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Please review my list for Christmas-New Years week

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babegourmand Oct 31, 2012 11:04 AM

We are visiting Chicago from Dec 25 till Jan 1. We love restaurants like Au Pied de Cochon in Montreal, Cochon, August and Luke in New Orleans, Incanto and Chez Pannise in SFO and BYOBs in Philadelphia like Audrey Claire, basically unpretentious contemporary or modern-ethnic and pig-centric places. With that in mind, can someone please comment on the list we have for Chicago.

Lunch:
Blackbird
Takashi or Slurping Turtle
Purple Pig
Frontera Grill
Deep Dish Pizza (Uno perhaps or any other suggestions?)
The Peasantry

Dinner:
Girl and the Goat (reserved)
EL Ideas (haven't heard from them yet)
Trencherman (reserved)
Home Bistro
The Publican
Longman and Eagle
Avec
GEB Bistro

We will either be staying near Millennium Park or close to Magnificent Mile and we won't have a car. A short taxi ride is okay. Any suggestions? Thanks very much.

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  1. nsxtasy RE: babegourmand Oct 31, 2012 12:18 PM

    I think this list is okay. Not that I like *every* place on it, but that's okay, different strokes and all that. However, here are a few things you might want to think about.

    I recommend changing your lunch from Frontera Grill to Topolobampo. In case you're not familiar with these, Topolobampo occupies the rear dining room inside Frontera Grill. Topolobampo is more upscale, and dinner prices are significantly higher than at Frontera Grill; however, the lunch prices are virtually identical. Another advantage of Topolobampo is that you can make reservations in advance (do it NOW) on Opentable.com or over the phone. (Frontera Grill only accepts a handful of reservations by phone, and otherwise you'll probably get stuck waiting a long time to be seated.) You can compare their menus and other information at www.rickbayless.com/restaurants

    Your itinerary is also very heavy on Paul Kahan's restaurants, with stops at Blackbird, the Publican, and Avec. Granted, they are different restaurants, but you'll find some similarities, and you may want a bit more variety than that. If I had to rank them, I'd do it in that order - Blackbird first (by far, and the prix fixe lunch is a bargain), then Publican, then Avec. In that same vein, even aside from the emphasis on Kahan, the Iist seems like a lot of similar restaurants (with the exception of Frontera Grill/Topolobampo). If you're open to other suggestions to add more variety, I would consider maybe substituting in Italian (e.g. Piccolo Sogno or Piccolo Sogno Due) or tapas (Mercat a la Planxa) or seafood (GT Oyster & Fish, Shaw's) or French bistro (La Sardine) or maybe even a trip to Chinatown (Lao Sze Chuan). I'd also consider adding in at least one place that's more upscale, as a celebration while you're here; not necessarily a big-buck dress-up place, but rather, maybe North Pond or Naha, which would again add a bit more variety to your itinerary. After all, you're here for eight days, so there's plenty of time to eat what you enjoy most, while still enjoying enough other kinds of food that it doesn't seem like you're eating the same kind of food day after day after day.

    >> Deep Dish Pizza (Uno perhaps or any other suggestions?)

    The original Uno and Due are good, but I think Lou Malnati's and Pizano's are both at least as good. There are similarities to the pizza, which is no coincidence, since they share a family relationship. From north to south, Lou Malnati's has downtown locations in the Gold Coast at State and Rush, near the Merchandise Mart on Wells, and in the South Loop at 8th and State; Pizano's has locations near the Mag Mile on State north of Chicago, and in the Loop on Madison. Also, at both Lou Malnati's and Pizano's (but *not* Uno and Due), you can phone ahead with your pizza order so they'll have it ready when you want it, thereby avoiding the need to wait 30-45 minutes while seated for your pizza to bake.

    Oh, and you don't mention breakfast. We have some terrific breakfast-focused restaurants, including M. Henry, M. Henrietta, Jam, Southport Grocery, and Bongo Room. Beware long waits on weekends, get seated quickly on weekdays.

    HTH!

    28 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy
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      babegourmand RE: nsxtasy Oct 31, 2012 12:55 PM

      Thanks so much. Made a reservation at Topolobampo for lunch. I did not know that Publican, Avec and Blackbird have similarities (I should have paid more attention - their websites very similar). So we are dropping Avec from the list. We will do the prix fixe lunch at Blackbird and a dinner at Publican. The North Pond/Naha suggestion is great - still early to make reservations at North Pond but will do as soon as it opens up. We'd also add Piccolo Sogno to our list.

