MK , TRU, Sprout, Moto
I would rank them, if money is not an option, Moto, Sprout, Tru, MK. I was very skeptical upon going to Moto as I thought it would be too gimicky but I was blown away at how good the food was.
Sprout was a restaurant a friend wanted to go to and again I was blown away at how good the food was, previous posts about it being more casual are absolutely correct, do not expect any sort of white glove service beyond your typical restaurant.
Tru is a little too stuffy for me, although if you like impeccable service this is definitely a place to try as it is like nothing I have ever experienced before.
Finally MK, my least favorite. All in all just overpriced moderate food.
If you are going with a group who wants to have a fun time I would strongly recommend Moto.
I count dinner at Moto as one of my most enjoyable meals -especially if you group has a sense of humor. Our table had so much fun with each new course - and we also really loved the food. It all depends on the mood you're aiming for. I've also enjoyed Sprout and appreciated the casual atmosphere paired with toughtul dishes. Naha is always one of my favorites for truly fine food with such warm service.
Those are four excellent restaurants. Moto is the most unique and fun of the bunch, but depending on your preferences may or may not be up your alley. Moto has a tasting menu only (usually about 15 courses for $175).The other three on your list have a al carte or tasting menu options. The food at Moto is extremely modern and artistically presented and uses the infusion of smells to impact the taste on some courses as well as several dishes appear to be one thing, but are really something else. They fairly recently added a top notch pastry chef (Claire Crenshaw) and Top Chef contestant Richie Farina is running the kitchen; I really enjoyed my last meal there.
Tru would be the best choice if you want something more a mixture of modern and traditional. Outstanding food and service and a much more formal (but not stuff) ambiance than at Moto (which has the a more whimsical ambiance where you feel as though you are participating in a science lab experimenting with food).
MK is a less expensive option that is more of a traditional fine dining type experience. Great menu, service and food. Definitely a formal atmosphere.
Sprout is a more casual venue; modern food (though not much in the way of molecular gastronomy like at Moto). There are cool presentations and clever ingredient combinations. Service is not generally as polished here though as at the other three venues.
Just to add to Gonzo's excellent (as usual) comments...
TRU is much more upscale than the others. It's the only one of the four that fits in the truly high-end haute cuisine genre, with formal attire (jackets required for gentlemen, the only one of these four for which that is true) and ambiance. The outstanding service he/she mentioned includes many waitstaff looking after your every need. And the food is wonderful. When I ate there earlier this year, it was around $250 per person including moderate alcohol and tax/tip. IIRC we all ordered a la carte. It also included several complimentary amuses bouches and mignardises.
Sprout is indeed more casual, and service not as polished. I wasn't wowed by the food; it was competent, but not memorable. When I ate there earlier this year, it was around $100 per person inclusive, and again, IIRC we all ordered a la carte.
It's been a couple of years since I ate at Moto. It too is more casual. The presentation is really "out there", with gimmicky tricks with the food that seem to be as much entertaining theater as merely food. (For example, they will present a dish that looks like one thing, but is actually made from and tastes like something else.) Because of the emphasis on presentation as theater, it is sometimes compared with Alinea; however, for me, the big difference is, at Alinea, each dish has a unique presentation and is also amazingly and utterly delicious, whereas at Moto, the presentation is unique, but I didn't find the food to be as tasty. (Like Sprout, I didn't think the food was *bad*, but it didn't wow me and wasn't memorable for being delicious.)
It's been even longer since I've been to MK, but at that time the food was very very good (second best in this group) and the atmosphere was very nice. I wouldn't use the term "formal atmosphere" for MK, because the attire is quite relaxed (you'll see few if any jackets; Opentable calls it "smart casual", which is usually a step below their "business casual", two steps down from "jackets preferred/required").
Here's how I view them in relation to others of their genre. TRU is an outstanding high-end restaurant, one of the very best anywhere; if you want to go high-end, it's an excellent choice, but many folks aren't looking for the high price tag or the formal attire. Based on my experience a while ago, MK is an excellent upscale mid-priced contemporary American restaurant, often overlooked in favor of North Pond, Naha, and Blackbird (for no particular reason). Sprout, I consider to be more of an "if you're in the neighborhood restaurant" rather than a "destination restaurant" - decent but not really a standout in any way. Moto is a place to go if you want to see molecular gastronomy on display for the fun of it, but not so much for really terrific food. (I've also eaten at Takashi and was disappointed; not a single dish was impressive, even though we were passing plates among the four of us so I tried a lot of things.)
BOTTOM LINE: If you want to go high-end, TRU is outstanding. If you want something less formal and less expensive, MK might be a good choice, but my recent meals at North Pond and Naha make them an easier recommendation for me. Both have outstanding food; both chefs are James Beard Award winners. In addition, North Pond has its exquisite location in the middle of the park. Naha provides the closest thing you'll find to a high-end experience without the formal dress code; it's business casual, jackets optional.
Another opinion heard from.
I am not a fan of Moto. The food is "interesting" and creative, but I don't know that all the technology they add to the food actually enhances it. Sometimes it feels like innovation because they can and not because it makes it taste better. Gonzo's description of a science lab is pretty accurate.
I also totally agree with Gonzo about Tru. It is both formal and comfortable. The food is superb and creative and well worth the trip. Service is impecable.
I was at MK several months ago. While the food was perfectly well prepared and service flawless, I wasn't blown away by the food. It was good. It wasn't awesome and I don't even remember what I ate. It is less expensive than either Tru or Moto.
I enjoy Sprout a lot. It is rather casual. The food tends to be de-constructed classics and interesting variations on what you might expect. It can be a lot of fun. When we were there there were several other Top Chef contestants there (the chef is Dale Levitski).
I will add that we just ate at Takashi with friends, Takashi is Takashi Yagihashi's comfortable but upscale restaurant in Bucktown. It was startlingly good from start to finish. Strong Japanese influence, but not in any way a Japanese restaurant. There is a tasting menu and also an a la carte (we ordered off the latter). Highly recommended.
I guess it all depends on what you are looking for for your Black Friday "celebration."