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Aug 18, 2012 07:00 PM

Looking for decadent Sunday Brunch

We are two couples spending a weekend in Chicago next month, and the cornerstone of our trip was supposed to be the Sunday brunch at Seasons at the Four Seasons. To my horror I see that Seasons is gone, and there is a vastly diluted version at the new restaurant. Is there a decadent Sunday buffet brunch at any of the other downtown Chicago upscale hotels? Recommendations please!

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  1. My favorite Sunday brunch in Chicago isn't downtown, but is in the Lincoln Park neighborhood - literally inside Lincoln Park at North Pond. James Beard winning chef, beautiful setting (views of the pond and Chicago skyline), and phenomenal food. Service can be mediocre, but the food and ambiance are top notch. It is more of a lunch than a breakfast menu. If you do not want to stray from downtown, Sixteen may be an option for a hotel venue,.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Gonzo70

      I like Gonzo's suggestion of North Pond, which is also not a hotel restaurant. I have only been there for dinner, not their brunch, but it has always impressed (with outstanding food, and I've found the service to be quite good as well, FWIW). Their brunch menu is a $33 prix fixe three-course menu. The setting is indeed exquisite, and it's also a very uniquely Chicago experience. It's about two miles north of the Four Seasons, easily accessible by cab (5-10 minutes) as well as CTA bus.

      Sixteen is a lovely room but I know nothing about what they are doing for Sunday brunch. The restaurant is in transition, as they have recently hired a top executive chef (Thomas Lents of Eleven Madison Park in New York) and a top pastry chef (Patrick Fahy, one of the very best in Chicago). It is clearly their intention to make Sixteen one of the top tables in town (if not the country) but it may be a few months before they have made everything over towards accomplishing this.

      I think the thing to ask yourself is what you're looking for when you say "decadent". If you mean food that is absolutely delicious, you'll find that at Shaw's, North Pond, and the Lobby (assuming they still do brunch). If you mean food that is unusually creative, North Pond would easily trump what you'll find at Shaw's or the Lobby. But if you mean unlimited quantities of food, Shaw's and the Lobby (assuming again) would qualify, but not really North Pond. North Pond is decadent in an entirely different way, for the overall experience of walking through the park and coming upon a standalone restaurant that you can't even drive up to, and experiencing the view of the pond and skyline which the restaurant faces. To sum up, I think it's a wonderful experience, and may be perfect for your needs, but perhaps not if you are specifically looking for a huge amount of food. Hope that makes sense.

      1. re: nsxtasy

        Nice post, thanks. Seasons used to be decadent for me because of all the wonderful shellfish, the plethora of interesting Asian foods, and the desserts.

        Shaw's may be a decent alternative....I note that they have oysters on the half shell and king crab.

        Has anybody tried the shellfish tower at Deca at the Ritz Carlton?

    2. In addition to Seasons, there used to be three hotel restaurants with high-end decadent Sunday brunches, and two of them - NoMI at the Park Hyatt, and the restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton, now called deca - have switched to a la carte brunch menus, according to their websites. The third is the Lobby, the restaurant in the Peninsula Hotel, and I am not sure what they are doing now. As of a year or two ago, they were doing an all-you-can-eat brunch buffet in the $65-70 range; I have not eaten there for brunch - I have for dinner - but on a Sunday I walked in to take a look at the buffet, and it looked very good, and also very upscale. So that's the only one I know of, and I'm not sure if they're still doing it. I have two additional possibilities though, with up-to-date information on each.

      LB Bistro is the restaurant in the Sheraton, and they do an all-you-can-eat breakfast/brunch buffet seven days a week. It's very good, with fine quality food, but the food choices are somewhat limited and the restaurant is not particularly upscale (think of a nice coffee shop type place). Decadent? No, I would not say so.

      However, I know of one place that does an especially decadent and high-quality brunch on Sundays, although it isn't in a hotel: Shaw's Crab House. It's in River North, a ten-minute walk from the Four Seasons. The atmosphere is designed to simulate a seafood restaurant in New England, and in terms of upscale-ness (?) it's similar to a nice steakhouse - not fancy but nice (people won't be dressed up in jackets, but you'll see more business casual than denim there). They do an all-you-can-eat buffet for brunch, and it is terrific. It includes breakfast specialties like benedicts and terrific thick-cut caramelized bacon, seafood specialties like crabcakes and shrimp cocktail, a carving station with beef tenderloin, a custom omelet station, and a dessert buffet with the best creme brulee and chocolate pot de creme in Chicago. (You can see the complete brunch menu on their website at - click on the Chicago location first to get to their menus. Although the brunch they do at their other location, in suburban Schaumburg, is virtually identical to the one in the city.) How good is the food? I would call theirs the best bacon I've ever had, the best crabcakes I've had in Chicagoland, the best creme brulee I've had in Chicagoland, and the best pot de creme I've had in Chicagoland. Which means, outstanding. It was $48 earlier this year. And make a reservation in advance, because they do sometimes fill up.

      Incidentally, that quartet of upscale hotel restaurants - the ones in the Four Seasons, the Park Hyatt, the Peninsula, and the Ritz-Carlton - do very special brunches on certain holidays (Easter, Mother's Day, Father's Day I know, I'm not sure about any others) and they are extra decadent indeed, with per-person prices for those holidays in the $110-125 range. So if you're ever here for one of those holidays, there may be some special options that are not available on other Sundays.

      HTH - enjoy your visit!

