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Visiting - July - One Specail Dinner

My partner and I will be visiting the city the week of July 4. We are looking for one "special occasion" dinner during our week stay. Grace and Elizabeth are both closed this week. Others on my list are: TRU, L2O, Sixteen (do they have a view of the fireworks on July 4th?) We are not sure if we want to take a chance on the ticket lottery for Aliena and Next. Schwa is also on the list. Any suggestions welcomed.

We have a reservation at Girl and The Goat for dinner and North Pond for brunch on Sunday.

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  1. looks like there are still some tickets available for Alinea for that week.

    Schwa is always a gamble

    Have you looked into goosefoot?

    4 Replies
    1. re: BSpar

      Goosefoot looks interesting. Where do I check to see what is available at Alinea? Coming from Philadelphia/NYC ... the lottery seems like a hassle.

        1. re: BRI328

          www.alinearestaurant.com. Click on reservations, then tickets. You'll have to sign in as a new user to get to the calendar of available tables. Looks like there are tables still available every night they are open in July.

          1. re: BRI328

            No lottery for Alinea; they sell tickets. So long as you are not planning on short notice it is not difficult to purchase tickets. Generally weekends sell out roughly 4-6 weeks in advance and weeknights on average about 2-3 weeks in advance. Only negatives are that tickets are non-refundable and cannot be changed to a different date in case of sickness, emergency, changes in travel plans etc (and they are quite expensive). However Alinea is considered by most to be among the best restaurants not just in the US, but in the world.

            Goosefoot is outstanding, but is actually far more difficult to get into than Alinea. Chef/Onwer Chris Nugent IMHO creates the best tasting food of any restaurant in Chicago. Not all the theatrics and whimsy of dining at Alinea, but excellent cuisine, extremely reasonable pricing, very friendly staff and comfortable, relaxed dining room. Only problems with Goosefoot are the extreme difficulty with scoring reservations (they are small and demand far exceeds supply) and the menu infrequently changes (not an issue for you since it would be your first time dining there). They may be booked via OpenTable, but rarely show any availability; at midnight each night (central time) they release the date 60 days into the future - so sometimes right at midnight you can snag a table. However they accept bookings beyond 60 days in-person at the restaurant, so often they are already fully booked by the time the reservation would be released to OpenTable.

        2. Are you sure that Grace and Elizabeth are closed that week - or is it possible they are just not open for reservations that far out? I know Elizabeth is only selling tickets through the very beginning of June for now and Grace is only accepting reservations through the end of May (at least via OpenTable).

          Sixteen is my favorite out of Tru, L2O and Sixteen - though it has been a year and a half since I dined at L2O. I would think that Sixteen has a view of the fireworks (at least they did for New Year's Eve), but you should double check with them.

          Grace I would rank even higher than Sixteen (assuming they are not closed, but simply not yet taking reservations). Alinea would be my very top choice (and as BSpar mentioned, tickets are currently on sale and readily available for July - the only problem is if you cancel your trip you would have to deal with selling your tickets as they are non-refundable).

          Schwa I would not recommend due to their propensity to cancel reservations on very short notice; as such IMHO it is not a good option for out-of-towners or for a special occasion. Also some recent reports have mentioned that Chef Carlson has been absent of late in the kitchen - which for many is a big draw of dining there. Schwa is a gamble; one of my meals there was one of my top ten meals ever, one was a disappointment and once I was cancelled on 1.5 hours before the meal was to start.

          One final suggestion would be Moto; similar to Alinea in terms of the modern techniques and whimsical experience, but no worry about tickets (they may be readily booked via Open Table). They certainly are not deemed to be of the same caliber as Alinea by most, but personally I love Moto nearly as much and have noticed huge improvement during the past year.

          1. Do Alinea. And buy your tickets NOW.

            2 Replies
              1. re: kathryn

                P.S. Here's what I didn't "get" about Alinea until I went there. I had heard about all the unusual presentation techniques, which I figured were merely gimmicks. What I didn't understand until I got there was that (a) the whole experience is delightful and fun, and (b) just about every dish - one after another after another - was amazingly delicious. Easily one of the two or three best food experiences in my entire life.