      New list -

      Lunch:
      Blackbird
      Takashi or Slurping Turtle
      Purple Pig
      Topolobampo (reserved)
      Lou Malnati
      The Peasantry

      Dinner:
      North Pond
      Girl and the Goat (reserved)
      EL Ideas (haven't heard from them yet)
      Trencherman (reserved)
      Piccolo Sogno Due
      The Publican
      Longman and Eagle

      Do any of the good places do deep dish pizza by slice? Don't want to fill up on pizza but do want to try a good Chicago pie. And thanks for the breakfast suggestions too. We had the Pleasant House Bakery in mind (but more for their meat pasties than breakfast).

      1. re: babegourmand
        nsxtasy RE: babegourmand Oct 31, 2012 01:20 PM

        >> Do any of the good places do deep dish pizza by slice?

        Both Lou Malnati's and Pizano's offer an individual-sized pizza. Still, if there are at least two of you, I'd recommend going with their small-sized pizza, which will be a better representation (and one small-sized pizza costs less than two individual-sized pizzas). If you don't like the same toppings, you can get some on one half, others on the other half.

        Oh, and here's a tip about the Publican. About half the seating consists of two loooong communal tables, and the rest are private tables, i.e. the more customary two-, four, and six-tops and a line of corral-like booths. When you make an advance reservation, you can express a preference - either for your own private table or seating at the communal tables - and they will try to honor your preference when they seat you.

        Once you make your hotel reservation, we can advise you on what's nearby, and how to get around (what's walkable, etc). Also if you're willing to take public transit, there may be routes (el/subway) and times (big snowstorms) when it works better than cabs.

        1. re: nsxtasy
          b
          babegourmand RE: nsxtasy Oct 31, 2012 01:36 PM

          Just made a reservation at the Publican and made the request for a private table:-) Good to know about the small-sized pizza and that is what we will order. We just lived through Sandy so the thought of a major weather event during our Chicago visit is shuddering. We plan to be indoors most of the time so we'd be okay. Restaurants and museums are all we are planning for.
          Any suggestions for dinner and fun for new years eve? Thanks again!

          1. re: babegourmand
            nsxtasy RE: babegourmand Oct 31, 2012 02:28 PM

            >> Any suggestions for dinner and fun for new years eve?

            Most restaurants have special plans, often including entertainment and/or dancing. You'll find listings on Opentable (for restaurants that accept reservations on that site, which includes most of the nicer places in Chicagoland) and on Metromix. Most of those plans tend to get announced after Thanksgiving, so you won't find much for a while yet.

            1. re: nsxtasy
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              babegourmand RE: nsxtasy Oct 31, 2012 02:40 PM

              Thanks. I will wait on that. Also any thoughts about EL Ideas? It has been 48 hrs since I e-mailed them for reservations and they don't seem to pick up their phone either. Will it be terrible if we missed it? I seem to be hearing so many good things about EL Ideas and Goosefoot lately.

              1. re: babegourmand
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                danimalarkey RE: babegourmand Oct 31, 2012 02:47 PM

                El Ideas gets lots of love (I haven't been myself) and is one of the more unique dining options in the city, hands down. It's probably just a busy time for them (not that it's an excuse) -- I'd hold out a little longer before giving up.

                Along similar lines, a new restaurant that's also getting great reviews is Elizabeth: https://www.elizabeth-restaurant.com/ . They use the same ticketing system as Next but it should be considerably easier to pick up a table.

                1. re: danimalarkey
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                  babegourmand RE: danimalarkey Oct 31, 2012 02:58 PM

                  How does the ticket thing work? You are not paying when you are buying a ticket , are you? This is new to me. Also there isn't a detailed menu on their website but the rustic menu sounds interesting and isn't too pricey either. Any way of finding out what a typical rustic menu looks like?

                  1. re: babegourmand
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                    danimalarkey RE: babegourmand Oct 31, 2012 03:24 PM

                    The best way to think of tickets in this case is to think of tickets in the theatre sense -- I believe your card is charged once you purchase the tickets and there is no way to get a refund (you can sell your tickets to other people - though the restaurant will not assist/otherwise facilitate this transfer other than to change the names in their system once you give them the word). If/when you make decisions about beverages, you'll get a separate charge.

                    Elizabeth is so new that there aren't any formal reviews I can find. These two links, however, should give you some additional information:
                    http://chicagoist.com/2012/09/25/revi...
                    http://lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?...