      10 Replies
      1. re: nsxtasy

        Sixteen and NoMI used to do very decadent brunches -- in fact Sixteen probably had the best as the dining room alone on a bright, sunny Sunday morning was worth the price of admission alone. I guess there just wasn't enough profit to be made from all that food. The Ritz and Four Seasons used to do it as well, alas, they, too, have gone the route of a la carte. So when it comes to decadent buffet brunches, as nsxtasy has stated, you are left with Shaw's and The Lobby at the Peninsula. I can confirm that The Lobby does still do a buffet, and it's a beautiful room, and the choices are in abundance, however even when all of the top hotel-restos were doing buffets, it would have been #3 on my list. Also, it's rather expensive with mimosas et al. it could get up to $100 per head w/tax & tip. Shaw's is primarily seafood, and not the largest selection, but still one of my faves for king crab legs, carving stations, MTO omelets, ambiance and service. North Pond's a little out of the way and cute, but nothing extraordinary. I live not a five minute walk from there, been there for every meal they serve and it's OK. Nothing special. If you go to Shaw's, however, take note: Make your rez for 10:30a when they open as it will get crowded over the following hour. Enjoy.

        1. re: grimaldi

          >> If you go to Shaw's, however, take note: Make your rez for 10:30a when they open as it will get crowded over the following hour.

          According to their website, they start serving Sunday brunch at 10:00.

          I've always made a reservation, and never found that the crowds (IOW the lines at the buffet stations) got all that unwieldy at later hours. Sure, there would be the occasional blip, but you look up ten minutes later and the line is gone.

          1. re: nsxtasy

            I was just about to correct the time myself. Thanks. Yes, indeed, go at 10:00am!

            I've been to Shaw's six times in the past year and it's getting more and more crowded each time, I'll assume because buffet brunches are no longer in abundance in Chicago. Nor am I making a generalized statement here -- this is a first-hand observation -- however there is a particular ethnicity that LOVES seafood buffets, and each time I've gone their numbers have increased on order of four to five times. That's why I suggest going when they first open. Afterwards, service, waiting in line, and replenishment of selection becomes more of a struggle than a standard. Also, I never liked that kids under 12 eat free. That's just inviting a family element into what is otherwise an adult venue, the parents never care that their kids are just ransacking the dessert tables, and it brings down the whole atmosphere. However, all of that speaks of the clientele, not the food or beverage. I can distinctly separate the two.

            So once again: the earlier the better.

            1. re: grimaldi

              Thanks for the info. Since we will be driving back to Wisconsin after Brunch, the Schaumburg Shaw's is an option. Is the crowding problem better or worse there, vs. downtown? I am guessing you are speaking of Asians? I also do not like a herd of ill mannerd and poorly controlled children at nice restaurants. I grew up in New Orleans, and my parents were taking me to Commander's and Brennan's when I was young, but I knew to behave myself.

              1. re: Mountaindog

                I would strongly recommend we avoid any discussions of ethnic groups and their effect on crowding.

                I have eaten at both Shaw's locations for Sunday brunch numerous times, including once at each of the two locations earlier this year, both somewhere between 11 and noon. The Schaumburg location was full, meaning, they were completely booked with advance reservations (including mine) and they were turning away potential customers who arrived without reservations. Every table was occupied. There were no particular problems with lines at the buffet stations, though; as I mentioned earlier, I'd notice a line forming (possibly because a large party all went up at once), and then ten minutes later it had disappeared. When I ate at the downtown Shaw's, only about two thirds of the tables were occupied and there weren't any lines at all. There were plenty of families with children in both locations, but none of them were particularly ill-mannered or bothersome in any way. (There were no children in our party at either location.)

                If you are headed on I-94 to/through Milwaukee, the Schaumburg location is significantly out of your way; if you are headed on I-90 to/through Madison, it's right on your way. The Schaumburg location is in an outlot near Woodfield Mall and has a huge free parking lot next to it. The Chicago location is in the middle of River North, the downtown hotel/shopping/entertainment district; you'll pay for parking, and options include valet parking, nearby parking garages, or street parking (which is limited to two hours, which may be fine for brunch).

                1. re: nsxtasy

                  I never said anything negative about anyone. Only that it created a more crowded and thus less attentive atmosphere. Not an opinion, a fact and an observation.

          2. re: grimaldi

            Anybody have first hand experience with the brunch at the Lobby? They don't show the brunch menu on their website. What is served? Cost?

            1. re: Mountaindog

              As I noted above, I've looked at the brunch buffet at the Lobby, although I haven't eaten it. It includes a variety of stations - not only the cold seafood (I think I mentioned the shrimp cocktail), but omelets made to order, eggs benedict, all the usual breakfast specialties as well as some savory dishes that are more lunch-like, and of course a big dessert table. I believe it's somewhere in the $65-70 price range for adults.

              1. re: Mountaindog

                In the far back they provide the typical breakfast items: waffles, MTO omelets, breakfast meats, fruits, pastries, etc. There is a sushi chef creating rolls and nigiri, though they do not take requests. There are numerous small plates with salads, various "tapas-like" dishes. There is a long table of more lunch/dinner plates of pastas, duck, pork, fish and beef dishes. They have Peking duck which they carve-to-order. Also, there is a dessert table in the middle with a lot of chocolate options and other various delicacies.

                1. re: grimaldi

                  Thanks to everybody for their input. We had decided on Shaw's downtown for brunch.
                  BTW, we are going to Minghin in Chinatown on Friday night and Riccardo Trattoria on Saturday night. Playing it by ear for lunch.....but a Chicago Dog is likely!