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"Modern" Food Ideas?

This is a rather unusual query that will require some contextualizing, so thanks in advance if you bear with me.

I teach at Notre Dame and am planning to take a group of somewhere between 6-10 students to the Art Institute in Sept. for a field trip supporting a course that we're doing: "What is Modernity?" We might also manage to fit in some time taking stock of architectural aspects of modernity. I should specify that "modern" for us doesn't mean just the latest thing; it is a wide-ranging concept (for example, some aspects of modernity go back 500 years with the ascendancy in politics of the idea of representative government).

Anyway, that professorial fluffery behind me, I want to ask if anyone has ideas about where I might take this gang for lunch. Could lunch be folded into our explorations of what is modern?

My first and quite obvious thought is that some kind of molecular gastronomy experience might be interesting and relevant (because the "latest thing" is, still, one aspect of what modern means). But other ideas might work--perhaps, dramatic examples of fusion cuisine?

Of course, we'll have a great day even if we just grab some chow at the museum cafe. But if we can make lunch another facet of the trip, so much the better.

I expect that the University will support our costs within reason--say, $1.5-2K for the trip. But I'm supposing that Alinea is probably beyond our means, and maybe not a lunch joint in any case (never been there myself).

This feels like such an unusual post! Anyway, ideas?

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  1. Most of the venues that serve modern/molecular gastronomy are not open for lunch. The exception would be Baume & Brix, but unfortunately all hell just broke loose there and they appear to be closing. Could you do an early dinner somewhere? iNG would be perfect for what you are describing. Fairly casual, not terribly expensive and very modern techniques including use of Miracle Berries to make sour foods taste sweet (many of their desserts have little to no added sugar but they look and taste like real desserts). They often also utilize liquid nitrogen, tableside smoking of food etc. Great staff there and I have usually found the food quite excellent as well (though some courses at times are more about the presentation than the taste). They are open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner starting at 5pm and are located in the West Loop.

    1. I was also leaning towards ING which while decidedly modernist has a DADA-ist approach to their food. Alas, as pointed out below, no lunch. None of the modernist places are open for lunch but your best bet may be to plead your case with Phil Foss at El Ideas. They do a limited dinner seating and no lunch but he appears to be more accessible:


      Another option, while not modernist, is Little Goat Diner. Playful "modern" takes on comfort/diner food. Open for lunch, not very far from the museum (15 minutes by cab or car).

      1. When I think of Modernity, certainly of the Mies-ian variety, I think of a move away from ostentatious ornamentation, simplicity and the celebration of common materials. To put it in food terms, just let the food speak for itself (much in the same way that Mies would want a building's structure to be the focus). Something like Alinea wouldn't fit if you think of that way. Instead, something like a farm-to-table focused restaurant strikes me as more thematically consistent with this particular interpretation.

        Publican Quality Meats comes to mind. While they don't normally accept reservations, I would give them a call since you might have a large-ish group. If you didn't mind to Logan Square (SOM designed the station!), Lula Cafe could also fit. Maybe even Longman & Eagle (though large groups are problematic), since they will use more contemporary cooking techniques from time to time (foams, sous vide, etc.).

        1 Reply
        1. re: danimalarkey

          I have found Longman to be consistently excellent but no-reservations is a problem (but you can always call and see if they'll make an exception).

        2. Actually, the Terzo Piano restaurant at the Art Institute would serve as a good example of modernism. Although not serving molecular gastronomy, it's menu is quite contemporary & inventive: http://www.terzopianochicago.com/docu...

          Also, it is located in the Modern Wing of the AI, designed by architect Renzo Piano (hence it's name, which is a pun), so the setting is quite modern.

          4 Replies
          1. re: masha

            I don't find Yelp reviews for the food very reassuring. Admittedly, a fair number of them complain mainly about tiny portions and cost, but there are also few raves for the food as such. Have you enjoyed their food, and when?

            1. re: Bada Bing

              Frankly, the only time that I ate there was relatively shortly after it opened, for dinner, a few years ago. My main recollection was the limited number of dishes available on the dinner menu. Cannot remember the portion size or cost (we were there for a special occasion dinner so were not that price-sensitive) but the Yelp complaints could be justified.

              I do recall that the flatbreads were delicious.

