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Jul 12, 2012 11:04 AM

Fine Dining - What's Left?

I want to go out for a luxe fine dining dinner but can't do an Alinea style multi-course, multi-hour type tasting. Our favorites used to be Avenues (closed) and once upon a time, Seasons (closed). I have gotten to really enjoy Tru but their menu hasn't changed a smidgen (entree-wise) in 6 months. That has me questioning them (is this all you can do?) and a little bored (there are 4 seasons ... ok maybe only 3 in Chicago). So what to do. Spiaggia makes me cranky because of its prices and hard sell on 3 courses but the food is always good. Ria is closing and I truly get why. I loved the tasting menu but hated the ala carte and there were serious service and timing issues. Schwa, Bonsoirree and Goosefoot are non starters for my SO as they are too quirky and too many courses (I've done and loved Schwa and the others are on my must do list sans SO). For my options I see L20, Les Nomades and ???. I haven't been to L20 but it may be a little too fish centric for the SO. I haven't been to Les Nomades in many years and with Liccioni at the helm the menu looks interesting but I always found the place a bit fusty and too clubby. Anybody been recently? Am I missing options.

In a nut shell what I want is a fine dining restaurant with excellent food, elegant ambiance, quiet space where talking is the loudest noise. If I lived in NYC I'd be at Eleven Madison Park in a heartbeat.


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  1. Everest. Not a favorite of mine but many love it (ditto Sixteen). I don't know if Coco Pazzo meets your definition, but I've always enjoyed it. Ditto Frontera.

    1 Reply
    1. re: ferret

      Everest meets the criterion and I haven't been there in ages, actually, not in the past 10 years although I enjoyed it in the day. I'll check out their menu. Sixteen doesn't appeal much (that could be because anything with the Trump name attached is extremely unappealing to me). Coco Pazzo and Frontera are not what I consider fine dining but I enjoy them both, particularly Frontera/Topolobambo. Haven't been to Coco Pazzo in a while but have eaten lunch at Frontera/Topolobambo 3 or 4 times in the past 2 months. Always great!

    2. Yes, you missed Everest. Also Charlie Trotter's, which is still open until next month. And Next, which (if you'll pardon the play on words) is next to impossible to get tickets for.

      There's an article about Sixteen in the brand new August issue of Chicago magazine. They took six months to hire an executive chef to replace Frank Brunacci, because they were serious about making it great; they've been quoted as saying they want more than just the one Michelin star they lost. They brought in Thomas Lents from Joel Robuchon in Vegas (and who previously worked for Joho at Everest). The review is an absolute rave. You can read it at

      Although Coco Pazzo, Frontera Grill, and Topolobampo are very good, I would not consider any of them in the "fine dining" category like the other places mentioned above. Places that I'd consider "borderline, almost fine dining" include North Pond, Naha, and Graham Elliot - all very good indeed, but not necessarily with the lengthy tasting menus, armies of waitstaff, etc that you typically find at the top fine dining places.

      >> If I lived in NYC I'd be at Eleven Madison Park in a heartbeat.

      Too soon. Lee Wolen, the sous chef at EMP (with previous Chicago background), was recently hired by the high-end Peninsula Hotel here. They are re-vamping the formerly-casual Lobby restaurant, where he will be chef de cuisine, with new menus to debut in September. More:

      12 Replies
      1. re: nsxtasy

        Acadia is getting good buzz, and might appeal to your SO. I haven't been, so can't offer more personal insights. You might also want to keep an eye out for the opening of Curtis Duffy's new place, Grace.

        1. re: GourmetWednesday

          Yes, Grace is another place being quoted that they are shooting for multiple Michelin stars. I haven't heard any announcement about an opening date, but Duffy just announced Nicholas Romero as the chef de cuisine on his Twitter feed. You can check for updates on their website at

          1. re: nsxtasy

            There was a 'sort of' preview' in Toronto recently - but of course, seasonal ingredients will dictate a number of changes.
            Nevertheless, see the 'preview' here

            And on questioning, October (sometime) was mentioned as a probable opening time.

          2. re: GourmetWednesday

            Acadia is very much on the level of Naha with perhaps a quieter ambiance and perhaps some of the most attentive (yet non-intrusive) service I've had in Chicago. Tasting menus are available, altho there have been some closures this summer, so be sure to check them out first.

