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Montreal Hounds Doing Chicago

My buddy and I (dudes, early 40's) from Montreal are huge foodies and will be headed to chicago for 72 hours of the city's finest. Rec's?

Unlimited budget, but atmosphere, variety and quality all count. From the finest white tablecloth to the do-not-miss hole in the wall, let's hear about 'em!

We're staying in NMA area, no car, so looking for spots within walking distance/public transit or 15 minute cab ride.

Merci!

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  1. NMA? Um, North Michigan Avenue, I think? By which you mean Magnificent Mile?

    When are you going to be in Chicago? What days of the week?

    Some of the upscale restaurants you might be interested are closed on Sundays, Mondays, and/or Tuesdays.

    Also at least two very popular restaurants (Girl and the Goat, Frontera Grill) book up many months in advance. Other restaurants only sell prepaid tickets for even numbered parties (Next, Alinea, Elizabeth, for example). How big is your group? Just two?

    How long would you be willing to wait for a table (or dine at 5 or 10pm)? A lot of the popular "foodie" destinations don't take reservations.

    Have you done any research already? What interests you?

    See also:
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/879642
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/886038
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/841359
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/871076

    1 Reply
    1. re: kathryn

      >> NMA? Um, North Michigan Avenue, I think? By which you mean Magnificent Mile?

      Yeah, I had to figure that one out too!

      >> Also at least two very popular restaurants (Girl and the Goat, Frontera Grill) book up many months in advance.

      We do have some restaurants that book up many months in advance, including the dinner-only Girl & the Goat. The situation at Frontera Grill is a bit more complicated. There are three Rick Bayless restaurants at that location. Topolobampo is more upscale (more expensive for dinner, about the same for lunch) and occupies a dining room inside Frontera Grill. If you eat at the bar at Frontera Grill, you can order from either menu, Frontera's or Topolobampo's. XOCO is around the corner and a good place for a snack, but the food is more along the lines of street food, not as creative or unusual as Frontera Grill or Topolobampo, so I would recommend one of those rather than XOCO.

      Topolobampo takes reservations including on Opentable; dinner reservations book up shortly after they become available three months out, whereas lunch reservations continue to be available until 2-3 weeks beforehand. Frontera Grill takes only a limited number of reservations, only over the phone, and keeps most of the room available for walk-in traffic. Waiting times to be seated can be horrific, but you can avoid the worst by arriving 15-20 minutes before they open the doors. My advice: for lunch, make a reservation at Topolobampo; for dinner, if you can eat early, go to Frontera Grill before they open the doors, and otherwise, make a reservation at Mexique. Note, Frontera/Topo are closed Sundays and Mondays; Mexique is closed Mondays.

    2. For the best of the best, of Chicago and perhaps the US, consider Alinea. They sell "tickets" in advance via their website, www.alinearestaurant.com. I know people have had an issue purchasing tickets with foreign credit cards, and there is a solution, but I don't remember it, so perhaps someone else will post.

      Somehow I get the hunch you'd like El Ideas, www.elideas.com, for a wonderful tasting menu menu in a uniquely interactive and casual setting. It's BYOB, so head to a liquor store near your hotel, take a cab, and have fun.

      There are several other highly-rated, top-dollar places in town (eg, Tru, Everest, Naha, North Pond, Sixteen, Acadia, L2O, Moto, Topolobampo, Grace), and others will elaborate on them.

      I'd also strongly recommend spending some time in the West Loop, probably about 3km from your hotel. For restaurants, consider the Publican, Au Cheval, La Sirena Clandestina, Girl and the Goat, Little Goat, or Ing.

      You probably also don't get much Southern (U.S.) style cooking where you are, so if you don't travel to the States often, I recommend Carriage House (also good cocktails), or Table 52, owned by celebrity chef Art Smith; not the most happening place these days, but the complementary biscuits are amazing and the restaurant is a decent version of the genre. We also have some good barbeque, including Lillie's Q, and Chicago q (the latter would be a doable walk from Michigan Ave). There are other good places in town, but probably not worth the commute for you. On the other hand, if you are a frequent traveler to this country, stick to what Chicago does best, and forget about this paragraph!

