HOME > Chowhound > Chicago Area >

Discussion

Chicago foodie weekend - please comment on eatinerary

OK, so a friend and I have a foodie/girls weekend coming up in about a month. Below are our meal plans...thoughts welcome!

Thursday: Arrival day
Lunch at Badhappy
Dinner at Girl and the Goat

Friday:
Lunch at Topolobambo
Dinner at Spiaggia

Saturday:
Lunch: open
Dinner at Moto
Possible if up to it - drinks at Aviary

Sunday:
Brunch at Table 52
Dinner at Alinea!

A few questions re Alinea: I've been reading the "wine pairing debate" that is currently occuring in recent yelp reviews on Alinea. My friend and I love wine, so I would lean toward pairing. Anyone paired and not been happy? Also, is the highest level of pairing worth it? (I think there is a reserve pairing and regular pairing, correct)?

Another aside, because we wanted it to be the last meal of the trip, our reservation is Sunday...and because it is Aliena the only time (aside from 5:30) that was available was 9:15. I've read on yelp of bad service in the last sunday slots. Anyone have experience with this slot who can reassure me that this is not the case?

Monday: depart, with a stop on the way to the airport for stretchier pants, lol!

TIA!!!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
Delete
  1. The Aviary is also a short walk away from Girl and the Goat, BTW.

    I'd would consider making reservations for pre- or post-dinner drinks on Thursday. And if you want to go to the Aviary on Saturday night, definitely make a reservation.

    3 Replies
    1. re: kathryn

      Thank you! Thursday would actually be perfect to go to the Aviary! I was worried about Saturday since it would obviously be more crowded. Any recommendations on favorite drinks? Or should I just do bartenders choice?

      1. re: jacque536

        They have tasting flights, a prix fixe, and a la carte, at the Aviary. It's set up more like a restaurant. There's no physical bar that you can sit at, and bartender's choice isn't really a good fit.

        Their "classics" are probably In the Rocks, the current Porthole drink (changes seasonally), the current tea drink (also changes seasonally). Definitely ask your server for help. The menu isn't online and will probably change for the summer soon.

        1. re: jacque536

          Oh - and got Aviary for Thursday before dinner too - thanks for that suggestion. :)

      2. Wow, those are some great spots you have picked! For your open lunch on Saturday I would suggest you take a look at Jam (Logan Square neighborhood; no reservations so you may have a bit of a wait). They are my favorite weekend brunch place; starting around 11:00am they roll out a lunch menu in addition to brunch fare and it is a really friendly restaurant with outstanding, creative food. It is in the Logan Square neighborhood so you would need to take a cab or public transportation.It is a nice contrast from other venues you have listed.

        As for Alinea you are correct that they have a reserve and standard pairing (last I went it was $250 for reserve, $150 for standard if I recall correctly). No personal experience with the pairing; I like to keep my wine budget a bit lower than this and they have done a nice job doing a mini pairing for me at a lower price point. Hopefully the Yelp review was an isolated interest; Alinea has some of the best service in the city IMHO and I have received outstanding service even when I had a late reservation (I was one of the last to leave that night).

        The only tweak I would suggest would be possibly dropping Spiaggia. Since based on your list money is not a concern and you seem to be wanting to hit some of Chicago's best venues. IMHO Spiaggia is good, but a tad old fashioned and not on par with some other high end venues. You may want to look into Grace (currently one of my favorite venues despite only being six months old). They are on Open Table but generally only accept weekend reservations via phone - so call them if you want to try and book with them. If Grace is full (or you are not interested) I would choose Sixteen, Boka, Tru or L20 over Spiaggia.

        Have a great trip and let us know your impressions!

        9 Replies
        1. re: Gonzo70

          I mostly agree with Gonzo. Here are additional comments.

          I've never heard of Badhappy. A quick web search shows that they do poutine. I'm leery of a place that specializes in one dish from another country, but that's a reaction based on never having been there (and hating poutine), so take it for what it is.

          If I wanted to substitute a different place for lunch that day (as well as Saturday - see below), I'd consider one of our places serving a small plates menu, such as GT Fish & Oyster (seafood), Sable (contemporary American), Mercat a la Planxa (tapas), Perennial Virant (contemporary American), etc. You might also consider Jam (see below), which won't have long waits to be seated on a Thursday the way it does on weekends.

