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Seems to be all y'all get, but....Rec's in December?

I basically plan my vacations around where I'll eat. We're coming to your fair city on the first Wednesday in December and leaving Saturday. Let me state outright, I'm from Austin, Texas and expect your weather to knock me on my ass. This being said, the warmest thing we have is long johns and dark jeans (dress clothes wouldn't work there well). So, keeping in mind we'll be wearing jeans, boots and nice sweaters, please advise on below schedule, staying at Omni downtown by the pier and will be cabbing it:

Wednesday: Arrive and have lunch at both Al's Beef and Portillo's and comparing the two. Stroll the Mag Mile (goal is to find a nice, fitted leather jacket - suggestions?) and have dinner at Shaw's Crab House (in the bar around 6:30).

Thursday: Shedd Aquarium. Lunch at Lou Malnati's (I've been told I should go to the Gold Coast location, which is close to the hotel, but there's one on 8th and State we could take a lunch break - is this a good idea?). Museum of Natural History. Dinner at Sable 6:30 pm (we don't want to stand out as "hicks" wearing jeans).

Friday: No lunch pick yet. Art Institute. Dinner at Ba Ba Reeba, again 6:30.

Please let us know if we'd be more comfortable packing an extra bag with nicer clothes or if we'd be okay with the above, and IF we're packing nicer clothes, should we sub out some of the above places. Many thanks, y'all!

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  1. Your clothes sound fine. Most of us wear our (nice) jeans at the places you are going. Leave the long johns at home.

    Just wondering why you picked BaBa Reba for dinner. We have better tapas more conveniently located to where you will be. Consider Iberico on North LaSalle St. as the easier of the two on the wallet -- at a slightly higher price point, Jose Garces' Mercat a la Planxa in the Blackstone Hotel in the South Loop.

    Sable is not a favorite of mine. It is definitely a great bar with some interesting bar food. I know one or two others who will argue vociferously otherwise, but that is my opinion. It's not bad, just not that great IMO. Good sliders. Good truffled deviled eggs. Otherwise we were disappointed.

    You might consider The Publican or The Gage or The Purple PIg (no reservations here) which are really good gastropubs. There are a couple of other gastropubs I like a lot, but they're going to require you to cab a bit more.

    1. I think your plans sound great!

      Responses to your questions...

      >> So, keeping in mind we'll be wearing jeans, boots and nice sweaters, please advise on below schedule, staying at Omni downtown by the pier and will be cabbing it:

      As chicgail notes above, those clothes are fine. None of the places you've mentioned require anything nicer than casual attire.

      >> Thursday: Shedd Aquarium. Lunch at Lou Malnati's (I've been told I should go to the Gold Coast location, which is close to the hotel, but there's one on 8th and State we could take a lunch break - is this a good idea?).

      Sure this is a good idea! I've found that the quality is consistent from one Lou Malnati's to another. The only thing special about the one on the Gold Coast is its location (and I'm not sure it's any closer to your hotel than the one on North Wells; both are about a mile away). By all means, go to the one at 8th and State; it's an easy walk from there to the aquarium (and planetarium and Field Museum of Natural History, if you're interested). Note that you can phone ahead with your pizza order if you want to avoid waiting 30-45 minutes while seated for it to bake.

      >> Dinner at Sable 6:30 pm (we don't want to stand out as "hicks" wearing jeans).

      Great choice! One of the things I love about Sable is that you can come any way you are; you'll see businesspeople with business attire sitting next to locals in jeans. And there's so much more to love about Sable! The contemporary American cuisine is delicious; the best moderate to mid-priced dinners I've had downtown in the past few years have been there. I love the fact that most of the items are available in half portions, so you can try a lot of things... and most of them are easy to share. If you're a fan of craft cocktails, you'll love theirs; it's one of the best mixologist/bartender teams in the city. I love watching Chef Heather Terhune in the open kitchen, chopping and prepping alongside her staff. The fact that the food is unusually inexpensive is just an added bonus!