      Other genres to seek out: Chicago specialties of deep dish or pan pizza, Italian beef sandwiches, and hot dogs. These might make better lunch than dinner choices for you. We also have very good Mexican food, from Michelin stars to mom-and-pop places where little English is spoken.

      Check out the threads on breakfast or brunch; you'll get excellent food and have time to explore the city before going out to dinner.

      For a tasty snack, go to Garrett's Popcorn, in the tourist zones or at O'Hare, especially for the "Chicago Mix" of cheese popcorn and caramel corn. At O'Hare I also like Vosges Haut-Chocolat, for airplane snacks or gifts for friends back home.

      Have a great trip!

      1. In addition to the info provided above, check out this discussion, which tells what foods and places are unique or specialties in Chicago, foods that Chicago is particularly good at:

        first time Chicago - www.chow.com/topics/693477

        If I had to name three "don't miss" items for a three-day visit to Chicago, they would be (a) a high-end dinner, preferably Alinea, with TRU my second choice; (b) a contemporary Mexican lunch or dinner, such as at Topolobampo/Frontera Grill or Mexique; and (c) deep-dish pizza at Lou Malnati's or Pizano's. If Alinea ($300+/pp) or TRU ($200-250/pp) are too pricey and/or you don't like getting dressed up at a jackets-required place, I'd consider substituting North Pond, Naha, or Acadia (all $100-130/pp). If I were staying along the Mag Mile, I'd add in lunch or dinner at Sable, which has terrific food in a small plates format at bargain prices, as well as great craft cocktails.

        Transportation notes: From the Mag Mile, TRU, Topolo/Frontera, Naha, Malnati's at State and Rush, Pizano's on State, and Sable are all a short walk away. Alinea is a mile and a half northwest of the north end of the Mag Mile (I'd take a cab, although the CTA Red Line stop at North/Clybourn is close by). North Pond is two miles north (cab or CTA #151 bus). Acadia is three miles south (cab or #3 CTA bus down Michigan Avenue). Mexique is two miles west (#66 CTA bus runs along Chicago Avenue).

        2 Replies
        1. re: nsxtasy

          Since nsxtasy was giving you don't misses, make sure you pick up som Garrett's Chicago Mix Popcorn. When it's warm, nectar of god's. My cutoff on the wait (there are 4 stores in general downtown are) is about 20 minutes. The Mag Mile store can have 30 minute plus waits.

          1. re: jbontario

            Yes, Garrett's Popcorn is definitely a "don't miss", and a great recommendation by jbontario. They have caramel popcorn (with or without cashews or pecans), cheese popcorn, and the "Chicago mix" of caramel and cheese. Waits vary by time of day, day of the week, weather, etc.

            And in case you don't get a chance to stop at one of their stores downtown, they have stores in Terminal 1 and Terminal 3 at O'Hare, where the popcorn is freshly made too and I have never seen any waits at all like at the ones downtown. The stores are inside security and in the terminal buildings, not the long concourses. Once you're through security in Terminals 1 through 3, you can walk between any of those terminals without going out of the secure area again. So, for example, if your flight home leaves from Terminal 2 on Air Canada, you could arrive and pass through security in either Terminal 1 or Terminal 3, pick up popcorn there, then walk to your departure gate in T2 without having to go out through security again. (Terminal 5 is some distance away and there is no way to do it without going through security twice, but T5 is mostly overseas flights and I don't think Canadian flights pass through there.) While you're there, T1 and T3 have more/better dining options than T2, such as Rick Bayless's Tortas Fronteras.