          Regarding dinner at Spiaggia, the fundamental question here is whether you want to do two expensive formal high-end dinners in your itinerary. Not that you can't, of course, but there are some excellent places that are just a step down in formality (business casual) and price, with excellent, enjoyable food, such as Naha and North Pond. And there are many, many more casual places serving excellent food as well, including the "casual fine dining" category as well as ethnic and other "cheap eats".

          Assuming you still want to do a second high-end meal (and I absolutely would keep Alinea in the itinerary), the next question is what kind of high-end place you would like. If you want high-end Italian, then by all means keep Spiaggia in your itinerary. If you would like contemporary French-Alsatian, consider Everest. For contemporary American high-end other than Alinea, Grace and TRU are both outstanding and IMHO the two best places in town that aren't named Alinea (with a slight edge to Grace) but their cuisine may be more similar to other places already in your itinerary.

          Regarding Alinea's wine pairings, I suggest you discuss options with the sommelier. As Gonzo mentions, they have additional options beyond the standard and premium pairings, and are happy to customize pairings to whatever extent you like. You can also order by the glass or bottle. They have lots of flexibility.

          Gonzo mentions Jam for Saturday lunch. Here, the question is whether or not you want a place that offers a breakfast/brunch type menu rather than a lunch type menu. If you want a place that focuses on breakfast/brunch, I think Jam is superb; think of what a creative chef with high-end experience would open, with the price and casualness of a breakfast-focused restaurant, and that's what Jeffery Mauro has done at Jam. One other downside is that waits to be seated can be lengthy (especially between 9:30 and 1:00) and they don't accept reservations. So those are all pluses and minuses in considering Jam. If you would prefer a place that's more lunch/dinner-oriented and/or one that accepts reservations, you might consider one of the small plates places I mentioned above, or perhaps one of our mid-priced Italian restaurants if you don't go to Spiaggia (such as Piccolo Sogno, the Florentine, Café Spiaggia, etc).

          Also, if you don't go to Jam for lunch on Thursday or Saturday, you might consider stopping there for breakfast on your way to the airport. It's on the way to O'Hare from downtown, and if you're taking the el to O'Hare, it's only a block or so from the Logan Square stop.

          HTH

          1. re: nsxtasy

            I mostly agree with both these guys about other suggestions and the wine at Alinea—they post a lot on this board. I would really only disagree about Grace (not bad, just forgettable compared to other great fine dining menus around the city and especially the world).

            But if I might be so bold, I would suggest that you go to some places that are either high-end but unique to Chicago or more casual but well-known "institutions". I would consider Schwa, El Ideas and Elizabeth to be in the former category, and great if you're open to something as creative as Alinea, but ready to hang out and listen to music with the cooks. (Moto is also in this creative category and certainly well-known, but my one meal years ago had too many repetitive flavors and focused on the scientific wizardry instead of great taste, unlike Alinea which pulled off both). In the latter category, I would second any of nsxtasy or Gonzo's suggestions.

            I would also suggest that you replace Spiaggia, which indeed is overpriced and kind of bland compared to any decent place in Emilia-Romagna. I've also never heard of Badhappy (I haven't lived in Chicago in a few years, but I do fly back several times per year).

            My bigger point is that you can get fancy Italian or French food in any major city around the world, and I wouldn't say Chicago has best in the world in either category. So why not try something a little more special?

            And I wouldn't trust yelp for much, even though I do use it in a pinch.

            1. re: W42

              I would be reluctant to recommend Schwa or El Ideas. In addition to being difficult to reach by phone to make a reservation, Schwa has a habit of frequently cancelling reservations on diners at the last minute. I found the food at El Ideas disappointing, and it has other pluses and minuses. For one thing, it's in a neighborhood that is difficult to get to and rather dicey. Furthermore, when you take into account the neighborhood (which should enable them to keep their costs down) and the fact that it's BYO (again, should keep their costs down), it's really quite expensive ($145 for the tasting menu - vs $115 for Goosefoot, equally creative and also BYO and not downtown). Finally, while the food is certainly creative with interesting presentations, I found many dishes were okay but virtually none made me feel that they were wonderfully delicious. The food is not as good as at Grace or TRU, and it's not significantly different from contemporary American restaurants in most big U.S. cities. I know it has its fans, but I'm not sure whether they really think the food is all that great (obviously, I didn't), or if they're willing to overlook the food because they're enamored with its intimate, casual spirit (it has 26 seats, there is one seating, each dish is announced to the room, and you can walk over and watch the prep).