      I especially recommend their sweet corn creme brulee, a savory riff on the classic French dessert, with the corn and the cracked sea salt topping creating a great counterpoint to the custard and broiled sugar crust. Listen to what some others here have said about it:

      "But the very best thing, not only here at Sable but of the whole trip (including Publican, Ginos East, brunch at Sable, Jam and Meli Cafe) was the corn creme brulee. OMG!!! The ultimate sweet/savory/creamy/ crunchy treat anywhere on the planet. Perfect, unsweetened custard with intense corn flavor and plenty of fresh, crisp corn kernels, topped with a bruleed sugar crust with flecks of coarse salt all over. If you like salted caramel, oh boy! This dish was definitely to die for! It was between a savory and a sweet to a great segue to dessert." - plafield, at www.chow.com/topics/860226

      "Sweet corn creme brulee - outstanding. My wife almost feinted with happiness and she does not normally rave about dishes." - dlpens, at www.chow.com/topics/805781#7536324

      >> Friday: No lunch pick yet. Art Institute.

      You might consider Terzo Piano, the Italian restaurant from Tony Mantuano (of Spiaggia fame) that's located inside the museum. It's excellent. Other possibilities nearby include the Gage, the gastropub; Henri, the French bistro; Park Grill, for classic American (good burgers); and Heaven on Seven on Wabash, for cajun/creole.

      >> Dinner at Ba Ba Reeba, again 6:30.

      I agree with chicgail's comments here. Nothing wrong with Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba; it's very good. But it's a bit of a trek (over three miles away), and if you want tapas, Cafe Iberico and Mercat a la Planxa are generally better. (Both are about a mile from your hotel, so they're a long walk or a short cab ride.) Note that Cafe Iberico does not accept reservations.

      Enjoy your visit, and feel free to ask more questions!

      1. The original comment has been removed
        1. Thank you both so much for all the sound advise! Okay, no on the BBR. Mercat it is!

          Publican The Gage or The Purple Pig were all on my radar, but it seemed jeans were too casual for these places.

          Austin is full of shu-shu food and gastro-pubs. What we don't have is cozy fireplace taverns, romantic Italian and Spanish tapas. What I'd love to do is something I can only have in Chicago, or at the very least, not what I can easily get in Austin.

          Terzo Piano sounds like and excellent choice to take a lunch break. Husband tends to linger when it comes to art.

          1. re: amysuehere

            >> Publican The Gage or The Purple Pig were all on my radar, but it seemed jeans were too casual for these places.

            Not true! Jeans are fine at all three, and you'll see plenty of people at all three in jeans. (We do have some places where jeans aren't appropriate, but these aren't among them.)

            Incidentally, restaurant listings on Opentable indicate "dress code", typically as "casual dress", "smart casual", "business casual", "jackets preferred/recommended", and "jackets required". I've found that these are usually (not always, but usually) a really good indicator of the appropriate attire for their main dining room; you'll sometimes find more casual attire in the bar/lounge area. Publican and the Gage both show "casual dress" in Opentable. (Shaw's says "business casual" but I've seen plenty of people there in jeans, and besides, you'll be in the bar anyway.)

            >> Austin is full of shu-shu food and gastro-pubs. What we don't have is cozy fireplace taverns, romantic Italian and Spanish tapas. What I'd love to do is something I can only have in Chicago, or at the very least, not what I can easily get in Austin.

            I'm surprised you don't have romantic Italian, which is pretty common in most cities. (You'll have Italian covered here with lunch at Terzo Piano. We have some other great Italian places if you're interested.)

            One other thing you might or might not consider, and which comes as a surprise to many visitors from Texas, is our contemporary Mexican cuisine, which is popular here but not widely available in most other cities this side of the border. I know you have tons of conventional Mexican and Tex-Mex in Austin, but this is different. If you think you might be interested in understanding the difference, you might want to at least check out the sample menus on the websites of Topolobampo/Frontera Grill ( www.rickbayless.com/restaurants ), Mexique ( www.mexiquechicago.com ), and Mundial Cocina Mestiza ( www.mundialcocinamestiza.com ). Of course, you already have plenty of other great choices for your visit, but it's worth considering.

            1. re: nsxtasy

              I only see us spending a half day at the Art Institute, so if you know of better Italian or contemporary Mexican for a late lunch, no matter on the cab ride (Sable for dinner that night, if that makes a difference on what is best for lunch), by all means!