        2. re: babegourmand
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          lbs RE: babegourmand Oct 31, 2012 01:23 PM

          If your hotel has a mini-fridge, you can store your leftovers in there. Deep dish sold as slices loses integrity so go for the whole pie. . Personally a slice of cold leftover deep dish pizza is great breakfast - or midnight snack!

          Edited to add: I always think the simpler the better for toppings on deep-dish. Sausage or just cheese for me.

          1. re: lbs
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            babegourmand RE: lbs Oct 31, 2012 01:42 PM

            Thanks! Personally I like my thin crust pizza with cheese and nothing else. Do they make a cheese only deep dish? I don't think I have even seen a deep dish pizza (on TV yes but not in real life!!!). I remember Bourdain liking the deep dish pie at Burt's Place (his opinion it just shouldn't be called pizza). I am keeping an open mind though.

            1. re: babegourmand
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              danimalarkey RE: babegourmand Oct 31, 2012 01:54 PM

              Burt's is definitely tasty -- but without a car, it's not the most accessible destination (it's located ~17 miles northwest of downtown).

              And of course you can order pizza with just cheese! Order what you like!

              1. re: danimalarkey
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                babegourmand RE: danimalarkey Oct 31, 2012 02:28 PM

                No, we wouldn't have gone to Burt's anyway. And everyone seems to agree - either Lou Malnati or Pizano. Makes it easy! :-)

              2. re: babegourmand
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                lbs RE: babegourmand Oct 31, 2012 02:14 PM

                My standby for deep dish pizza ordering is usually just cheese since i like the sauce the best. Followed by sausage. Followed by pepperoni - but the pepperoni usually makes it too salty for me. I also only order deep dish from Pizano's or Malnati's so my preference is based on their style. One or two slices will do ya good.

                1. re: babegourmand
                  nsxtasy RE: babegourmand Oct 31, 2012 02:22 PM

                  Yes, definitely order whatever you like on your pizza. While I don't think it lends itself to a huge number of toppings, I like mine with 2 to 4 toppings.

              3. re: babegourmand
                camusman RE: babegourmand Oct 31, 2012 01:50 PM

                I've had consistency issues at the Trenchermen and would swap it out for Au Cheval.

                1. re: camusman
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                  babegourmand RE: camusman Oct 31, 2012 01:58 PM

                  I can't seem to find a link to Au Cheval's menu. They have great photos on their website but no sample menu!!! Since making reservations at Trencherman I have been reading not-so-flattering things about them! They don't accept reservations either. How difficult/easy is it to get in during peak dinner service?

                  1. re: babegourmand
                    nsxtasy RE: babegourmand Oct 31, 2012 02:21 PM

                    >> I can't seem to find a link to Au Cheval's menu.

                    They have one on Menupages:
                    http://chicago.menupages.com/restaura...

                    1. re: nsxtasy
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                      babegourmand RE: nsxtasy Oct 31, 2012 02:26 PM

                      Thanks! I would swap Trencherman with Au Cheval but they don't accept reservations and someone posted on yelp that they had a 3-hr wait! Is that normal for Au Cheval?

                      1. re: babegourmand
                        camusman RE: babegourmand Oct 31, 2012 02:38 PM

                        If not Au Cheval then perhaps Sable. Especially good for a late dinner.

                        1. re: camusman
                          nsxtasy RE: camusman Oct 31, 2012 05:46 PM

                          I'll second the recommendation for Sable. There are so many things I love about it. The food is outstanding, some of the very best I've had in the entire city. (Don't miss the sweet corn creme brulee, a savory riff on the classic French dessert!) I love the way most of the dishes are available in half portions, so you can try a lot of different items. I love watching Chef Heather Terhune in the open kitchen, chopping and prepping alongside her staff. Those who enjoy craft cocktails will find some of the best bartenders and mixologists in town here. You can make a reservation, over the phone or on Opentable, and it's not crazy booked up all the time. You can come casual or dress up, and you'll fit in either way. The fact that the food prices are surprisingly low is just an added bonus. It's been especially gratifying to see so many recent reports here lauding praise on Sable. Great recommendation! www.sablechicago.com

                2. re: babegourmand
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                  danimalarkey RE: babegourmand Oct 31, 2012 01:51 PM

                  Pleasant House Bakery is amazing and since you'll be in town for so long, I'd say it's worth the trip. If you go later in the afternoon, the neighboring bar, Maria's, should be open. I like to order food from PHB to go and they will bring it to you at Maria's next door. Maria's has some of the best beer and wine in the city -- solid cocktails, too. Alternatively, PHB is BYO and you can shop for bottles at Maria's and bring them into PHB.