        2. And now that I read that you guys are in my general age range and apparent demographic, may I suggest dinner at Au Cheval. I am one of a couple on the board who recommend it and i can't say enough. I've been five times and would go more frequently if I didn't want to have to get a lipitor prescription. Not sure if this link will post correctly here, but their cheeseburger is to die for. Also really like the pork chop and the house-made fried bologna sandwiches melt in your mouth. Check out their FB page for some mouth watering pics.

          http://www.facebook.com/#!/photo.php?...

          and of course, i wish chowhound would add a "like" button since nsxtasy is dead-on with the Garrett's detail.

          1. Thanks for all the replies so far folks. A couple of observations:
            -tickets for reservations? Really?
            -more importantly, either the food is infinitely better than the top resto's here in Montreal, or Chicgoans are getting ripped off. I recently paid $200 per person for a 10 course tasting menu with wine pairings at what was recently ranked as 9th best restaurant in the world. it was outstanding, and made all my previous 5 star dining experiences here pale in comparison--and that's no easy feat in this town! So to hear about $300+ per person in Chicago, well, is it really that much better?

            All this to say, I'd love to hear some rec's of great spots up to the $100-125 per person range. I know they may not be as incredible as the $300, but still curious as to what you recommend.

            thx

            7 Replies
            1. re: remdog99

              Where was your 10 course with wine pairings for 200$? It sounds interesting.

                1. re: remdog99

                  Ranked #9 on the "Travelers' favorite restaurants 2012" list from... TripAdvisor.

                  I love TA for hotel / condo recommendations, but it's not exactly a place populated by foodies. Particularly those that hit up multiple fine dining, tasting menu only restaurants. There's a lot of chain restaurants that score incredibly high on TA. For Chicago, they even ranked Girl and Goat above Alinea, which is absurd. I love GATG, but it's not in the same league.

                  1. re: kathryn

                    >> There's a lot of chain restaurants that score incredibly high on TA. For Chicago, they even ranked Girl and Goat above Alinea, which is absurd. I love GATG, but it's not in the same league.

                    Indeed, LOL! Their "five best restaurants in Chicago" also include Smoque, which is a perfectly good casual barbecue restaurant but again not in the same league as our fine dining places, and Capital Grille, a national steakhouse chain which most Chicagoans wouldn't even consider among the city's best steakhouses.

              1. re: remdog99

                >> -tickets for reservations? Really?

                In Chicago, this was started by Next, the restaurant from Grant Achatz (whose Alinea really has been called the best in the country). It was expanded to Alinea, and a similar system is used by Elizabeth, another restaurant offering only lengthy tasting menus. Those are the only three restaurants with a ticketing system in Chicago, AFAIK. And at least in the case of the two Achatz restaurants, it's a way of managing the high level of demand, which exceeds the supply of space by many times.

                >> -more importantly, either the food is infinitely better than the top resto's here in Montreal, or Chicgoans are getting ripped off. I recently paid $200 per person for a 10 course tasting menu with wine pairings at what was recently ranked as 9th best restaurant in the world.

                Sounds like you were ripped off by whoever claimed that ranking - LOL! The most widely respected list of world restaurants is the one done by Restaurant magazine and San Pellegrino, and there isn't a single Canadian restaurant in their top 100. www.theworlds50best.com/awards/1-50-w...

                >> it was outstanding, and made all my previous 5 star dining experiences here pale in comparison--and that's no easy feat in this town! So to hear about $300+ per person in Chicago, well, is it really that much better?

                Alinea is the only $300+/pp restaurant here. It is also the only restaurant here to receive three stars from the Michelin Guide this year. Is it really that much better? Yes, absolutely. Alinea - which features a tasting menu of 17-22 courses - is not just a dinner. It is a once-in-a-lifetime entertainment experience, which includes unusual presentation techniques along with unusual ingredients and preparations. It is a huge amount of fun, and all the courses are amazingly delicious. It is *nothing* like any other restaurant in Chicago (and it is nothing like the top restaurants elsewhere around the country). Whether it is worth it, depends on your budget and how much you care about food and how much you would enjoy such an experience. Some people would, particularly those here on Chowhound; many others wouldn't, or can't afford such meals.