              1. re: amysuehere

                I would stick with Terzo Pizano for lunch. Hopefully we'll have snow on the ground and it will be pretty overlooking Millenium Park. Chicago does Christmas well. The trees are all lit up and the windows at Fields, er Macy's will be decorated.

                I would check out Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza. If you go on a weekday, it isn't crowded. There is something cheery about drinking mulled wine on a cold day. Or even a cold German beer... It is free to the public and you aren't obligated to buy anything. It always gets me in the Christmas spirit walking through it.

                http://www.christkindlmarket.com/en/

                1. re: lbs

                  Oh! Yes, yes yes! This is going to be a MUST. Looks like a place best hit at night. Thank you lbs!

                  1. re: lbs

                    >> I would stick with Terzo Pizano for lunch.

                    LOL! This sounds like a combination of names of two different places, both in/near the Art Institute. I'm pretty sure lbs is referring to Terzo PIANO (it means "third floor" in Italian) inside the Art Institute, and not Pizano's, a deep-dish pizza place (a very good one, in fact) with a location on Madison right near the Art Institute. :)

                    1. re: nsxtasy

                      I always have pizza on the brain...

                      Edited to add: You said you wanted to go shopping on Mag Mile for a leather coat. If you switch to State Street (which has the original Marshall Fields with the iconic clocks plus a bevy of lower priced stores including Burlington Coat Factory); you could combine that with the a trip to Christkindlmarket.

                      1. re: lbs

                        Every true Chicagoan does. :)

                        Hey, did you move yet, or are you still around here? I would imagine learning a new city and its restaurants is like starting life over - hopefully lots of fun and exciting...

                        1. re: nsxtasy

                          "Men plan, God Laughs" is a wise adage. The good thing is that I am still in a city I love with great food!

                        2. re: lbs

                          Thank you! Sounds like a perfect day!

                        3. re: nsxtasy

                          If given the choice, and knowing we're not going to make it to LM's on the day we go to the aquarium/museum, which would you chose; Terzo Piano or Pizano's?

                          1. re: amysuehere

                            If it's your only chance to have real Chicago deep-dish, I'd choose Pizano's. If you can work deep-dish in at some other time during your visit, then Terzo Piano.

                      2. re: amysuehere

                        >> I only see us spending a half day at the Art Institute, so if you know of better Italian or contemporary Mexican for a late lunch, no matter on the cab ride (Sable for dinner that night, if that makes a difference on what is best for lunch), by all means!

                        I still think Terzo Piano is a great way to go, since you'll already be at the AI anyway. (Not that it matters, but you can dine there without paying admission to the museum, in case you want to try it a different day from the day you're in the museum.)

                        However, just in case you'd like some additional suggestions, ...

                        For contemporary Mexican for a weekday lunch, I recommend Topolobampo. This is the more upscale of the Rick Bayless restaurants; it occupies a dining room inside Frontera Grill. I like it for lunch for a couple of reasons: The prices are similar to lunch at Frontera Grill (at dinner, Topolo is much more expensive than Frontera), and it's easy to get a reservation. You can make reservations on Opentable.com (as well as over the phone, of course). Dinner reservations at Topolobampo fill up quickly as soon as they make them available (three months ahead), whereas lunch reservations can still be had a few weeks out. Still, if this is of interest to you, I recommend making your reservations NOW; you can always cancel them if your plans change.

                        I also like Mexique and Mundial Cocina Mestiza, which I mentioned above, and both serve lunch. But Topolobampo is in a more convenient location, and has the celebrity chef Rick Bayless, so I'd take Topolobampo as first choice, as long as you can still get a reservation, which you probably can.

                        There are a lot of great Italian restaurants in Chicago. My favorites are Piccolo Sogno and Piccolo Sogno Due; the latter is three blocks south of your hotel and an easy walk. I'd describe the atmosphere as more "festive bistro" than "romantic Italian", in case that matters to you. The food is fantastic, the waitstaff is really impressive, even the bread service is outstanding. There are lots of other good Italian places downtown, including Vivere, Spiaggia and Cafe Spiaggia, Coco Pazzo and Coco Pazzo Cafe, and Gioco. Gioco is near the Field and Shedd.

