I am coming in town in a few weeks. We are eating at Alinea Sat night. The other couple we are with suggested Graham Elliot for Friday night. I seem to recall it being a mixed bag there recently. My understanding is there has been a lot of turnover in the kitchen and not so much GE. How have recent experiences been. What would be a suitable replacment? Thanks!!!
I don't have any recent experience there, and hopefully others here can comment.
However, I'd also like to raise a question. Since you're eating at Alinea already - a wonderful choice, of course - perhaps you might want to do something that is a bit more different from Alinea than Graham Elliot. Not that they're the same, but both are contemporary American, with some lean towards molecular gastronomy (a LOT, in the case of Alinea). So perhaps for the other dinner you might want to do a different type of cuisine, such as contemporary Mexican (e.g. Mexique), tapas (Mercat a la Planxa), Italian (Piccolo Sogno Due, tesori, Vivere, or the Florentine), seafood small plates (GT Fish & Oyster), etc.
Of course, this is up to you. If you love contemporary American and want to do that for your second dinner, by all means do so. Here are some additional recommendations. At the high end, TRU and Grace are among our best, but priced accordingly. If you'd like something a bit less pricey (and slightly more casual, e.g. jackets not required), Naha is equally worthy and downtown, and North Pond combines great food with its lovely setting in the park.
>> Would Blackbird also be too similar in your opinion?
To me, Blackbird is in the mainstream of contemporary American cuisine, with a slight lean towards organ meats ("snout to tail" and all that). If you're looking for variety, you'd get more by choosing one of the other options I mentioned. But nothing says you can't go to more than one contemporary American restaurant.
One other thing to consider about Blackbird is, they have a great prix fixe deal for weekday lunches, so that's a way to include it in an itinerary without dedicating one of the dinner spots in a brief visit.
I also find it always helps me decide by viewing the sample menus on their websites - not just the ones I'm trying to decide between, but also side-by-side with those I've already decided on as part of my itinerary.
Have never dined at GE, so take that into consideration, but like you I will be in Chicago soon for dinner at Alinea and was looking for a 2nd restaurant for another night.
I also looked at GE because they received two Michelin stars, but when I checked on OpenTable I was really surprised to see how many unhappy customers they have. The OT reviews are rolled over every six months and you have to actually dine at a place to write a review, so they are all fairly recent and from actual diners (unlike, say, TripAdvisor or Yelp).
Anyway, anything over about 4.5/5.0 usually indicates that customers were pretty happy, but when the rating is, say, 4.2 or lower I start to shy off.
GE's rating when I first checked was 3.8/5.0, which is frankly awful. I've only seen one other place with a rating that low anywhere, so we decided to skip them (I just checked and it's still low, 3.9/5 ... it can change daily as the reviews from 6 months ago are dropped and new ones added).
For comparison, L20 (the other Michelin 2*) has a 4.7/5 rating and Grace (where we actually ended up reserving) has a 4.8/5 rating from recent customers.
For sure read the OT reviews (you can sort them by 'most recent' or 'lowest first') before deciding.
Of all the high end restaurants in Chicago I would rank Graham Elliot near the bottom. I had a good dinner there, but at that price point just about everywhere else I have dined has been better - most places a lot better. If you are seeking another high end experience that would be a good contrast to Alinea my top choices would be Grace, Sixteen or Tru. El Ideas and Elizabeth are also great venues and a lot of fun, but far more casual (not sure if you are open to that). Goosefoot is another top venue, but very difficult right now in terms of securing reservations.
I would second just about all of this and throw in Schwa as being casual to the point of a crazy party but arguably the best dishes outside of Alinea.
If you're an Achatz fan, I really liked the Hunt menu at Next and tickets are available on Wed, Thurs, and one Sunday currently a few weeks out. If those days/times at Next don't work, check the facebook page for same night tickets.
We were there late last summer right after his Executive Chef (and the pastry chef?) quit. He was there and in the kitchen and the food was fabulous. We've been to GE several times and the food was as good as ever.
The service, well, was spotty. I don't know if our waiter was new, sick or just planed stoned out of his mind. It was one error after another.
One of the reasons we have repeatedly gone to GE was because they had a good corkage policy. But, after this last visit, we aren't in any rush to return.
Great cocktails, too. Before returning to GE, Michelin stars or not, I'd consider Blackbird (great lunch deal as mentioned on this thread), Naha, MK, among others.