Lincoln Park area
I'll be staying in the Lincoln Park area the first weekend of November and need a quick suggestion on a nice place to have a dinner alone. I usually stay in the Mag mile area so this area is really new to me.
This is an early 30th birthday present to myself so price is not an issue :)
Perennial Virant specializes in small plates of contemporary American cuisine. It's fairly casual and not terribly expensive ($75ish including a drink/tax/tip). www.perennialchicago.com
North Pond also does contemporary American, and its setting inside the park is exquisite. It's fairly upscale and somewhat more expensive ($100ish inclusive). www.northpondrestaurant.com
If I were giving myself a birthday present, I'd choose North Pond.
I agree with Nsxtasy that North Pond is a nice choice. A couple of other options to consider would be Boka and sister restaurant Balena. Boka is Michelin starred, but is laid back and vibrant rather than stuffy - they have outstanding cocktails (the Weston is my favorite) and excellent modern American cuisine - you can order a la carte or do a customized tasting menu (you tell your server your likes and dislikes and they create a tasting menu based on your preferences). Boka is in the same ballpark as North Pond in terms of price; not as beautiful a setting but more modern and the food is on par and service is IMHO even better at Boka.
Balena is less expensive and fairly casual and features modern Italian cuisine. There are gourmet pizzas, charcuterie, pastas with some interesting components and more. Balena is also known for great cocktails.
I like Boka a lot. The vibe is "lively neighborhood bistro" (to whatever extent a restaurant next door to Alinea can be a neighborhood place, LOL!). And it's one of those places where they really know what they're doing, so that the overall experience is better than any one thing. I've noticed that their service is indeed stellar. The only thing that didn't wow me there was (were?) the desserts.
Location may or may not make any difference to you, but North Pond and Perennial Virant are to the east in/near the park, whereas Boka and Balena are both further west, on Halsted.
All of these places are very good (I haven't been to Balena FWIW) but if I had to choose just one, it would be North Pond, for the food as well as the setting.
One more thing. If you enjoy great bakeries - either for pastries or for breads - two of Chicago's best are in Lincoln Park, about four blocks from each other: Floriole ( www.floriole.com ) and Vanille Patisserie ( www.vanillepatisserie.com ).
If you're staying at the Hotel Lincoln ( just a guess) Perennial is right there. They also have a superb coffee shop called Elaine's with La Colombe coffee. Just two blocks away is a lovely new French bakery for snacks, lunch etc - LaFournette and the bus to Michigan Ave is Los right nearby.
I've become a big Perennial fan - really super flavors, food hyper local - just a great spot.