                        HTH

                    2. re: amysuehere

                      I agree -- jeans will fit in just fine at the Publican, The Gage, and Purple Pig.

                      Also be forewarned it's about a mile walk (let's 20 minute) from Shedd to Lou Malnati's. I assume you're bringing/buying a coat? Then after lunch you're going to be backtracking to get to the Field Museum.

                      Depends on your personal preference--some people might find that annoying and a lot of walking, especially since you're going to be walking all around Shedd and the Field Museum.

                      Also, if you're up for a fancy molecular/experimental cocktail, try the Aviary in the West Loop. I don't think Austin has any places doing that yet.

                      1. re: kathryn

                        >> Also be forewarned it's about a mile walk (let's 20 minute) from Shedd to Lou Malnati's. I assume you're bringing/buying a coat?

                        Note, you'll be walking through the park (Grant Park). The pathways are *somewhat* well marked with signs/maps but it's also easy to get... well, not easy to get lost exactly, but not always easy to find the most direct pathway.

                        >> Then after lunch you're going to be backtracking to get to the Field Museum.

                        Good point. The Field Museum is right next to the Shedd so you might want to plan your day so you do those two together, and eat either before both or after both.

                        If it's morning and you want a breakfast specialty place, one of our best, Bongo Room, is at Roosevelt (12th) and Wabash, very close to both museums. They specialize in creative pancake dishes, such as pretzel pancakes with white chocolate sauce. Tip: The standard portion size is three GIGANTIC pancakes, but you can get one-third and two-thirds portion sizes at reduced prices, which lets you try multiple items. www.thebongoroom.com

                        If you want a lighter breakfast or lunch, also close to the museums is Little Branch Cafe. It's a coffee shop that also cooks food to order. It's not easy to find; it's on the ground floor of one of the residential high-rises. Not a "destination" like Bongo Room, but decent. www.littlebranchcafe.com

                        1. re: nsxtasy

                          You guys are amazing and so patient. Yes, you're absolutely right. If we can't cab it easily back and forth to Lou M's that's just to much walking. Okay. So here's the thing - I've never really liked deep dish pizza, but felt I should give it a fair shake in a place that's known for making it right. Seems blasphemous to go to Chicago and not get a pizza, hot dog and beef sandwich; just like I'd die if you came here and didn't go to at least two bbq joints.

                          I only have three lunches (or breakfasts) and three dinners. I've picked Mag Mile, Shedd, Nat Hist and Art Institute because Austin sux when it comes to that type of thing, BUT I can eliminate one or combine to maximize my time and meals. I'm not married to any of it. Just trying to make as much out of each meal as I possibly can. Cab me as far as you want. Money isn't a problem, but shu-shu has become very generica to me. Seriously, if I see another "foam" or smoke-in-a-jar macro-micro-dish, I'll scream.

                          1. re: amysuehere

                            It's not blasphemous. I've lived here for nearly 20 years and deep dish and Italian beef are just not very good. Chicago dogs are great, but you can get them at the airport. Not mentioned so far is North Pond, a delightful place in Lincoln Park near the zoo with a beautiful view of the park. And delicious food. And it is particularly nice in winter. It's solid, farm-based midwestern food and great service. I think if you want the opposite of Austin (and I LOVE the food in Austin), it might be your best bet. Nsxtasy has given you some great recs too. As usual. No one knows our food scene better than Nsxtasy, from my experience. Austin is sort of our sister city in music and food, and we want you to have a great time here. Also, and too, for shopping, you should check out Wicker Park. Lots of nice little boutiques with individual products. There are some chain stores there too, but most are independent and there are some terrific restaurants there too. Our real city food now is Mexican, but I doubt you need any of ours with the great Tex-mex in Austin.

                            1. re: Pete Oldtown

                              Thanks for the kind words... but I still love our deep dish pizza, one of the top reasons why I love living here. Of course, we all like different things, which is fine!