              I haven't been to Elizabeth, but I've heard praise for the food. They use the same system as Alinea, in which you must purchase tickets in advance. My understanding is that they have communal seating only (one table of eight for each of the three menus).

              1. re: nsxtasy

                For others in the future: I should note about Schwa's cancellations that I'm not sure how representative the sampling is—it seems like there's a small number of people who keep complaining about it (not saying you specifically nsxtasy, just a small sample of others online). I've never had a problem getting or keeping a reservation and Seth Carson, the head chef's brother who works at Next, claims that Michael Carson hasn't missed a day in a while (I asked because I heard that another CDC was taking over). Yeah, I've read the angry reports but for a place that runs on margins that are thin even by industry standards (BYOB + high food costs), they wouldn't be able to survive if they shut down all that frequently.

                Since Jacque 536 has reservations and backups elsewhere, I think Schwa is definitely worth the risk. If you like Alinea, know that Carson was the No. 2 at Grant Achatz's old Trio and was supposed to open Alinea as CDC instead of Grace's Curtis Duffy but decided to do his own crazier thing by opening Schwa.

                As for El Ideas, I'm just pretty sure we have different tastes and Jacque can clearly do her research to see what other opinions are. I'm one of those that nsxtasy mentioned that would put El Ideas in the mix for second best in Chicago along with Schwa (both behind #1 Alinea, but above Tru and definitely above Grace). Besides positive reviews from Phil Vettel and Anthony Bourdain, there's plenty of stuff to make up your own mind by reading the LTH forum and well-known bloggers like uhockey's two visits on chowhound/endoedibles. I just called the other day for reservations and they are pretty solidly booked a month out, but spots do open up.

                I would disagree, however, with the idea that El Idea's food isn't that different from what you can get in other big cities. Jacque536 should know that the dishes at El Ideas are very playful, ranging from takes on childhood classics to amazing versions of stuff you would never think of paying so much for (Chinese take out classics). This is fancy food from a guy who put in years under Jean-Georges Vongerichten and at the old Le Cirque, but also ran a food truck selling "Schweaty Balls". Christopher Kostow invited El Ideas chef Phil Foss as one of 11 from around the world to come cook at the Meadowood during Christmas, and told the CIA Greystone about how much he and his 3-michelin star staff have to learn from Foss.

                I don't think anyone is being swayed by the environment at El Ideas—it looks like the converted warehouse that it probably is and plating your own food isn't that enjoyable after a while, as anyone who has worked on a kitchen line can attest. Foss explicitly says he wants to take the pretentiousness out of fine dining. As for the spirit, yeah, it's nice that everyone is there to have fun and be friendly with the chefs, but overall it's such a bare bones experience, the food is really the only thing that people are judging.

                Also, I do think it is important to note that the courses and total menu at El Ideas seem to change on an almost weekly basis, whereas Goosefoot has barely changed at all it seems (like Nugent's former Les Nomades). So, to spell it out, someone could have a completely different experience with the food just by going a week later.

                1. re: W42

                  >> Michael Carson hasn't missed a day in a while (I asked because I heard that another CDC was taking over). Yeah, I've read the angry reports but for a place that runs on margins that are thin even by industry standards (BYOB + high food costs), they wouldn't be able to survive if they shut down all that frequently.

                  They are not necessarily shutting down when they cancel reservations. In one well-discussed instance, Schwa cancelled reservations on someone at the last minute, and a celebrity tweeted later that evening while dining there. Also, reports of last-minute cancellations have been alarmingly plentiful, not just one or two instances.

