Suggestions for Dinner Alone on a Sunday or Monday Night
- Davedigger Nov 21, 2012 04:49 PM
I'm coming into town a few days early for some meetings and hoped to have a great meal one of those nights.
I would love to return to Alinea, but with the ticketing system in place now, I would have to spend double the money since they "sell tables, not seats". Same thing with Next. Goosefoot and Moto fit the bill, but they're not open either night. So, I currently have a reservation for L2O.
Does L2O have an atmosphere in which a solo diner would feel comfortable? Does anyone have any better suggestions? I'm staying near the John Hancock Tower, will eat pretty much anything and would prefer a tasting menu, if that helps narrow it down.
>> Does L2O have an atmosphere in which a solo diner would feel comfortable?
>> Does anyone have any better suggestions?
Yes - TRU, for a Monday night. www.trurestaurant.com IMHO right now it's as good as any restaurant I've been to in Chicagoland, with the exception of Alinea. First runner-up for a Monday night would be Naha, which is also pretty darn great. www.naha-chicago.com Both are closed Sundays.
For a Sunday night, I recommend North Pond. The food is terrific, and the setting in the middle of the park is exquisite. www.northpondrestaurant.com Closed Mondays.
One other place worth considering is Spiaggia, our only truly high-end Italian restaurant, which is open 7 days a week. www.spiaggiarestaurant.com
I was waffleing between L2O and North Pond and went with L2O because Monday is a little more convenient. I have them both booked now and will try to decide, unless you have a definitive answer for me. ;-)
I had looked at Tru, but nothing is available during my stay. Spiaggia is too expensive. I could buy that table for 2 at Alinea for that price. lol! Oh, and it didn't seem that Naha had a tasting menu.
Nsxtasy made some great recommendations; I have couple things to add.
Boka has become one of my favorite venues and they would be a decent place for a single diner - they have some of the best service in the city (if not the best) and outstanding food as well. They offer both a la carte and two sizes of tasting menu (and do a great job customizing the tasting menu to match dietary preferences/aversions). Awesome cocktails too. They have a very nice bar area (and can order food from the bar), so you could opt to do that or at a table.
With regards to Alinea, they do actually try to accommodate a couple of single diners each day, but it can't be booked in advance. You have to e-mail them ( firstname.lastname@example.org) the morning you want to dine and I believe they get back to you some time in the afternoon if they can accommodate; you are only charged for one person if selected. They are open Sunday, but not Monday.
Keep your eye on Tru to see if something pops up; I agree with Nsxtasy that they are outstanding - they are one of my top six restaurants in Chicago (as are Boka and Alinea). I also love North Pond, not quite as much as Tru and Boka, but still North Pond is great and love the setting there. Naha I had a mediocre experience at, but only went once so likely was an off night as most people speak very highly of Naha.
I still wouldn't rule out TRU. You might try phoning them about availability. I say that for a couple of reasons. One is, sometimes restaurants have a few tables that they hold back from Opentable. Another is, even if the dining room shows as full, they may be able to accommodate you as a single diner, especially if you're willing to be seated at the bar.
Spiaggia isn't all that expensive unless you get their special white truffle tasting menu, which must be what you looked at. Unless you're a big fan of white truffles, you can order a la carte or ask them to put together a non-truffle tasting menu, and it won't be any more expensive than TRU, and certainly less than Alinea for one, let alone two. If the rest of the menu doesn't appeal to you, that's something else, but don't rule it out because you think they price all dinners like that one special menu.
I've been to Boka and liked it quite a bit, but I don't think of it as anywhere near the same category of fine dining as the other places mentioned here. The food is mostly very good, but it's really not the kind of place where most people get the tasting menu. And the level of service is indeed very good - the staff is well-trained - but it's not the higher-end service where there are multiple servers per table and you feel really pampered. If you're looking for a good "casual finer dining" contemporary American restaurant with a lively neighborhood bistro feel to it, Boka is quite a good one (we have quite a few other good ones too), but it sounds like you're looking for a restaurant that is more chef-driven, more creative, with tasting menus as the norm, and that's *not* what Boka is all about. (One other note about Boka - the original chef was Giuseppe Tentori, who went on - still within the Boka Restaurant Group - to open GT Fish & Oyster. It's an excellent place for a somewhat casual lunch or dinner; they serve seafood in a small plates format, and do a nice job with craft cocktails.)
I think North Pond is a great option - not only for the setting in the park, but also for Chef Sherman's style of cooking. A typical dish there is plated as a main item surrounded by 4-6 other items, instead of a composed item with multiple ingredients. I find that even if I don't love everything on the plate, some of the things will truly wow me. I'm a bit hesitant to make a comparison with L2O because I only went to L2O under the previous chef (Gras); although I wasn't that impressed, I'm sure it has changed under the new regime, so I can't really say anything about the food now.
Incidentally, one other fine-dining option is Sixteen. They are sort of in the same fine dining category, with tasting menus and pampering waitstaff, but they're still developing. (They just brought in Lents and Fahy in the kitchen this past summer.) I ate there a week ago and thought it was fairly good but the food had a fair number of misses as well as hits, and the service was not quite as polished and flawless as one should expect, which is why it wasn't at the top of my list.
