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Reservation Head's-Up

Twin Cities foodie coming to Chicago in April. Looking for a recommendation at a place we can secure a reservation for a Friday night. Like food more than the scene or name. Willing to splurge. Suggestions, Chicago?

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  1. I'm going to save nsxtasy the trouble and ask the follow-up questions: what kind of food do you like? Do you have a cuisine in mind? Looking for a tasting menu? Etc.

    7 Replies
    1. re: lamb_da_calculus

      OK, got a serious cook at home, so tend to like an experience a home cook would generally not be able to re-create. We typically cook American/French/Italian. That being said, if there is a can't miss French restaurant, let us know. Love tasting menus. Big tapas fans.

      1. re: homeihead

        Alinea's (https://content.alinearestaurant.com/...) the very best Chicago has to offer but is 1. pricey ($>200 before tax, tip, wine) and 2. not easy to reserve (see here for more information about that: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/856496). It's also probably the longest tasting menu around at ~20 courses. If you want "best meal ever" material this place seems to do it a lot.

        From what I've read Tru (http://www.trurestaurant.com/) is a step down, but is still a very, very good restaurant and probably the next best thing. The tasting menu is not as elaborate (~10 courses, as far as I can tell) but costs a bit less at $150.

        El Ideas (http://elideas.com/) is an unusual place in that it's sort of a restaurant/dinner-party hybrid where chefs and guests can serve. The food is probably near the caliber of the above restaurants but the atmosphere is much more casual. Maybe the most "interesting" place on this list. Also a little cheaper, ~$130 for its tasting menu.

        As far as small plates go, lots of people around here seem to like Sable (http://www.sablechicago.com/), at which you could eat well for less than half the price of the above places. However, the first three places on this list are firmly in "can't replicate at home" territory, and Sable isn't (not to say that it's not good, but Alinea, Tru, and El Ideas simply have resources that almost all home cooks don't).

        (Note that all of this is the result of my reading about these places, on Chowhound and blogs, for a while; I've never been to any of them.)

        1. re: lamb_da_calculus

          These are some good recommendations. I will add a few more:

          Moto is restaurant with a similar style to Alinea (molecular gastronomy, long tasting menu with extremely creative and beautiful food), but is much easier to score a reservation than Alinea (and a bit less expensive too). Moto has been improving greatly of late and is worth considering if you want a whimsical but high end dining experience.

          Tru is a great choice if you want a more traditional high end experience. Similar to Tru (but emphasizing seafood) is L20. Sixteen (in Trump Tower) is another high end venue with a lengthy tasting menu - but IMHO is not quite at the level of Tru or L2O (though likely will get there - they are still evolving). Sixteen has great views of the city (it is on the 16th floor of Trump Tower). Everest would be the best choice for high end French cuisine; also great views and long tasting menu available but some find it a bit old fashioned and some complain about the service not being up to par for the pricetag.

          El Ideas can also be a bit of a challenge to score a reservation for (especially on a weekend). Elizabeth is a somewhat similar vibe (in that there is an open kitchen and lots of interaction with the chefs), but is easier to score a reservation. The chef/owner (Iliana Regan) forages/grows/hunts/fishes for a large amount of the ingredients used in the meal. There are three different tasting menus, each different length and pricepoint. Like Alinea you buy tickets instead of make a reservation, but it is not too heard to score tickets with some advance planning.

          If you are looking for somewhat less expensive venues (or less formal - Tru, Alinea and L2O are all dressy) Boka or North Pond (both contemporary American) are good choices; great menus and food but not crazy expensive. Easy to reserve both of these venues on Open Table. North Pond has a beautiful setting too (inside Lincoln Park with views of the skyline, park and pond).

          Goosefoot is one of my favorite venues, but reservations for April are likely already booked up - they feature a single nine course tasting menu and in terms of food quality alone IMHO it is the best tasting food in Chicago.

        2. re: homeihead

          In addition to your big blowout meal (hopefully at Alinea, one of my favorite places), how about some Mexican (Bayless?) or Asian (would recommend Yusho)? Or molecular cocktails at The Aviary?

          Alinea just released tickets for February a few days ago. They'll probably do April in early March. I'd make sure I has a backup plan given that the other similar options book up earlier than that.