          3. re: nsxtasy

            Next is actually pretty casual compared to Eleven Madison Park or Alinea, and the tables are a bit close together IMO. The dress code is more casual. Also the current menu is something like 13 courses, rustic, and served family style (this is the only one so far that is family style).

            Most of their menus so far are lengthy, and it's typically been one tasting menu for all diners. So if you want a luxurious, elegant, 3 or 4 course prix fixe (with choices) experience like EMP, I don't think Next fits the bill.

            1. re: kathryn

              There are other ways in which Next has much in common with high-end restaurants. It has the lengthy tasting menus (just as you pointed out), fixed menus rather than a la carte, and the cost is comparable also. The level of service is comparable to high-end restaurants as well. You can even find yourself with a world-famous chef sitting at the next table, as I did there. Also, the family style is a feature of the current menu, not previous ones. No, it's not exactly like dining at Eleven Madison Park or Alinea - I've eaten at all three, and each is unique in its own way - but it's certainly one of the most expensive restaurants in Chicago (although the exact price can depend on the menu, the day and time, how you got your tickets, etc). 'nuff said.

            2. re: nsxtasy

              I'll be interested to read more about Sixteen but when I went to the hotel last summer for drinks I found the pricing offensive (and we aren't penny pinchers for food that merits the cost). Unless there were hidden ingredients that wouldn't ordinarily be hidden (like truffles, foie gras and fresh porcini) then none of the prices seemed justified by any stretch. I will look at it though. Charlie Trotter's like Ria is no loss on the dining scene as far as I am concerned. I went to Trotters right after it opened before it was strictly prix fixe and loved it until it got too full of itself. It hasn't been particularly interesting for several years but it is always good. Acadia looks interesting but not quite the luxe thing I was hoping for. EMP kind of sums it up for me. We no longer have a place like that in Chicago. Great food, gracious, elegant surroundings and graceful service where you don't have to invest many hours for dinner or, in the case of EMP, lunch. It's not too often that you really need to dine at a place like that but you sure miss it when you can't.

              I look forward to Duffy's new place as we loved Avenues. More so under his helm than GEB. As to Next I can't figure out their reservations and I still don't know how I got reservations two weeks ago at Aviary. Fun as it was dinner at Publican was even better.

              1. re: KateBChi

                >> We no longer have a place like that in Chicago. Great food, gracious, elegant surroundings and graceful service where you don't have to invest many hours for dinner or, in the case of EMP, lunch.

                Yes, we do. I can think of several places that meet that description. For both lunch and dinner, that's a perfect description of Naha. I haven't been to NoMI since they reconcepted as NoMI Kitchen, but it's another possibility*. If you take out the requirement that lunch is served, the description also applies perfectly to Everest and North Pond. All of these are elegant, all offer a la carte menus, all offer great food and service. If you don't want to spend hours and instead just order a few courses, you'll find any of them exceedingly accommodating. Try them and see for yourself!

                (Incidentally, based on my dinner there, I thought Eleven Madison Park was pretty good, but IMHO it doesn't hold a candle to TRU or Everest or its fellow New Yorker, Per Se.)

                * Phil Vettel just reviewed NoMI Kitchen in today's Tribune:
                You might want to also check out his review of Allium today:

                1. re: nsxtasy

                  This is an interesting thread and is getting much attention in a short time. Clearly there are not as many fine dining places opening or sustaining, and the ones that are around lean toward tasting menus, which the OP did not want.

                  Jeff Ruby's Chicago Mag review of Sixteen is now available online:

                  1. re: nsxtasy

                    I really like Naha and have for years but it doesn't fit into the "luxe" "fine dining" niche I have in my mind. Both Naha and North Pond are restaurants I have gone to with my girlfriends. That makes them very good restaurants (I like the food a lot better at Naha than North Pond but North Pond has the great setting) but not the destination dining I wanted. I was not intending to diss Chicago restaurants at all I just think we have, at least momentarily, a limited number of luxury fine dining retaurants that aren't tasting menu only, offer full amenities like bar/wine service and let you choose what you want to eat. I saw the NoMi review and it looks like a restaurant I'd like to try but it isn't what I would call fine dining. In fact the restaurant was specifically made more casual so as to attract more business.

                    I love Tru but they won't vary their d***n menu. Acadia looks great. I love the menu but the web site picture makes it look a wee bit sterile. I will certainly be stopping by for dinner.