              In short, I'm not necessarily suggesting that you should take your group there but did want you to realize that, if the goal was to dine somewhere that is illustrative of "modernity," the restaurant in the museum actually fit within your focus.

              1. re: Bada Bing

                I've been a couple of times in the past year, though not within the past few months admittedly. But on both occasions, I didn't find the food to be all that tasty, though the portions seemed adequate.

                I agree with masha that it makes more sense in terms of the whole experience of being in "the modern wing" of the Art Institute. The space really is pretty stunning, if you like Renzo Piano's style.

                1. re: Bada Bing

                  I was there with visitors from out of town who were staying nearby and visiting the Art Institute and it was perfect for that.

                  I thought the food was wonderful, the portions adequate and the space beautiful. My only complaint was that it was priced a bit high. I was there for lunch and it occurred to me at the time as a great place for a business meal or possibly a romantic meal. Haven't been back, but it seems so out of the way unless you're working/living/staying in the immediate area and/or visiting the Art Institute.

              2. when my dad too me to there to "sunday in the park" It was allllllll I wanted for Christmas on year, I remember going to lunch there...To me it was very modern.. foam and such.. But I was six... so maybe I was just easily impressed ...

                Does Gram Elliot do lunch? I've been there for dinner but it was it was a few years ago..

                2 Replies
                1. re: girloftheworld


                  Graham Elliot is open for dinner service Tuesday through Saturday. We seat reservations from 5:00pm until 10:00pm and offer two multi-course tasting menus. Our kitchen is able to accommodate most food allergies and dietary restrictions and advance notice of dining limitations is appreciated so that our staff might best serve you. Optional beverage pairings are available for both tasting menus, as well as our full wine list, craft cocktails, and non-alcoholic beverages.

                  1. re: kathryn

                    Too bad... it is one of my food favourite memories.

                2. You should also consider getting a Chicago-style hot dog. I am totally serious about this. It'll tie into the mass production of food, the development of global supply chains, factory labor, the commodification of mass culture, and so on. I think the Vienna Beef Factory gives tours, though I haven't been on one myself. Obviously, a hot dog might be a supplement to everyone else's (terrific!) suggestions.

                  1. Take your students out for Uno's or Due's.

                    Then, in class, discuss the hamburger. The first mass-portable food and a simple variant of the sandwich.

                    Go through White Castle, the Whopper, the Big Mac, to demonstrate evolution.

                    Show the Egg McMuffin as a deviant variant and wraps as a further deviant.

                    Working from this skeleton, so to speak, you can create a family tree of modern food and try most of it at America's iconic source of obesity.

                    1. Depends on your version of modern I guess. If you want to see foams and gels and Alinea-esque type of restaurants, I don't know of any restaurant that's open for lunch.

                      If you want one that incorporates modern techniques(uses weights instead of cups/tsps, sous vide cooking, tweezers for plating etc etc etc) without you knowing it, Blackbird in the West Loop may be an option for you. They serve modern Americanish cuisine. Their lunch prix fixe is 22 per person so not bad.

                      Jam and Longman and Eagle in Logan Square are other options. I hear Jam cooks their french toast sous vide. But you wouldn't know it when they serve it to you. They are further north from the Art Institute though.

                      For a nice summer treat, you can also take your students to ICream in Wicker Park. They use liquid nitrogen and make the ice cream of your choice in front of you. That should grab enough of their attention and start a conversation right there.

                      1. A lot of great ideas here. Thanks everyone. It's great to have recommendations from different directions, all the way from liquid-nitrogen-modern to things like burgers and hot dogs as examples of modern mass food production. Both of those directions are relevant. I'll take some time to study the details.

                        Special thanks to masha for indicating that the Art Institute restaurant might itself be about modernity in its own way. I hadn't even thought of that possibility.

                        1. A query about one further possibility: ideas about a place that is predominately concerned with locavore approaches?

                          What interests me about that issue is that one aspect of modern food is the long period of disregard for locality, the rise of flavorless tomatoes, and "modern" food meaning Tang, Pringles, TV dinners, processed, etc.

                          And now we have places that operate in reaction against that approach. In principle, I like that idea. But we would also want to consider the demographics and economics of such food. You don't find the urban poor in those places, if I'm not mistaken.