You could do that. I would suggest also phoning the restaurants (at least, your first choice for each night) ahead of time and discussing with them what you'd like to do and what your chances are of getting in. As I mentioned, maybe they can do something for you - like at TRU maybe reserving you a place in the lounge as a backup in case a table doesn't become available. (Incidentally, my understanding is that jackets are not required in the lounge at TRU, unlike the main dining room.)
Don't just "toss around" Sixteen - having now dined extensively in Chicago (and at all of the restaurants you listed plus many more at various times) I can say that aside from Alinea and my visit to L2o (under Gras) it is the best meal I've had in Chicago. My blog is extensively behind, but I dined at Sixteen on 11/14/12 and can honestly say it is high Michelin 2*/ low Michelin 3* quality in every way except MAYBE for the service.
My dinner at Sixteen this month would never, ever qualify for anything more than one star from the folks at Michelin. Some things were hits (like the kombucha soup), but so many were misses - from the dreadful popcorn amuse bouche all the way through the skimpy, lackluster desserts and the ho-hum chocolate mignardises - that it was in no way comparable to the superb experience expected at places that have (or should have) two or three Michelin stars, like TRU or Alinea.
I tried the courses presented to my companion diners and we ordered different things, so I actually tried 10-12 of those same 16 courses (almost all of which were available on the 4-course prix fixe menu), plus all the amuses bouches and mignardises. There were some things to like, but plenty more that weren't. My dinner there was decent enough, not dreadful, but absolutely nothing like the amazing dinners I've had at TRU, Alinea, Eleven Madison Park, Per Se, or other 2* and 3* places.
That is too bad. I'm certainly not claiming it is yet up to the level of Per Se or Alinea - and certainly not some of the higher level 2* spots in NY (Corton) or SF (benu, Saison) but I enjoyed it far more than meals at Jean Georges, Manresa, Meadowood, and others in the 2-3* range. Admittedly I need to get back to TRU under the current chef - L2o as well - but for my dining dollar it currently ranks just ahead of EL Ideas as my second favorite fine dining spot in the city.
I think you could email Alinea ASAP if you are a solo diner with only one date available while you are in town; also you can try to join a group with an empty seat via their Facebook Page.
In response to a query about single diners, Nick Kokonas posted this on the Alinea Facebook Page:
What we actually do is this (probably more detail than you want, but transparency is important to me):
Single diners experience the menu in under 2.5 hours usually, whereas a table of 4 takes about 3:15 on average and a table of 6 just shy of 4 hours -- with some going well over. Why? Well we don't use heat lamps in the kitchen to hold food, we don't plate food if a diner is 'up' from the table, and of course with a table of 6 at any given moment someone is more likely to be outside smoking or using the restroom. We book 1 or 2 tables every 15 minutes between 5:30 and 7:30 at which time every seat is full. Given the time difference in party size, once we have the full template for the night, we can often place a single diner at a table on the early or late side knowing that having an 'extra' table or two works for the single diners.
BTW: we keep every 'ticket' from the expediters station in the kitchen, so we could tell you how long it took to serve your third course and how long you spent on the cell phone in the bathroom waiting area in 2006. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NjoYQd... Please watch this video... and yes that's our sous chef Rene from Next! Guy's a rock star chef, and worked nearly every position at Alinea from runner to expo to chef to learn the biz.
Again, at a restaurant that is not full every night there is no need to address these issues -- they can seat a single diner at any table, any time. We've thought long and hard about how to accommodate single diners -- and there is a long tradition of honoring the single diner at Michelin 3* restaurants (little secret: at the VERY high end places single diners get bumps) -- and this allows us the most flexibility in accommodating them without hurting the business of the restaurant and while accommodating the largest number of people we can to dine with us.
What we will do is gather up all of the single diner requests then see if we can slot them in. Keep in mind that for a given night we might get 10 or 20 such requests and only be able to accommodate 1 or 2.
We do in fact prioritize for: visiting chefs, visiting industry professionals, credible press (never anyone who asks for a comp in exchange for press), and regulars who have dined with us more than 25 times over the last 7 years. After that, it simply luck of the draw. Bourdain's wife would get in (she said we were the best dinner ever), Bourdain himself I'm not so sure.
Interesting. The response I received to my request last week was a hard and fast 'NO':
On Wed, Nov 14, 2012 at 8:48 PM, <audrey> wrote:
I will be in Chicago on December 2nd and am wondering if you can accommodate single diners. I tried using your ticketing tool, but the option was not available.
I dined at your restaurant last year with a colleague and have been looking forward to visiting again, so this opportunity would be welcomed.
On Thurs, Nov 15, 2012 at 12:15 PM, <email@example.com> wrote:
Thank you for inquiring about purchasing tickets to Alinea. As it stands, when you purchase a ticket to Alinea, you are actually purchasing a table, which is why we typically do not offer single tickets or tickets in odd numbers.You may certainly dine with an odd number of guests, but the price at which the table is offered will not change.
Alinea 1723 N Halsted Chicago IL 60614 www.alinearestaurant.com
I will most definitely check out the Facebook page to see if I have better luck there. Thanks!
Unfortunately I have nothing to report on where I went or how I liked it. I came down with a cold and was holed up in my hotel room the past 2 days, ordering delivery and room service.
I did have a quite delicious pizza from Ranalli's though. ;-)