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Jun 14, 2012 08:02 AM

Please help me choose our 1 dinner in Chicago

We're coming to Chicago for a wedding and unfortunately can only stay for one weekend and have 1 dinner of our choice for ourselves. We're staying at the Renaissance Chicago Downtown Hotel
(1 West Wacker Drive.) It's for a Friday night, 3rd week in July.

I'm wanting something that we can reach easily by walking, public transport, or short (inexpensive) cab ride. We love good food and want something well above average but don't want to break the bank (no Alinea!) The rehearsal dinner is going to be Chicago pizza so we're not considering that. We're not crazy about trendy food combos (please don't put olives in my dessert!) and lean toward comfort type food as opposed to 4 lovely little things artfully arranged on the plate with pickled farm veggies. And we don't want to wait in a long line for a table so are looking for a place that takes reservations.

Places I'm considering:

Publican: Looks delicious and everyone seems to love it but we're not sure we want community seating. Might be fun though. What do you think?

Sable: This menu looks totally up our alley and love the idea of sharing a bunch of smaller plates but we're much more interested in food than cocktails and I'm finding mixed reviews about the food. Comments?

Blackbird: Seems to get consistently glowing reviews (still!) but we're a little concerned that the menu looks a bit trendy in terms of challenging flavor combos and I'm not seeing anything that makes me say "Oooh I want that." same for Girl and the Goat.

I've been searching the board but I'm sure that there are other possibilities that I haven't uncovered. I'd love comments on the ones I'm considering as well as any suggestions for others. We're looking to spend up to $200 for dinner including everything. We're not big drinkers so that $200 includes 2 cocktails or 2 glasses of wine (and tax and tip.)

Thanks for the help. It's a bummer to come to such a great food city and only have 1 dinner! But we will be having hotdogs and/or beef sandwiches for lunch/snacks!

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  1. It's been off the board's radar for a while but Mercat a la Planxa (primarily tapas) is a great spot with great food and drinks and about a 10-minute walk down Michigan Avenue.

    1. I'd go with The Publican -- when you call to make a reservation (which I would strongly suggest), you can request one of the 2-tops they have, or possibly even an outdoor table (though who knows what the weather will be like, maybe comfortable, maybe stiflingly hot and humid). You'll get heaps of rustic plates, but with clean flavors nonetheless.

      3 Replies
      1. re: danimalarkey

        If you're really looking for the best comfort food with a fine-dining flair in a totally casual atmosphere go for Au Cheval on W Randolph. I've mentioned it here a few times before and you cannot go wrong with double-cut porkchop with foie gras.

        That said, I really like Publican any time. I could eat spicy pork rinds, country ribs, and the charcuteries all day long. Oh yeah, strong belgian beers are good too.

        I also really like Sable but more for the drinks than the food, which i find very good but I believe more as support for terrific 50/50 Manhattans or any other superb cocktails.

        1. re: jbontario

          I'll take a look at Au Cheval. I'm sure that there are great spots that don't get all the press and constant rerecs on CH so I really appreciate new names being thrown inot the pot.

          If we do decide on Publican, how far in advance do you recommend making a reservation for a 2 top?

      2. What about Frontera Grill or Topolobampo? I'd book ASAP though.

        1 Reply
        1. re: kathryn

          Have you considered a steakhouse, such as Gibson's or Chicago Cut?

        2. I would skip Sable. It's basically a great bar (the drink menu has chapters!) and the food is creative but not IMO great.

          Publcan is awesome and I would request a private table when you make your reservations. In nice weather it's easier because of the outdoor options.

          Merkat is also very good and you would like it. A new place called Traffic in Logan Square is wonderful and right up your alley, also. It would require a taxi ride, but worth considering.

          Girl and the Goat is not likely to have anything available for July. It's a shame because you'd love it.

          13 Replies
          1. re: chicgail

            I thought the food at Sable was some of the best we had in Chicago. It was really good - if you stick to the "homey" style of food, perhaps? It was really very good and I'm not a simple eater.

            That and the Purple Pig were the best food we had in Chicago.

            My previous trip we went to Cafe Spiaggia and that was also excellent

            1. re: Jeserf

              Sable can be a mixed bag. I've had good food there and really not very good food. If I had just one meal, I would skip it.

              1. re: chicgail

                I've made a reservation at Publican on Opentable and requested a 2 top. Do you think I have a better chance of getting a private table if I follow that up with a phone call? And I'm still considering other options. It's true that with only one real meal, I want to get it right so Sable, with it's mixed reviews is out.