                  As for El Ideas, my dinner there was a couple of weeks ago, so my opinion is based on recent experience. Clearly, your opinion about the food differs from mine (and of course you're welcome to do so). I still feel that the food is not all that different from other high-end places as well as nowhere near as delicious. But regardless of what you think about the food, it's still very expensive considering the neighborhood and BYO (with Goosefoot as the most obvious point of comparison; Elizabeth, which recently lowered prices, also offers a more extensive Owl menu at a significantly lower price point, while for a similar price, numerous high-end restaurants like TRU offer better food and service at more convenient and nicer locations).

                  1. re: W42

                    I will definately look into Schwa and El Ideas! Thanks to you both for the suggestions!

                    1. re: W42

                      Agree with you regarding El Ideas, but disagree about Schwa. I do find the food wildy creative at El and have loved most courses (three visits) and really enjoy the unique qualities of fine dining in such a casual setting where you can hang out in the kitchen between courses. Chef Foss and his staff are wonderful, passionate people.

                      Schwa I have been cancelled on and have about ten different friends who have had the same occur - including one friend who was cancelled on three times. This is not a slam on Schwa, one of my meals there ranks as one of my top ten meals ever. The other was meh. Yes they have not been canceling on people as much of late, but a big reason for this is Chef Carlson has been taking time off and Vinny is running the show most nights. For me, Chef Carlson being there AND being in a good mood are key components of a wonderful experience at Schwa and that is a huge gamble on any given night. As such I personally find Schwa to be a place I cannot recommend to out-of-towners or for special occasions.

                      I agree with comments upthread about also considering Elizabeth for a unique experience. I partook in the diamond menu last night and the food and overall experience were awesome. While I felt Elizabeth was a star from day one, between Chef Regan now having several months running a restaurant under her belt, her staff gelling, a first rate sommelier on board and reduced pricing this has become the best value in fine dining in Chicago. I love that Chef Regan plays such a large role procuring ingregredients she uses (via foraging, hunting, fishing and growing) and blends farm to table with modern techniques.

                      I also love the underground dinners mentioned above, Feast and Imbibe and Sous Rising. Thurk is a nice one as well (farm to table emphasis versus the molecular gastronomy focus of the ore two mentioned). The chef at Thurk is not quite as experienced, but makes up for it with his friendliness and passion.

                      1. re: Gonzo70

                        That's fair about Schwa and it's good to hear from someone else besides Seth that they've been better about keeping reservations lately. I, too, tell friends to have a backup but that it really is worth the risk because it can be a top 10 meal in the world.

                        I hadn't heart of Thurk so I'm really here to thank you for that tip as well. Glad to see that Chef Regan is still doing well—I'm really rooting for her to have a long, successful career.

              2. re: Gonzo70

                I like the idea of a mini pairing - we will keep this in mind. I will look into your other dinner siggestions as well. They may have to wait until the next trip to Chicago - I know there will be a second one as we couldn't fit everything in this time. Next is on the listf or the second trip too - we passed on it for this trip because they just started the vegan menu. I wanted to wait until a different menu (although I'm sure they are doing great things with vegan). Jam is a great suggestion for saturday!

              3. At Alinea (a few years ago now) I was not happy with my wine pairing partially for value, but partially for taste. There were a few nice but not great wines that I would not have chosen based strictly on my personal palette. That said, they do a nice job of providing wines that are quite complimentary to each/set of dishes. It's just my personal taste in wine--I go for a lighter red with my fish and seafood. If I were already planning to spend $150 per person on the standard pairing, I would personally pick two wines in that range that I would really enjoy throughout the meal. The sommelier would surely assist. Maybe even kick it off with a glass of bubbly. Enjoy

                4 Replies
                1. re: jbontario

                  What a wonderful itinerary--I'd pay to be in your suitcase! I have been to Bad Happy, for Sunday brunch, and I'd say keep it in your plans. It is extremely casual (for Chicago folks, it feels like a great hot dog stand, specializing in poutine instead of dogs and with other options), fun, decadent (in calories and fat grams, not money), and BYOB (we brought Tito's vodka and they prepared a bloody Mary mix; perhaps call them for weekday options, and if you don't want to pick up alcohol en route, I think I heard they make really good milkshakes). In addition to very skilled and creative takes on poutine, I hear they make great burgers.