                  I wouldn't necessarily ditch avec. Their new chef has been cooking really, really well lately. Lots of vibrant, simple preparations of amazing ingredients. If you have a dinner slot open up, or if it's early afternoon (they open at 3) and you want a glass of wine and a small snack before heading elsewhere, it might work out well for you.

                  Also in the West Loop is Vera, a Spanish wine bar that also serves up great food. The menu is much smaller than at other Spanish restaurants and doesn't read to me quite as much as a typical tapas menu. Still, great Spanish flavors, comfortable room and well-chosen ingredients.

                  Longman & Eagle is up in the Logan Square neighborhood. There are two nearby restaurants that I really like -- Lula Cafe and Yusho. The former has been a real leader in Chicago in the farm-to-table movement with creative entrees and a really interesting wine list. Very casual vibe, it's not the largest room, even with their recent expansion. I'd recommend a reservation, if you can (they also do a killer brunch - but they don't accept reservations for that). Yusho is a small plates kind of place with very strong Japanese influences (it does describe itself as modern yakitori). Their cocktail program is one of the most creative in the city right now and many of the principals are Charlie Trotter alums. They have a fun noodle lunch special on Sundays, but are otherwise only open for dinner.

                  1. re: danimalarkey
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                    babegourmand RE: danimalarkey Oct 31, 2012 02:09 PM

                    Thanks for all the suggestions. Will do the PHB+Maria's during late lunch. I don't want to ditch Blackbird (for lunch) so the choice is between Publican and Avec. If we had to ditch one, would you suggest ditching Publican then?
                    Would you also recommend swapping a noodle lunch at Slurping Turtle for Yusho in case we can't do both? Vera's menu looks good, not typical tapas but I would say Jose Garces style menu perhaps. We will check it out. Thanks so much!

                    1. re: babegourmand
                      nsxtasy RE: babegourmand Oct 31, 2012 02:26 PM

                      >> the choice is between Publican and Avec. If we had to ditch one, would you suggest ditching Publican then?

                      I would stick with Publican and ditch Avec. Especially if you're going at a prime dining hour, since the Publican accepts reservations and Avec doesn't. If it's an off hour (like late afternoon, say before 5:30) that won't matter as much.

                      1. re: nsxtasy
                        b
                        babegourmand RE: nsxtasy Oct 31, 2012 02:33 PM

                        That makes the decision easy!

                        1. re: babegourmand
                          nsxtasy RE: babegourmand Oct 31, 2012 05:41 PM

                          P.S. One other thing where Publican has the advantage over Avec: assuming you prefer private tables, you can request them at Publican. At Avec, the *only* seating option is communal seating - either at the bar, or at eight-tops.

                        2. re: nsxtasy
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                          danimalarkey RE: nsxtasy Oct 31, 2012 02:37 PM

                          Agreed -- if only because the Publican accepts reservations, I'd go with them. Also, I'd also take a look at Publican's brunch menu (I don't htink that's been suggested yet - apologies otherwise). It leans a little heavy on the savory side, but, personally, that's how I like to eat. Note that they have different menus for Saturdays and Sundays.

                          For Slurping Turtle versus Yusho... you know, part of it may just come down to what's more convenient for you. Yusho is ~5 miles from downtown and you may not have the time (or itnerest) to be traveling back and forth. If you do just want noodles, I'd go with ST; but if you want a meal with more options (and drinks!), I would go with Yusho. Yusho also accepts reservations (though ST does, too, for parties of 5 or more).

                          1. re: danimalarkey
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                            babegourmand RE: danimalarkey Oct 31, 2012 02:55 PM

                            One of the reasons we were thinking of ST was that we liked what Takashi was doing on Top Chef Masters. There are so many other places now that we want to try, we might have to forgo ST.

                            1. re: babegourmand
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                              danimalarkey RE: babegourmand Oct 31, 2012 03:21 PM

                              I think that if you really want to try Takashi's food, I would go to his namesake restaurant in Bucktown (just a few miles NW of Chicago). Definitely a little more formal, but still hardly fussy or even all that upscale, it's a great mix of French and Japanese flavors and techniques.

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