                              Oh, and I did mention North Pond here, but only in passing, with regard to appropriate attire. I agree with you that it's a very special place, for the food (from James Beard Award winning Chef Bruce Sherman) and especially for the setting and atmosphere (it faces its namesake pond and the city skyline, in a renovated building that once served as a warming shelter for skaters on the pond in winter). It's an experience that is uniquely associated with Chicago, and highly recommended, for visitors and locals alike.

                              1. re: nsxtasy

                                Is it a place where my expected attire is appropriate?

                                1. re: amysuehere

                                  It's a bit dressier than that, more like business casual. Boots and nice sweaters are fine; dark jeans are probably okay if they look (at a glance) like designer dress jeans rather than casual jeans, if that makes sense.

                                  1. re: nsxtasy

                                    Makes sense. The "skinny jeans" (blech! lived through the 80's once, thank you very much) are all the rage here.

                                    Although I'd love to go, (sounds perfect for what we're after) I think it's just a bit out of our range for the time we have.

                  2. As a practical tip, don't wear nice cowboy boots if there's snow on the ground; we salt the hell out of our streets and they'll get trashed.

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: ferret

                      Also bring gloves, a scarf, and a hat. You may not need them, but if you do, you really really do.

                      1. re: tzurriz

                        Check the weather forecast before you leave for here. You'll be able to tell what it will be like. Except for the fact that the lakefront and some downtown sidewalks alongside skyscrapers can get more windy than most other places, and if it's cold, the wind can make it feel worse.

                        I think it's a great time to visit here, as the weather is sometimes nice (sometimes not, but sometimes yes), and the city isn't as crowded as in summertime. :)

                        1. re: nsxtasy

                          Yeah, I'm excited (and not) about the cold. That's what we wanted. We were looking for someplace that actually felt like Christmas. We've been known to wear shorts and go swimming on Christmas day here.

                      2. re: ferret

                        No worries. I've purchased nice "dress" galoshes and have a wool peacoat from my time in Nebraska (what a miserable winter that was). Don't even own a pair of cowboy boots. hehehehe. Thank you for the warning, though. If not for my time in Nebraska, I'd have never known.

                        1. re: amysuehere

                          If the galoshes are the plastic rain kind, get some wool socks. Nothing worse than cold feet. :)

                          Remember, Chicago deep dish pizza bears zero relation to the rest of the nations idea of deep dish. Think of it REALLY as more like a savory, super filling pie than a pizza.

                          1. re: tzurriz

                            Yup. Just fancy golashes. I've got lamb's wool inserts and wool socks, though. Our thoughts are just to cab it everywhere if we're too much of tiddy-babies.

                            So, the only options for pizza would be going to LM's between the aquarium and the museum, which would require a cab. Is it likely we'll be able to easily get a cab both ways?

                            1. re: amysuehere

                              Yes, you can probably get a cab both ways without much trouble... although it could be more difficult to get if it's raining or snowing.

                              1. re: amysuehere

                                You may need those cabs. On my first trip to Chicago from South Carolina one xmas years ago, I brought leather closed-toe shoes and wool dress (thin) socks. I thought that was as much footwear as could possibly be needed if you weren't actually going to play in the snow. Never before or after have i felt that precise sensation in my feet, of being frozen solid to the point that they wouldn't flex enough for me to walk properly. I also learned why people wear earmuffs, i always thought it was for the OUTSIDE of your ears.

                                Anyhow, I just wanted to say my husband insists on going to Portillos every time we hit Chicago, for ever and ever amen. We're hoping to hit Hot Doug's this year as well.

                        2. Tavernita and Barcito next door are also great for tapas (Barcito more tapas, Tavernita large and small plates. You can wear jeans almost anywhere in Chicago. It's more fashionable than hick to do so as long as said jeans aren't Dad or Mom jeans.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: chefcoo

                            >> You can wear jeans almost anywhere in Chicago.

                            I wouldn't go quite that far. There are around six restaurants* (as well as some private clubs) which require or prefer jackets, where jeans would not be appropriate. And there are also quite a few upscale restaurants (such as North Pond and Naha) which specify "business casual", and where jackets are not required but jeans would still not be appropriate.

                            If there's any place where you're not sure of what attire is appropriate, you can always call them and ask.

                            *Alinea, Everest, L2O, Spiaggia, Les Nomades, and TRU