                    My experiences at EMP were way better than just "pretty good" and I provided it as the type of place I wanted for this experience. Elegant with polished service, in a great setting with inventive, sometimes remarkable food.

                  2. re: KateBChi

                    I think you should give Acadia a try. In my recent experience, it was way out ahead of both Everest and North Pond.

                    1. re: camusman

                      Seriously check out Acadia, great food, amazing service, and you can go first, second, dessert if you want.

                2. I'd strongly recommend L20. Chef Matt Kirkley is doing a fantastic job. They can de-emphasize the seafood if you tell them one diner would prefer a nice combination of non-seafood (meat, vege, whatever) to seafood. I'm a regular at EMP (I have an apartment in NYC as well as a home in Chicago) and to me, L20 is the closest thing Chicago has to EMP.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: DutchOenophile

                    Thanks for the info on L20. It will certainly figure in future dining especially if non seafood dishes can be thrown into the mix. In the end we went with what worked for me when I revisited Tru this year after a several year hiatus. We revisited an established restaurant that hadn't totally thrilled but basically had the right stuff the last time we were there and was now under the care of a different chef. We chose Les Nomades which is now (back) under the helm of Roland Liccioni. I'll preface by saying that this is not mind-bending or cutting edge food but it was flat out delicious. Glorious French food actually with terrific service.

                    We did wine pairings with the food (after initial cocktails), basically half pours for two courses and full pours with our main course. Our waiter (didn't see a wine steward) made suggestions and we accepted them. He chose well.

                    The menu says that you can order the 4 course menu $115 or the 5 course tasting $130 but our waiter said we could order only 3 courses for a lesser charge (or more for a greater charge but in smaller portions). We went with 4 as both of us were quite hungry (and weirdly my SO's choices were seafood centric which is unusual for him).

                    The amuse was a creamy gazpacho with cucumber and tomato brunnoise. I could have eaten buckets of this. Our first, for me was Vietnamese crab cake and tempura fried soft shelled crab with a pommery mustard sauce. The soft shelled crab was the most crispy, light and perfectly cooked specimen I have ever tasted. The whole grain mustard sauce was a bit muted but it worked very well with the crab cakes and the slightly sweet pickled cucumbers. My SO had the risotto with foie gras and summer truffles. The waiter warned that the risotto was possibly a bit brothier than we might be used to. It was but in a wickedly good way. I only got a taste of the rice as the truffles and foie gras went into the man gullet across from me.

                    My first was paired with a verdeho white from Spain and my SO's with a Pinot Gris from...somewhere.

                    The second was a kabocha squash and fennel soup with candied pumpkin seeds and truffle foam. The foam was mere froth ;-) and I didn't taste truffle but the soup was a sweet and savoury delight, Every bite of the pumpkin seeds was fun. This was served with a Kabinett that was on the dry side but with a sweetness that worked with the soup. I picked this soup because I was curious that it was on a summer menu but whatever the season I want more of it NOW. My SO had the warm lobster and shrimp salad with pickled mango and mango vinaigrette. He ate every bit of it without any left for me so I can't comment but he seemed very happy. This was paired with a Montrachet of some type.

                    For mains I ordered the roasted squab and confitted squab leg with a grass fed rib eye (cooked sous vide then nicely charred) served with 2 sauces one foie gras flavored and the second with spices typical to Moroccan cuisine. It also had creamy grits, couscous and a riot of turned vegetables (I actually felt somewhat sorry for the person who had to cut those vegetables as turning vegetables is not one of my strong suits and takes me lots of time). In short it was not an exercise in restraint but a fiesta of flavors and textures. This was served with a hearty French burgundy. My SO ordered the Dover sole which was roasted whole then brought to the table filleted. I don't remember a thing about it or what came with it but he pronounced it outstanding.

                    For dessert we decided against the many souffles and he went with a warm flour-less chocolate cake with a liquid cassis ganache center and lemon verbena ice cream. I got the fresh apple tart with green apple sorbet. There were lots of other things going on both desserts including macerated berries and candies and God knows what but the sum total was absolutely delicious. My tart was clearly just made the pastry was absolute heaven and I loved the slightly tart sorbet. My SO just moaned over the chocolate and actually gave me a small piece which made me understand the moaning. Both of these desserts required ordering at the start of the dinner and there was a bit of a time lull between the mains and the desserts but it was certainly worth it!

                    In short luxurious fine dining ain't dead in Chicago you just have to look for it.