            1. Grace or Tru were the best restaurants in Chicago for me, even better than Alinea.

              1. Grace and Elizabeth are both closed the first week of July. I contacted the restaurants directly and Rebecca at Grace has been very helpful with suggestions. I made a reservation at Sixteen for July 4th night. I am not sure if I want to purchase tickets for Alinea, since my work schedule varies and we may not be in the city that week. If I can get reservation at Goosefoot that week, I am going to cancel Sixteen. If by chance when it gets closer to the date and Alinea has openings at the last minute, I will buy the tickets. How much are the wine parings at Alinea? Or can you just order by the glass or bottle?

                6 Replies
                1. re: BRI328

                  The pairings at Alinea are usually around 2/3 the price of the tasting menu. And yes, you can also order by the glass or bottle.

                  I wouldn't hope for much of a view of the fireworks from Sixteen. From the dining room, you look out on a bunch of buildings, but there's only a sliver of a view of the lakefront where the fireworks take place.

                  1. re: nsxtasy

                    Thanks. No, we do not need a view of the fireworks at Sixteen. Looking for good food and service.

                  2. re: BRI328

                    You may want to add El Ideas to your list of possible restaurants. You need to reserve about 60 days out and give them a credit card, but they do not actually charge the card until 7 days before the dinner. So, if your plans change, you can cancel so long as it's outside of that 7 day window.

                    Like Goosefoot and Schwa, El Ideas is a BYOB restaurant with very creative cooking in a somewhat off-the-beaten path location -- indeed, it is located in an even more incongruous neighborhood than either GF or Schwa. Unlike Schwa (and in my experience GF), you can easily get through on the phone to them and confer about reservation availability. Even if they are sold out, especially if you explain that you really want to eat there but are not a local, they will put you on their waiting list and you have a good chance of getting in.

                    We ate there last week, and really enjoyed it. Terrific food, comfortable and fun ambiance (but without the headbanging, conversationally challenging music of Schwa), and we enjoyed the opportunity to bring some special bottles from our cellar (perhaps less of a + if you are traveling and not checking bags, in which case you would have to buy wine here).

                    And I agree with Nsxtasy that, if a view of the fireworks is one of your main motivations for Sixteen, you will be disappointed.

                    1. re: masha

                      Thanks, I will look into El Ideas!

                    2. re: BRI328

                      The standard wine pairing at Alinea is $150; I believe the reserve is $250. They do have limited wines by-the-glass and a good sized amount of wines by the bottle available. They will also work with you to do a smaller pairing at a lower price point; last time I dined there I informed them how much I wanted to spend on wine and what types of wine I enjoy most and they did an excellent job doing a mini pairing for me at that price point.

                      1. re: BRI328

                        Also looks like Acadia is closed that week. Let's hope we can score a reservation at Goosefoot on Friday, July 5!

                      2. >> Grace and Elizabeth are both closed this week.

                        As noted in another topic ( www.chow.com/topics/897776 ), Grace does not put its Friday and Saturday tables on Opentable. Try phoning them and I bet you'll be able to get the reservation you're looking for there.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: nsxtasy

                          Both restaurants are closed that week, I emailed both of them.

                        2. Since a lot of places are closed this week that we wanted to dine at ... Grace, Goosefoot, Schwa, Acadia and decided not to bring (jackets/ties) we limit ourselves to some of the "special occasion places". We will do those places in the Fall/Winter.

                          I have listed below our tentative itinerary. Please let me know your thoughts. We are staying at the Hotel Palomar.

                          Wed 7/3 - Lunch - GT Fish and Oyster
                          Wed 7/3 - Dinner: Girl and the Goat (drinks before/after at The Aviary)

                          Thurs 7/4- Lunch: ?
                          Thurs 7/4- Dinner: Tavernita

                          Fri: 7/5 - Lunch ?
                          Fri: 7/5 - Dinner: Blackbird (not set in stone)

                          Sat: 7/6 - Lunch: ?
                          Sat: 7/6 - Dinner: Bavette's Bar and Boeuf

                          Sun: 7/7 - Brunch: North Pond
                          Sun: 7/7 - Dinner: Balena

                          Mon: 7/8 - Lunch?
                          Mon: 7/8 - Dinner: Mercat a la Planxa

                          Tues: leaving the city

                          If we do breakfast during our stay I have selected Jam, Little Market Brasserie, Perennial Virant, Little Goat Diner, Bongo Room.