                  I agree with the suggestions to change your Friday dinner. If you want to stay Italian, and given you'll be here in summer, I recommend trying to get a reservation (available on www.opentable.com or by phone) at Piccolo Sogno (mentioned by nxstasy), then requesting a patio table. One thing about Chicago is that because our winters are so miserable, we love summer and every possible opportunity to spend more time outside, and PS is one of the best spots in town for al fresco dining.

                  As for the pairings at Alinea: I went about five years, and there was only one pairing option at the time, which we loved. We have, however, gone to every menu at their sister restaurant, Next. The first time we ordered "reserve", and the next seven menus "standard". At least for Next, I would say that unless you are true oenophiles, have cash to burn, and want the best of the best, go with the regular pairing, not the reserve. Alinea offers more variety of beverages than Next, so it's up to you if you want pairings vs. glasses/bottles. For me, with tasting menus, I really enjoy pairings. I like leaving my entire night in the staff's hands, including beverages. At Alinea you will feel like you are Alice falling down the rabbit hole, so I highly recommend staying with the ride and trusting the staff to decide everything. Have a great trip!

                  Edited to add, plus a few tweaks above: I just read this thread again, and want to specifically address W42's recommendations. I agree with the recommendations for these three spots (although I haven't been to Schwa, I know enough people who have, and following these boards, I believe I understand their vibe and talent, and I love the other two restaurants). This is a niche relatively unique to Chicago, especially for the BYOB venues of El Ideas and Schwa, perhaps in a similar category to Brooklyn Fare and maybe a couple of places in San Francisco. For a greater extension of interactive (with the chefs, and especially at the communal tables of Elizabeth, with other guests) tasting menus, I'd also consider some of our underground restaurants. The two I have gone to, and absolutely loved, are Sous Rising (BYOB) and Feast & Imbibe (pairings included and still cheaper than SR on an average night). Perhaps I'm still in the honeymoon phase after my recent meal at F&I, but it was one of my favorite meals ever, and the chef and hostess are two of the loveliest people you'll interact with in fine dining.

                  1. re: GourmetWednesday

                    Thanks for the tip on Feast & Imbibe. I'm planning my first trip to Sous Rising in a couple of months, but I hadn't heard as much about F&I.

                    Also, the Brooklyn Fare comparison is very apt, but I'm kind of curious which places here in San Francisco you are thinking of. Off the top of my head, I can't come up with any that are similar—Saison is great but not nearly as relaxed or fun hanging out with the chefs—but would love to find them.

                    1. re: GourmetWednesday

                      Thanks for the feedback about the pairings - I think the standard pairing or a couple of bottles we select will be fine for us. I like the idea of the pairing for the reasons you mention - letting the staff guide you the whole journey.

                      I will look into all of these dinner suggestions - wow so many choices! I had not heard of sous rising or F & I.

                      I heard about badhappy and it sounded like something fun and casual to break up the fine dining trend we have with a lot of the rest of the weekend. Also liked the BYOB aspect.

                    2. re: jbontario

                      This is what I was considering doing if we don't do the pairing. Thanks for the feedback!

                    3. OK, so I was able to get through at Schwa after about 10 tries this afternoon. I got a reservation for that Friday. I will keep Spiaggia as a backup. Thanks to all.

                      Thinking of Cafe Spiaggia for Saturday lunch to still get a little taste of it - thoughts?

                      For those who have done Schwa, any pairing recommendations?

                      PS: I have a feeling I sounded like an idiot on the phone - I was so shocked they answered it through me off guard lol.

                      PPS: El Ideas looked great too but I opted out of it this time due to no car and it being out of the way. Maybe next time.

                      13 Replies
                      1. re: jacque536

                        Schwa is BYOB. Think about whites, perhaps something sparkling, hoppy beer, and know that the chefs love Jamesons.

                        If you feel like trying to get a hold of them again by phone, I've been able to get them to just pick up some bottles of stuff for me based on what they are serving (though the nearby Cellar Rat which they used to make daily runs to is now closed).

                        Cafe Spiaggia is kind of forgettable—I think you can do better in Chicago for nice-but-not-super-expensive Italian.

                        1. re: W42

                          >> Cafe Spiaggia is kind of forgettable—I think you can do better in Chicago for nice-but-not-super-expensive Italian.