                The top restaurants in Chicago - including not only Alinea, but also TRU, Everest, Spiaggia, etc (which are a bit less, figure $200-250/pp) - distinguish themselves from less expensive places in many ways, including their decor and attire, their prices, their service (typically seeming armies of waitstaff at your beck and call), their lengthy tasting menus, their famous chefs, etc. All of which make the difference between a $200+/pp dinner and a $100/pp dinner. You can certainly get great food in Chicago without spending that much, but it won't be the same kind of experience.

                Incidentally, Alinea's pricing is similar to that of its competitors elsewhere around the U.S. for "best in the world", such as Per Se and Le Bernardin in New York and the French Laundry in California.

                >> All this to say, I'd love to hear some rec's of great spots up to the $100-125 per person range. I know they may not be as incredible as the $300, but still curious as to what you recommend.

                I intentionally included references to prices among the restaurants I mentioned above, just because some people say things like "the city's finest" and "Unlimited budget" without knowing how much such meals typically cost. I also included lower-priced restaurants in my recommendations above. (Perhaps you did not bother reading the previous replies to your post?) In particular, I mentioned Naha, North Pond, and Acadia among my recommendations. I've paid in the $100-125/pp range per person at all three of these. So let me tell you a bit more about these three, as I consider them the best restaurants in Chicago in that price range.

                Naha has a ground-floor location in River North, and has contemporary décor (both of which are also true of the more-expensive TRU). It is owned by chef Carrie Nahabedian, who won the James Beard Award for best chef in this region in 2008. (The James Beard Awards are the most respected chef awards in the United States.) It is also the recipient of a star in the latest Michelin Guide. The cuisine is contemporary American and thoroughly outstanding. Attire is business casual (i.e. not casual, but jackets NOT required for gentlemen). Their menu is a la carte and I don't believe they have a tasting menu, but I'm sure they could put something together along those lines upon request. It's one of the few high-end restaurants in Chicago that serve lunch as well as dinner, and lunch is *somewhat* less expensive (although not by that much, and I believe theirs is the most expensive lunch in Chicago).

                North Pond stands out for its exquisite setting as well as its delicious food. It is located three miles north of the Loop in Lincoln Park - the park itself, rather than the adjacent neighborhood of the same name. It faces its namesake pond, with the city skyline looming over the opposite shore. The renovated Art Deco building was once used as a warming shelter for skaters on the pond. Like Naha, owner-chef Bruce Sherman won the James Beard Award for best chef in this region in 2012. They offer a la carte menus as well as a tasting menu. The cuisine is contemporary American with an emphasis on local and seasonal ingredients, and it too is outstanding. Attire is business casual. They are not open for lunch during the week (they have been in the past, summers only, but I don't think they were this past summer). In addition to dinner, they are open for brunch on Sundays, which is a more moderately-priced way of experiencing the lovely location and Chef Sherman's cuisine.

                Acadia has only been open a year, but truly deserves mention among this esteemed company. It is located in a commercial part of the South Loop neighborhood a couple miles south of the Loop. There is no outside signage, and there isn't much activity at night around there. The décor is contemporary, the level of service superb. It is also the recipient of a star in the latest Michelin Guide. The cuisine from Chef Ryan McCaskey is contemporary American. Their menu is a la carte and I don't believe they have a tasting menu, but I'm sure they could put something together along those lines upon request. Attire is business casual. Dinner only, Wednesday through Sunday.

                We also have plenty of great restaurants which don't even cost as much as $100-125/pp. I think any visitor from Canada would be remiss if you didn't have at least one meal from one of our delicious creative contemporary Mexican restaurants, since that's a cuisine you don't experience much at home. Rick Bayless, the famous chef, runs Frontera Grill and Topolobampo in River North; note that you need to reserve well in advance, and waiting times to be seated without a reservation are typically horrendous (90-120 minutes or more). Three other excellent restaurants in this category are Mexique, in West Town; Mixteco Grill, in Lakeview; and Mundial Cocina Mestiza, in Pilsen.