                          Lunch places on our list: Au Cheval Bar, Siena Tavern, Sable, Belly Q, Fat Rice, The Purple Pig

                          As for Friday night dinner, other options were Moto, Naha, Boka, EL Ideas.

                          Other places on my list: Trenchermen, Nightwood, Nellcote, Boarding House, Longman & Eagle

                          11 Replies
                          1. re: BRI328

                            You have a lot of good choices in your itinerary. One thing I would consider changing is doing Blackbird for lunch rather than dinner. They do a very nice prix fixe lunch and it's not terribly expensive. This would enable you to have dinner at another place...

                            >> As for Friday night dinner, other options were Moto, Naha, Boka, EL Ideas.

                            Of those four (all of which I've dined at), I strongly recommend Naha. The food is terrific, comparable to our high-end places, but not quite as expensive and you won't need jackets. The other three are pretty good, but IMHO Naha easily trumps them.

                            I'll also note that there are some glaring omissions. No deep-dish pizza, like Lou Malnati's or Pizano's? Really? Also, you're missing something special if you don't enjoy one of our contemporary Mexican restaurants like Mexique or Salpicon. Right now your itinerary seems very one-dimensional, almost entirely mainstream American cuisine (with the exception of the one tapas dinner), nothing that you can't get in any other big American city.

                            1. re: nsxtasy

                              I have changed Friday night to Naha and have added Mexique to my list. The menu looks interesting. We will definitley try Lou Malnati's or Pizano's one day for lunch. Thanks for the suggestions.

                            2. re: BRI328

                              I agree on moving Blackbird to lunch, but for the dinner I think you need to decide what kind of dinner you want. As you probably know, EL Ideas and Moto are much more creative whereas Boka and Naha are "safer," traditional, nice-European fare with hints of other world influences.

                              My one meal at Moto wasn't particularly tasty and some of the flavors and modernist techniques became repetitive, but things may have been gotten better since. (whereas the food I've had at EL Ideas has always been both delicious and cutting edge). Boka and Naha are both equally good in my mind, if not quite as memorable, but just solid places to enjoy on a semi-regular basis.

                              Of the other places on your list, I think Longman and Eagle stands out for a lunch, though I don't know if the food is changing under their new chef. Also, I would keep calling Schwa in the not unlikely chance they suddenly decide to open their doors that week.

                              1. re: W42

                                >> EL Ideas and Moto are much more creative whereas Boka and Naha are "safer," traditional, nice-European fare with hints of other world influences.

                                I don't agree with most of that at all. Moto, maybe, since Cantu uses unusual presentation techniques (and I agree that my meal wasn't particularly tasty but things may have gotten better since - at least, that's what Gonzo says). But I didn't think El Ideas was any more creative than Naha. Chef Nahabedian is one of the best, most creative, most inventive chefs in Chicago, and hasn't slowed down since winning the James Beard Award back in 2008. Granted, her new place, Brindille, is pretty traditional, but Naha is every bit as unusual and creative as El Ideas. (It's not at all European; if anything, it's modern American with some Mediterranean influences.) And Naha's food tastes better, too. Boka is indeed somewhat safer, but not at all European either; it's squarely in the contemporary American mainstream. And it's very good, sort of a "sum is better than the total of the individual parts" type of place, with exquisite service on top of consistently good food (better on savories than desserts). To me, Boka is more of a casual neighborhood-ey bistro with very good food, whereas Naha serves high-end haute cuisine without the high price.

                                1. re: nsxtasy

                                  Well, I guess it comes down to the the fact that you obviously love Naha and Nahabedian and didn't think much of your meal at El Ideas a few weeks ago. It seems like we actually agree that Moto was more style than taste and Boka being in the "safer" category and no one part of the experience standing out. So I'm not sure what else there is in the "most of that" that you don't agree with.