                          I somewhat agree; I think it's actually quite good, but there are others I like even better. However, the places that I like the best for Italian - Anteprima, Piccolo Sogno, Piccolo Sogno Due, maybe Vivere - are not open for lunch on Saturdays. Café Spiaggia is open for Saturday lunch, as are the Florentine, tesori, and Coco Pazzo Café (but not Coco Pazzo). They're all quite good. And Café Spiaggia gives you a chance to take a look at the dining room at Spiaggia while you're eating next door. So for a Saturday lunch, it can be a good choice. (You can make a reservation for there on Opentable or by phone.)

                          1. re: nsxtasy

                            For your Saturday lunch, I really like Davanti Enoteca, www.davantichicago.com. It is in the Little Italy neighborhood, 1359 W Taylor St., a few miles southwest of most of your eatinerary. They are open Saturdays 11am-midnight, with a Saturday brunch menu available 11am-2pm. A few blocks east, at 1068 W Taylor St., is "Mario's Italian Lemonade" stand, which would make for a quintessentially Chicago dessert or snack, especially on a hot day.

                          2. re: W42

                            Thanks, I knew it was BYOB, but didn't know if all of you "experts" out there had any specific recs. I was thinking of a sparkling and some whites, and maybe one red. Jamesons - thank you again - that was going to be my next question, which brands do the chefs prefer.

                            Very excited to try Schwa, for some reason it was under my radar before. And El Ideas has made my wish list for next trip (already growing fast, lol). So glad I checked in on here!

                            1. re: jacque536

                              >> my wish list for next trip (already growing fast, lol).

                              I strongly recommend considering Grace for your next trip. It's the new high-end restaurant from Curtis Duffy, formerly of Avenues, and has opened to lots of acclaim, including being named best new restaurant of the year by Chicago magazine ( www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/M... ). They are doing wonderful things, and I expect them to receive multiple Michelin stars this fall. I was extremely impressed with my dinner there last month; the food was extremely interesting AND extremely delicious, and the service was impeccable. IMHO it's the best restaurant in Chicago that isn't named Alinea. In fact, our party of four had quite a lively discussion on the way home, about which is better. Personally I think they're just different from each other, Alinea with its presentation techniques, while both serve some of the most delicious food you'll find anywhere. Just make your reservations well in advance - preferably as soon as your desired date becomes available - as all the media acclaim and word of mouth have made this one of the toughest reservations in Chicago to snag. Don't expect that to change any time soon. www.grace-restaurant.com

                              TRU is also worth considering, if you enjoy high-end cuisine and everything that entails (formal attire, many waitstaff, luxury surroundings). Anthony Martin is doing great things there, and it continues to evolve. I would have called it the second best restaurant in Chicago, until I went to Grace. Reservations are relatively easy to get. www.trurestaurant.com

                              For a BYO restaurant, I recommend Goosefoot rather than El Ideas. Goosefoot is another restaurant created by a chef who made a name elsewhere (Chris Nugent, formerly of Les Nomades), and the food is excellent, better than El Ideas. It's in a relatively quiet outlying residential neighborhood. Like Grace, Goosefoot is also a tough reservation to snag, thanks to word of mouth. www.goosefoot.net

                              I know Gonzo also just had a wonderful dinner at Elizabeth the other night. I haven't been there so I have no opinion, but suffice to say that I've heard lots of praise for it from others as well. It's another place in an outlying neighborhood. It's also quite a bargain compared with the others. www.elizabeth-restaurant.com

                              1. re: nsxtasy

                                "It's another place in an outlying neighborhood."

                                Basically in the same "outlying neighborhood," as Elizabeth and Goosefoot are about three city blocks apart, most conveniently one stop apart via the Brown Line train (Western and Rockwell stations, respectively). I am happy to say I live directly between the two, and am so excited to have them in the hood.

                                1. re: GourmetWednesday

                                  I meant no disrespect by saying that; thanks for pointing out how close the two are.

