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Anniversary Dinner in October?

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lngrunert Jul 10, 2013 08:17 PM

My husband and I are taking an overnight trip down to Chicago in October for our 19th wedding anniversary. We've been to most of the best restaurants where we live (Milwaukee), but of course Chicago is a whole other ballgame.

We're looking for great food with a nice ambiance, though nothing as high end as Alinia or Tru. After perusing the boards for some time, it looks like these four restaurants would be good possibilities for us:

North Pond
Blackbird
Boka
Naha

I've looked at the menus on all of their websites, and would be happy with any of them from just a read. But I'd love some advice about the things you can't tell from a menu - service, noise level, difficulty in getting a reservation, etc.

I'm also up for any other suggestions along the lines of these restaurants. $35-40 per entree, not too casual (I like to dress up), with no particular emphasis on ethnic cuisine like Mexican or Italian. I'd prefer a place that's not too noisy, and with servers who would be patient with a couple of "country mice". ;) We don't have a hotel yet, so location's not too much of an issue as long as it's not a ridiculously long cab ride from downtown.

Any help would be greatly appreciated!

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    hoppy2468 RE: lngrunert Jul 11, 2013 04:53 AM

    Go with North Pond. Our anniversary is in Oct. as well and we've gone there several times over the years to celebrate. It's a wonderful place to eat and the setting is just perfect. The weather's getting cooler, the leaves are changing color and it's dark enough that you can enjoy the view of downtown as you stroll the short distance(the cab lets you out and it's a two minute walk into the park)to the restaurant.
    Stay at the Dana Hotel. Ten minute cab ride.
    Reserve now. Call. Ask to be seated in the front room. Tell them it's your annv. I like to "dress up" for occasions as well and no one there will mind. In fact, I feel that you get better service that way than the guy in a seed cap and jeans( an example only. No one will be dressed like that there). The last time we went service was excellent but it's been two years. I wouldn't worry though, if there were service issues, word would get out. Of the four restaurants listed, I think N.P. will be the quietest but certainly not quiet like Alinea or so. On the other hand, Blackbird can be very loud.
    North Pond is an excellent choice. You'll enjoy the Dana as well.

    1. Gonzo70 RE: lngrunert Jul 11, 2013 07:12 AM

      I agree that North Pond might be the best option. Ordinarily I would recommend Boka, but they have had significant personnel changes of late and lost some really good people - I am hoping that after a brief transition period they will be as good as ever, but that remains to be seen.

      North Pond is in such a beautiful location and the food is consistently excellent. Service I have found to be not quite as personable as I like, but certainly is not bad. The only caution for North Pond is they are rather reluctant to make modification to dishes based on dietary aversions, so if either of you are a picky eater I would opt for a venue that is more accommodating.

      Blackbird has great food, but the ambiance is just not one that I would associate with celebrating a special occasion (loud, tables extremely close to one another).

      Most people love Naha; personally I have had two good, not great meals there. While the ambiance is an improvement over Blackbird in terms of being special occasion worthy, it pales in comparison to the ambiance of North Pond.

      If you do opt for North Pond I would book an early reservation so that at least part of your meal will be during daylight so you can see the park; definitely request seating in the front room and inform them it is your anniversary as Hoppy suggested - you can even do so in the reservation notes online if you book via OpenTable.

      1. chicgail RE: lngrunert Jul 12, 2013 01:52 AM

        I have a slightly contrary opinion to weigh in with.

        I think North Pond is a great option. The location is unique, beautiful and romantic and the chef is well recognized. And I have had mixed experiences there. My husband took me there for a birthday dinner and they provided me with a birthday menu momento to take home which was really thoughtful. Still, while some of the food I have had was quite good, some was peculiar, like lobster and carrot tasting. Carrots are fine and lobster is one of my favorite foods, but it didn't seem to go together at all.

        I have been to Naha several times over the years and have never had a bad meal or even a single dish that I would complain about. It is a lovely space and similar in dress code (casually elegant) - not as astonishingly beautiful as North Pond, but certainly not shabby.

        I would weigh that while you make your choice. Either would be lovely, but don't dismiss Nana. It's just too consistently classy and good.

        1. h
          HoosierFoodie RE: lngrunert Jul 12, 2013 12:17 PM

          Blackbird is probably my favorite on the list. But, it can be loud and crowded. Great lunch deal, though.

          I was just at North Pond and it was excellent. We had the tasting menu and really enjoyed it. One dish lobster & mushrooms was the only off course of the night and, wow, was it off. Great atmosphere and room. As others have said, request a table with a view. We were there on a beautiful evening.

          I was at Boka a few months ago and it was very good. I don't know about their staffing issues.

          I've been to Naha many times and I, too, have never had a bad meal or experience. I probably like it the best of the four you mention but there isn't a dog in the bunch.

          1 Reply
          1. re: HoosierFoodie
            Gonzo70 RE: HoosierFoodie Jul 12, 2013 01:02 PM

            Regarding Boka within the past month they lost Jordan Egan (General Manager) who moved to New York (he is at The NoMad there as a sommelier); I thought he was one of the top GM's in Chicago. They also lost Ben Schiller who is my favorite mixologist (he is now helming the Berkshire Room and also revamped the cocktail program for Homestead). His understudy, Savannah Witmer is heading to Sepia (her last day at Boka is this weekend). They also recently lost two servers that I thought highly of, one to Homestead and the other to sister venue Perennial Virant.

            So far as I know there have been no major changes in the kitchen and they do have a good track record of bringing in high end talent, so hopefully the new personnel will be as good or better - but for the short term it is hard to not expect a drop off in service with so many outstanding people leaving within a month. I saw today that Matthew Lipsky is leaving Charcoal Bar; that would be nice if they have plucked him to replace Ben/Savannah.

          2. l
            lngrunert RE: lngrunert Jul 13, 2013 08:37 AM

            Thank you so much for the recommendations and advice. :)

            I think we will go with North Pond because of the romantic setting. Blackbird or the others might be better for another trip, but not for a special occasion. We will probably order off the menu instead of getting the tasting, so I'm not concerned about getting stuck with a weird pairing; and neither of us have any dietary restrictions, so we would never need any kind of substitution.

            Now we just have to pick a date and make our reservation!

            1 Reply
            1. re: lngrunert
              delk RE: lngrunert Jul 14, 2013 03:35 AM

              For three years, I lived across the street from North Pond. It is just a beautiful setting. Take a nice walk around the lagoon after your dinner, it is amazing. Grab an after dinner drink at Mon Ami Gabi, it's across the street.

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