                                  I'm really just trying to give other readers of this board an accurate expectation, so correct me if you think I'm way off. But I can't see how Nahabedian is really the "most creative, most inventive" when the lunch menu I had just over a month ago featured, at best, vaguely North African takes on:
                                  • Half-pound angus burger
                                  • BLT
                                  • Caesar salad
                                  • Braised short ribs
                                  • English muffin sandwich with pork jowl
                                  • Chicken thigh tangine
                                  • Roast quail wrapped in prosciutto

                                  Now my friend and I only had only had 4 of these dishes, but none were presented "deconstructed" with signs of modernist wizardry cooking techniques or used unexpected ingredients in a sort of unique way. I've literally been able to cook similar versions of these Naha menu items just by chance in the past week, whereas I wouldn't even know how to start replicating anything I've had at EL Ideas.

                                  Compare Naha's menu to El Ideas, which has featured:
                                  • potato chip with bone marrow, ossetra caviar, and cauliflower
                                  • raw oyster in a gel of gin with cucumber juice and champagne vinegar
                                  • "buffalo wings": chicken confit and a blue cheese mousseline, served with a shot of Corona topped with a lime gel
                                  • wagyu with kimchee, garlic and soy
                                  • fennel cotton candy
                                  • tamarind chili sorbet
                                  • liquid nitrogen frozen foie gras on a oatmeal cake with banana noodles

                                  I'm not saying modernist techniques are necessary to meet the definition of "creative"—and again, I like Naha—but just that their recipes for these staples didn't strike me as far more "inventive" than many other places in major cities. The Modernist Cuisine recipe for a hamburger would definitely meet my criteria for "creative" even though it looks like an normal burger, but so would the "This is Not a Hamburger," at La Gazza Ladra in Modica, Sicily, which was not at all what it seemed.

                                  Maybe we have different notions of "creative," but the whole point of my message was to help BRI328 decide on a kind of dinner. For sake of comparison, I thought it was appropriate to categorize Boka with Naha. I just don't think that anyone should expect that Naha is a budget friendly version of The Fat Duck, Mugaritz, Pierre Gagnaire, WD-50 or Alinea (to be clear, EL Ideas and Moto are much closer to these in my mind).

                                  1. re: W42

                                    I would say that Naha is creative, but by no means breaking out of the box in a way that Alinea or El Ideas or Goosefoot or so many others are doing and doing well. I would say that it is one of the most consistent and reliably excellent meals in town.

                                    Probably the opposite end of the spectrum from Moto which does interesting things because it can and not because the results are particularly tasty or enjoyable.

                                    1. re: chicgail

                                      Have you been to Moto recently? While that was a fair criticism for Moto in the past, my last three visits to Moto I have noticed steady and significant improvement and vast differences from my first visit (where the focus did appear to be on putting on a show more so than on serving excellent food). They brought on a top notch pastry chef (Claire Crenshaw, formerly the exceutive pastry chef at Tru), have an outstanding GM (Matt Gundlach) and a great wine director (Miranda Elliot). Richie Farina was promoted to partner status and since he took over designing the savory courses he has kept some of the Alinea like whimsical presentations, but really focused on making the quality of the food be a top priority. My last thee meals there have been outstanding across the board (service, creativity, taste of the food and wine pairings). I feel Moto has ascended into one of the top several restaurants in Chicago (and is continuing to become better and better).

                                      1. re: Gonzo70

                                        That's good to know Gonzo. Unlike you, I was not inclined to go back and give it another chance. Glad to hear that it is more focused on the flavor of food than its chemistry or whimsy.

                                        Richie Farina, when he was on Top Chef, didn't impress me all that much with his creations, but of course, I didn't taste them.

                              2. re: BRI328


                                Friday Dinner: Naha
                                Sunday Dinner: Mexique
                                Monday Dinner: Balena

                                Lunch one day will be at Lou Malnati for deep dish pizza