                                  Just to give an overview to help visitors understand the lay of the land (stuff we locals consider second nature)... In approximate terms, Chicago can be thought of as consisting of "downtown Chicago", "outlying" (i.e. non-downtown) neighborhoods, and the suburbs. Most of the hotels in the city are in downtown Chicago. Restaurants in downtown Chicago may be within walking distance of where anyone is staying, otherwise they're a short cab ride away (public transit can also be used). In outlying neighborhoods, many restaurants (and probably most of the noteworthy ones) are within a safe short walk of a single direct ride from downtown via el (subway) or bus (El Ideas being a notable exception), or a cab/limo ride that ranges from somewhat expensive to very expensive, unless you have a car. In the suburbs, some (not most, but some) of the restaurants are within a safe short walk of a single direct ride from downtown via el (subway) or Metra commuter train, otherwise they are most easily accessible via car or expensive cab. Those are generalities and there are exceptions, but this works as an overview. Location is important because some people have cars while others don't, some people are comfortable with public transit while others don't, some people don't mind a long cab ride while others do, etc. This way people can understand the easiest method of getting to any particular place and how much time and money it is likely take to get there.

                                  If anyone has any questions about the best way to get to any particular place, please ask! Include where you're traveling from (e.g. the name of your hotel or a nearby intersection), since even the neighborhoods comprising "downtown Chicago" cover a wide enough area that directions from one part of downtown may be different from those from another.

                                  1. re: nsxtasy

                                    I definitely appreciate this info being new to Chicago. I'm from Atlanta and I'm always happy to offer new visitors tips on getting around (speaking of another city where navagating can be confusing to first timers), so I definitely appreciate it in a new city.

                              2. re: jacque536

                                Don't sweat too much about exact pairing of what you bring to Schwa, especially if you have a late seating. When we were there, for one course they brought us glasses of a wine leftover from someone else's dinner ( I think a sweetish white) as they thought it paired better than any of the 4 bottles we'd brought.

                                1. re: masha

                                  This is great to hear. I had seen reviews on Schwa where this sometimes happened. We would also be more than happy to share our wines with others there at the same time. This will only add to the fun! Thanks!

                              3. re: W42

                                I like Cafe Spiaggia for lunch.

                                If you want another high end place with Alinea, I prefer Tru to other places. We just went to Grace and weren't thrilled. It was very, very good. I certainly wouldn't turn anyone away from it but I still prefer Tru. If you're into wine I would avoid the pairings at Grace and order a bottle or bottles~don't know their corkage policy. I think Grace needs to work out a few kinks. If you end up there you won't be upset with the decision.

                                1. re: HoosierFoodie

                                  I think we are going to keep Cafe Spiaggia as saturday lunch - for several reasons including location, timing and the fact that we were looking forward to dining at "big" Spiaggia before the suggestions of all the other options came flooding in.

                                  Grace is on the shortlist for next trip (whenever that may be).

                                  1. re: jacque536

                                    Before your next trip, I would encourage you to read through the local LTH thread on Grace, especially the posts on the second page:

                                    http://www.lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic....

                                    The first and third page are mostly a discussion of pre-opening hype, price, and value.

                                    For all those considering a special dinner at Grace: I think this LTH thread does a pretty good job of detailing a few raves and a few more disappointments. Hopefully there will be more recent, and more positive, reviews by the time your next trip rolls around.

                                    You'll hear a lot of the same posters on chowhound repeat their recommendations again and again (and many of us on this Chicago board are active on LTH), so you should be able to find some new opinions to help make up your own mind.

                            2. Regarding Schwa - I sounded like a stammering idiot too when (finally) I got someone on the phone. I think they're used to that. I had my favorite meal ever there, and I've been to Alinea and several other really great places. For the record, it was on a night when Michael Carlson was there. Everyone was really cool.

                              Whites are the way to go with wine pairing, I think. I brought a nice Washington State pinot gris and a Santa Barbara County pinot noir, and the pinot gris was a better match (though there was a pork belly, watermelon and kimchi dish that was spectacular with the red). I suggest bringing some Jameson whiskey for the kitchen too, they will appreciate it.

                              Also, I had the late Sunday night slot the first time I went to Alinea and I found the service was flawless.

                              I would echo the praise for both Goosefoot and Elizabeth from others as I had great meals at both. Moto is interesting but I found it a little more flash than substance for my taste.

                              Going to EL Ideas and Grace next week so we'll see about those...