          1. re: kathryn

            what are your favorite things at yusho? im going in 2 weeks.

            1. re: prcentauri

              Here's my trip report and a more recent one:
              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/859890
              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/885445

            2. re: kathryn

              >> I'd make sure I has a backup plan given that the other similar options book up earlier than that.

              A backup plan (or even a backup reservation) is always a good idea. It's a good idea to make reservations as far ahead of time as you can, as soon as you know where you want to go. (You can always change or cancel if needed.) That being said, most of the places mentioned above are not that hard to get reservations for, and don't fill up their book two months out.

        3. Lots of great advice has already been posted here, particularly by lamb and gonzo. Just to add a few comments... And I'll quote prices including moderate alcohol and tax/tip, based on what I've paid (I'm sure everyone knows that these can vary, especially based on alcohol, and that you can get a good idea of pricing from menus on the websites of most places).

          Alinea is indeed the "best of the best", widely considered the best restaurant in the country. It's not just a dinner - it's an experience for a lifetime. Expect to pay upwards of $300/pp inclusive.

          Just below that, the places that have impressed me the most include TRU, Acadia, and Naha (all of which I've been to in the past year or so), as well as North Pond, Everest, and Spiaggia. TRU, Everest, and Spiaggia are in the $200-250ish range and are more formal (jackets required for gentlemen), while the other three are $100-130ish and business casual is acceptable. I'll also note that Acadia is only one year old and hasn't been mentioned yet, but it really is at that high level of food. I've been somewhat less impressed with recent meals at Sixteen, Goosefoot, and Sprout, all of which were good but didn't have one dish after another that truly "wowed" me the way the first six did. I haven't been to El Ideas, and I've only been to L2O under the previous chef.

          Of the other places mentioned thus far, I've liked Boka, and I love Sable. But they are really not the kind of high-end tasting menu kind of place, which it sounds like you're specifically looking for. Boka is $100ish and you can do nicely at Sable on $40-60. There are lots of excellent mid-priced restaurants here - others include GT Fish & Oyster, Nightwood, and Piccolo Sogno, just to mention three - but again, here I'm just throwing names around without any connection to your specific desires.

          You DID mention tapas, though. Our best tapas restaurant is Mercat a la Planxa, and it is indeed excellent.

          All of the places named here accept reservations over the phone, and I believe all except Alinea and el Ideas also do so on Opentable. Some are tougher reservations to snag than others, but if you try making reservations now for April, you shouldn't have too much trouble.

          Feel free to ask more questions!

          1. Of those mentioned in this thread I'd recommend Alinea but getting a ressie can be an issue. Tru was outstanding recently. The same weekend we went to Sixteen. The food was excellent and the staff really, really tried. There were minor timing issues and some relatively minor issues with wine service. In short, the service seemed a bit confused at times. Sixteen seems to be a bit of a work in progress. But again, the staff really did put forth the effort.

            We love L2O, too, so I wouldn't dismiss them, either.

            1. Wow! I'm not familiar with tickets- It looks like you buy and pay for the meal whether you show up or not? I don't think I want to risk it coming from out of town, nor did I realize the fare would be upwards $300/p! I saved up two years to get to Komi in DC (totally worth it) but given just a few months away, my "splurge" will be more in the $75-100/p. That said, Boka, Sable, and the Bayless restaurants look good - Boka's menu is intreaging, and well, we just like Bayless. We won't have dressy clothes with us. So, sorry to have to scale back. Any new thoughts, or are the places suggested above good to go? I'll make reservations in next week or so, and promise I'll follow up! Thanks for your advice - 'hounders rarely disappoint!

              1 Reply
              1. re: homeihead

                Well, you said "willing to splurge", LOL! Note that there are only three restaurants in Chicago that use a ticketing system, and only one that typically costs $300+/pp (although there are another half dozen in the $200+ range). And only about 6-8 which require dressy attire (e.g. jackets for gentlemen).

                Boka and Topolobampo should both come in around $100/pp including moderate alcohol and tax/tip (assuming you order a la carte at Topo and not the tasting menu). Sable is typically $60-70 and Frontera Grill $75-90. They're all good choices!