                We have some terrific moderately-priced restaurants serving great food in a small plates format. These include Sable (contemporary American in River North), GT Fish & Oyster (seafood in River North), the Purple Pig (Mediterranean on the Magnificent Mile; no reservations, dinner waiting times are 120+ minutes), and Mercat a la Planxa (tapas in the Loop).

                And, as I mentioned above, don't miss our delicious local specialty of deep-dish pizza at Lou Malnati's or Pizano's.

                I highly recommend making reservations as far in advance as possible. Most of our nicer restaurants accept reservations for free on Opentable.com as well as over the phone.

                You can review sample menus on the restaurants' websites, most of which show prices:

                www.alinearestaurant.com
                www.naha-chicago.com
                www.northpondrestaurant.com
                www.acadiachicago.com
                www.rickbayless.com/restaurants (Frontera Grill and Topolobampo)
                www.mexiquechicago.com
                www.mixtecogrill.com
                www.mundialcocinamestiza.com
                www.sablechicago.com
                www.gtoyster.com
                www.thepurplepigchicago.com
                www.mercatchicago.com
                www.loumalnatis.com
                www.pizanos.com

                1. re: remdog99

                  -tickets for reservations? Really?

                  From Alinea's FAQs page:

                  Why tickets instead of reservations?

                  Alinea has 3 people answering phones six days per week answering hundreds more phone calls than we have reservations available. It is a disappointing and frustrating process for our customers and staff alike.

                  The NoMad Rooftop in NYC also uses a ticket system (a reskinned version of Alinea's). Welcome to the future, I guess.

                  -more importantly, either the food is infinitely better than the top resto's here in Montreal, or Chicgoans are getting ripped off. I recently paid $200 per person for a 10 course tasting menu with wine pairings at what was recently ranked as 9th best restaurant in the world.

                  Hmmm... I've eaten at 4 of the top 10 on the San Pellegrino list, as well as the el Bulli menu at Next... And I think Alinea is the best. Even compared to Arzak and Mugaritz!

                  - All this to say, I'd love to hear some rec's of great spots up to the $100-125 per person range.

                  Is the $125pp before tax/tip/wine? You can easily do Publican, Purple Pig, Girl and the Goat, Big Jones, Yusho, Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, Longman & Eagle, and many others for that amount. And some, like El Ideas ($135-145pp) and Goosefoot ($115pp), are BYOB which can keep costs down.

                  You still haven't posted when you're visiting Chicago or what days of the week... this is important so that you're not unpleasantly surprised if a place is fully committed already or closed on that day of the week.

                  1. re: kathryn

                    >> Is the $125pp before tax/tip/wine?

                    Note, all the numbers I have posted as typical prices in my replies above are including tax/tip and moderate wine/alcohol. Granted, there are variables involved, particularly for quality/quantity of wine/alcohol, but that's what I've actually paid and should help provide an idea of how much a restaurant costs. And, as noted above, you can always check the sample menus (and wine list) on their website for a good idea of pricing.

                    >> And some, like El Ideas ($135-145pp) and Goosefoot ($115pp), are BYOB which can keep costs down.

                    Yes, BYOB can keep costs down. But when comparing prices for a BYOB restaurant to one with a full service license to serve alcohol, you still need to make it an "apples to apples" comparison (grapes to grapes?). For example, Goosefoot's $115 becomes $145-150 with tax/tip, and that doesn't include any beverages at all, not even coffee. And you still need to add the cost of any alcohol you bring with you to that, even though that same bottle might cost the usual 2.5-3.0 times as much on a restaurant wine list. So a realistic *inclusive* estimate for Goosefoot is probably more like $170-180/pp when you include coffee service and half a bottle of decent wine, bought in a liquor store.