Dressy Restaurant under $75PP in late December
My husband and I are in college, but we are treating ourselves to a short trip to Chicago right after Christmas, before New Years. We will only have Friday night to eat out, and are staying in a hotel on Michigan just south of the Art Institute. Last time we visited Chicago, we ate at 312 Chicago on North LaSalle and loved it. However, the menu doesn't seem different from May 2011, and I like to try different.
We can afford around $75-90pp including app, entree, dessert, drinks, tax and tip. This trip is our Christmas present to each other, and while we don't have alot to spend, we do want to make the most of our evening. Hubby would prefer a restaurant where we can dress up and not be out of place - he wants to wear a suit and tie. Also, we would prefer to dine around the 7-9 time frame, after the theater crowd. A restaurant where we can have a lingering meal would be nice - not rushed. A short taxi ride or a walk is fine, most likely taxi considering the season. So I guess another point would be the ability to get a taxi after dinner to go back to the hotel.
However, my husband prefers food that "he can pronounce" (his words), and refuses to order a tasting menu. I am willing to try anything, especially anything European. However, I am allergic to all nuts, and feel bad ordering at a restaurant where most dishes include nuts - I don't like asking for special accommodations. Unfortunately, while the location of North Pond looks amazing, most of the menu includes nuts, so that's out.
I would love to hear any recommendations that can be made. Thank you all so much in advance.
Nuts are a common allergy, and any nice restaurant should be happy to accommodate that by preparing an entire menu without them. You can verify this with any restaurant in advance by phone. If that's the only thing holding you back from North Pond, then I think that's where you should go. It fits all of your criteria, with the only other possible exception that it may stretch your stated budget by a bit (in my experience it's typically around $100-110/pp inclusive).
Your DH won't be out of place at North Pond in jacket and tie, but not everyone will be similarly attired. If you prefer a restaurant where jackets are required, there are only about 6-8 such places, and all normally cost well in excess of $75-90/pp inclusive. The only one which might meet the budget constraint is Everest, but only if you go for the pre-theater special (a fixed three-course menu that's around $50), and that menu is only available for 5:00/5:30 seatings, which you say you don't want. And you would want to check the sample menus on their website to see if they would be acceptable to DH.
You might also check Naha, which is fairly dressy although jackets are not required. I think it's likely to exceed your budget, though (unless you go for lunch).
I wonder if Russian Tea Time might be of interest. It's quite near the Art Institute and, depending on your husband's pronunciation skills, it may be well within his comfort zone.
The restaurant has an old world, upscale atmosphere, while not being stuffy. I think a jacket and tie for your husband would fit nicely with the ambiance. I have found most (not all) restaurants in Chicago to be quite casual in terms of dress, no matter the price point. For me, this works well, but I understand not wanting to feel out of place when dressing for an occasion.
Russian cuisine provides an interesting twist on the usual meat and potatoes. There's also lots of opportunities to partake of doughy/dumpling dishes along with (yum) sour cream to round out the meat/fat/flour triumvirate.
I'm veg so I can't help you on the meat, poultry and fish options, but I did have a lovely meal there with terrific service. To be honest, my perception is quite likely colored by the vodka flights my companions and I enjoyed. I heartily recommend you do likewise.
I agree that you should not rule out North Pond because of the nut issue; it is a beautiful setting and great food - though in my experience service can at times not be on par with the quality of the food and ambiance.
Another place to consider is Boka. Boka (like North Pond) would be a short cab ride away (and it will be easy to grab a cab back to the hotel - in fact they likely will secure one for you). It is one of the less expensive Michelin starred venues and, while they have a tasting menu, they also have a large a la carte menu and do not push the tasting menu. Also like North Pond it is dressy, while no jacket is required your husband would certainly not be the only one in a suit and would fit in fine. They also have amazing craft cocktails and a nice wine list with many good, reasonably priced wines. Service and cuisine are outstanding there and while the setting is nice, it certainly is not anything like North Pond. Depending on what you order (and how much you drink) you will either be at the upper end of your price range or a bit over, but Boka can be done for $90 to $100 per/person without skimping too much.
A few other venues to throw out that would be comfortably within your price range and are nice enough to dress up for (though most will be in more casual attire than a suit); these are not quite in the same league with North Pond or Boka (though still are outstanding venues):
Mexique: Fusion of contemporary Mexican and French cuisine.
Piccolo Sogno: Italian.
Socca: Fusion of Italian and French cuisine.
Perennial Virant: Contemporary American.
Socca and Mexique are a decent length cab ride away, but the few extra dollars the cab fare will cost will be more than offset by the less expensive cuisine than you would pay for dining in the downtown area at a similar caliber venue.
I ate dinner at tesori last night and thought it was excellent and worth recommending!
The restaurant is a one-story structure on the southwest corner of Wabash and Adams, with a small outdoor area and garden. The glass walls facing to the north and east give the dining room an atrium-like feel.
Like many newer Italian restaurants, if you ignored the pasta section and the Italian nomenclature, the menu could easily pass for that of many contemporary American restaurants. Which is fine.
Bread service was outstanding - I'm a sucker for bread when it's served warm, which this was - and consisted of focaccia and a slightly sweet whole wheat bread.
The two of us ordered six dishes, and all six were excellent. Here's what we had:
• eggplant parmesan (this was a daily special) - a traditional rendition, and the sauce had a very strong tomato taste, which is refreshing to find during winter.
• braised veal cheeks over polenta - this was incredibly tender. If any dish was a "must have", it was this one.
• beet salad with goat cheese - its mild beet taste went well with the mild creamy cheese.
• pan seared veal loin (another daily special) - another mild dish, perhaps the least impressive of the six, but still quite good
• skatewing - this was served boneless; the lardons and kale accompaniments were meh but the skate was excellent.
• vanilla-almond brown butter cake - This was terrific, not overly sweet, served with chopped fruit and a dollop of not-that-sweet mascarpone.
The service was excellent. They weren't all that busy; maybe a third of the tables were occupied during our dinner (we were seated early for dining before a 7:30 show). It was not overly noisy, and seemed as though it wouldn't be horribly loud even when it's full.
Entrees were around $30 and our bill including a glass of wine and tax/tip was just under $75/pp.
There are several excellent restaurants serving contemporary Italian cuisine, including Vivere and the Florentine in the Loop. tesori is a new entrant and deserves consideration among that esteemed group. The location makes it perfect for pre-theater or pre-symphony dining. It's also open for lunch.
65 East Adams Street