                Mercat has a very interesting menu as well and looks like it would be more upscale in terms of ambiance. Is that right?

                I can't find any information at all about Traffic. chicgail, do you have any links to info? Menus? And yes, Purple pig looks awesome but they don't take reservations so we're not considering it. We're also not really wanting Italian (we'll be having Chicago pizza Saturday night) or Mexican.

                1. re: plafield

                  This conversation seems to have gotten pretty narrow pretty fast. While both are generally good (particularly Mercat), I'm not sure many people would Sable or Mercat on a list of "must try Chicago meals."

                  There is no restaurant in Logan Square called "Traffic," so I can only assume chicgail is talking about Telegraph, a recently opened, heavily praised wine bar/restuarant in the same location:

                  Of the restaurants mentioned so far far, I'd only put Publican in the "I can only have 1 meal" category. Purple Pig is close, but is a complete nightmare to get in to because of their no reservations policy. Their food is also riskier, with more difficult flavor combinations.

                  Some others you may consider: Sepia; TRU; Naha. All are upscale-American, with Tru being the most expensive, upscale, and challenging of the bunch. All three rarely disappoint, and it's certainly possible to do all three for ~$200 (Naha & Sepia should be a fair bit cheaper).

                  1. re: Possumlad

                    Dinner for 2 at Tru including drinks, tax and tip for $200? Possibly for 1 (if the drinks are water).

                    1. re: ferret

                      Thanks Possumlad. Since we only have 1 dinner of our choice, I do want a "must try" Chicago meal. Naha looks great. As of right now we're between Publican and Naha. Both menus really appeal. Obviously the experience is quite different. I'd love to hear more from people who have been to both.

                      1. re: plafield

                        Plafield: You won't go wrong with either of your final two choices. They are different, and both excellent. Publican is "Farmers went to culinary school,"
                        and Naha is "Culinary school grads visited a farm." With that said, I believe Publican is more unique, and you can find a Naha-type experience in many cities.

                        1. re: GourmetWednesday

                          Gourmet Wednesday, what a great way to differentiate between the 2 restaurants! Love it.!

                          At the moment we have reservations at both. I want to follow up with Publican and see if we can definitely have a private table (I made the reservation on Opentable and requested a 2 top.). I don't think we want the communal dining experience, although I can see how that might be fun too. I'd love to hear people's experience with that.

                          1. re: plafield

                            During a visit to Chicago last summer, a friend and I ate at Publican and sat at one of the large communal tables. If you want a quiet, romantic dinner then this option is not for you. (Actually, I should warn you that when Publican was full, the noise level was high.) But my friend and I were there to eat and have fun and the large table did not detract from my enjoyment. She was seated directly across from me and we were able to converse and share food. We also enjoyed some pleasant conversation with some of our table mates. Others just ignored us; both approaches are fine with me, but I like communal tables. I do agree you should call them; we were late for our reservation, due to traffic, and the restaurant staff was very understanding and helpful. I hope you have a great time, wherever you go.

                            1. re: plafield

                              We've had good luck at Publican getting a private table if we request it in advance. Between Publican and Naha, it depends on what type of experience you want- Publican is much more casual but the food at both is great.

                    2. re: plafield

                      I have had good luck with a phone call to Publican when Opentable said no. Call.

                      Mercat is excellent and it is a bit more upscale in ambiance, but still fun.

                      Sorry for the missteer. I meant Telegraph in Logan Square

                      1. re: chicgail

                        Thanks everyone. This has all been very helpful. We've eaten at many, many restaurants similar to Naha and while we always enjoy that experience, with only one night we want something a little more uniquely Chicago so we've pretty much settled on Publican. We have a confirmed reservation made on Open Table. I asked in the comments box for a 2 top. At the moment, we're leaning toward leaving it there and letting fate decide if we eat privately or have the experience of the communal table, which could be really fun. We're not looking for romance, we're looking for killer food and an experience that we will help us remember Chicago. Thanks everyone for helping me think it through. I'll be sure to report back!

                        1. re: plafield

                          Dined at Publican and it was totally great. I'll write a more detailed report in a separate post but I wanted to thank everyone for the help. I'm sure Naha would have been great but Publican was amazing and felt really "Chicago" and we loved it!

                          We went to Sable for Saturday brunch and it was fantastic. Again, I'll write a detailed report once I get home.