it's game the night we visited. The food and service were exceptional. An engaging waiter with just the right level of friendliness made for a perfect experience. My husband and I ordered two different tasting menus with wine pairings, so we really sampled quite a bit. Worth mentioning was the champagne margarita I ordered. It's one of their signature drinks and not terribly sweet like classic margaritas.
The night before, Publican was outstanding. We went just before the current heat wave, so sitting outside was lovely. Oyster tasting was excellent. Also had the highly recommended sweetbreads, the frites with egg, the turnips and pickles. The cute Robert Downey Junioresque waiter was on target with his beer recommendations.
Our third dinner was at Schwa. It lived up to the hype. Totally outrageous. A really fun, memorable evening, though if they're still around when we return to Chicago, not sure we would return. Some of the combinations, like the homage to Fruit Loops seem odd and are. Also, their habit of mixing sweet courses with savory courses doesn't always work, for example, delicious homemade ice cream served as an intermezzo instead of an astringent sorbet defeats the purpose of an intermezzo. But, you have to enjoy the sense of humor and chutzpah when the last course is French onion soup lollipops.
Our last dinner was at Sprout, a very grownup restaurant after Schwa. Great service, a terrific bartender, a nice varied menu. It was a treat to get walleye, which one almost never sees on menus on the East Coast.
Also worth mentioning were a light lunch of Midwestern style (as opposed to deli style) smoked white fish humus at Terzo Piano in the new modern art building at the Art Institute and a nostalgic return to Third Coast on Dearborn at Goethe for breakfast one day. But disappointed that they no longer make their espresso steamed scrambled eggs with goat cheese. And finally, some darned good real French macaroons from Sweet on Oak.
You guys in Chicago are some lucky foodies!
Lula Cafe is fantastic - go for the weekend brunch or the Monday night arm dinner - $34 without wine pairings. It is a bit far from where you're staying, however. Avec is also a wonderful and reasonably priced option, and Sepia, while pricey, just might be my favorite restaurant in Chicago.
Gourdeaux mentioned Korean BBQ, there are some great spots in the Uptown for Korean BBQ and for Vietnamese food - particularly pho and banh mi. Great for a cheap lunch.