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Two dinners, please?

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Coming to Chicago for a weekend trip in a few weeks. Staying at the Renaissance downtown, no car, just my wife and me. Would like a dressier meal one night, then something more casual, maybe more ethnic. But still not way downscale, someplace pleasant to hang out. Some of the more obvious choices either exceed budget or are unavailable at this relatively late date (Alinea, GATG). I'm not particularly concerned over what type of food so much as food that is good and interesting.

So...your thoughts. For the dressier night, what about Balena? Sepia? Or GT Fish?

And for more casual: Urbanbelly? Yusho? Avec? From what I can tell, Urbanbelly and Avec don't take reservations--how bad are the waits on a Friday or Saturday night?

Other ideas? Much appreciated!

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  1. Just to clarify: I would put GTF&O in the "casual" list, and possibly move Avec to the other side, or somewhere in between.

    I haven't been to Balena or Sepia, so will let others speak to those, or other options on your "dressier" night. Perhaps some info re: your preferences on cuisine, liveliness/noise level, setting, whether drinks are important, small plates vs traditional a la carte menu vs tasting menu, etc. might be helpful.

    I would eliminate Urban Belly if you want a place to hang out. It is a casual neighborhood byob with tasty food. I wouldn't choose it for one of my two dinners in town.

    Yusho is one of my favorite casual spots in the city. I love their bar program, the food, and the service. There are also other places within walking distance, including sister property Billy Sunday, to continue celebrating your trip in style.

    6 Replies
    1. re: GourmetWednesday

      Great. That's why Chowhound is so helpful. You just can't get an accurate feel for the vibe of a place by looking at website or even reviews. Right now I'm definitely leaning towards Yusho, so your recommendation is great. And hopefully someone will chime in as to the "dressier" option.

      And as for your (good) questions: cuisine: any, though I haven't found a lot of Asian places that provide something like a "fine dining" experience. Noise: I'm 58 so ultra loud, or even moderately loud, makes conversation difficult. I don't mind some shouting in a casual setting but for dressy night would prefer quiet to moderately loud. Love small plates but am happy with traditional courses. Don't think tasting (a la Grace) is what we're looking for this time.

      1. re: cliresga

        Some upscale Asian venues in Chicago would include Kabocha and Embeya; both are excellent. Not quite dressy/formal, but upscale.

        Non-Asian venues that I enjoy that are dressy, on the quieter side and not uber expensive would include North Pond, MK, Boka, or the Lobby at the Peninsula. Do keep in mind that while these venues do not have huge price tags, they are somewhat spendy. Naha and Acadia would also fall in this category (not my favorite venues, but lots of people enjoy them).

        You had mentioned Balena; I enjoy Balena (been twice), but it is definitely on the loud/energetic end of the spectrum. I also would not consider Balena to be a "dressy" venue. As for Sepia that may work; I have not been there recently, but did have a nice meal there a couple years ago and they are dressy, not too loud and have great food, cocktails and service.

        1. re: Gonzo70

          A quick report back on our trip. Thanks in part to all of you, we chose to do Boka on Friday, and Yusho on Saturday.

          Boka was a success. We loved the atmosphere (our server said they were contemplating an update as they felt it was getting tired--definitely not our opinion). Right on the money for what we wanted, quiet, romantic, "grown-up." Started with a very brief wait at the bar after arriving early, had a well done Old Fashioned there. Meal started with the Thai chili snapper carpaccio, beautifully done. Did sweetbreads and squash blossoms next. Neither was the best I've ever had, the squash perhaps a bit underseasoned (but I am an aggressive seasoning fan), but both more than satisfactory. For mains, wife did the sturgeon--again, very competent, but a touch underseasoned again. I had the suckling pig special. Fabulous--included loin, belly, and rib chops. The belly, in particular, was exquisite, the juice and fat of the meat contrasting with the incredibly crisp skin. Super. Persimmon sorbet for dessert, also yummy. Wine was also great--the '01 Pegau CDP, which I thought was a bargain at their price.

          Yoshu, on the other hand, was a real disappointment. Our experience mirrored a fair number of online reviews. We loved the food. The service--pretty much a disaster. I am a big believer that many complaints about service are either unrealistic expectations, or bad attitude, and I try very hard to take the server's perspective. This time though, just a mess. We ordered a glass of wine to start. We had wanted to order a few dishes first and then add to them later, but our server pretty much insisted that we place the order all at once, assuring us that he'd bring the food out in proper order. We also ordered a bottle of wine, as by then we had finished our initial glasses. Very shortly thereafter, 4 our of our 6 dishes arrived, everything but the kimchee (which I would have thought should have come out first) and a bun. We tried to wait to get our wine, but after a long delay, we finally started eating before everything got cold. Finally, as we were finishing those dishes, the server arrives, and opens a bottle of what turned out to be Gewurtztraminer (we had ordered a Burgundy). Another long wait. Server comes back and says the bottle we ordered was out of stock. I say just bring us anything, even just off the glass list. Disappears again. Kimchee appears (just too salty for me, only dish that was not yummy). Finally a different server arrives, apologizes profusely, and brings us two glasses of red. They clear our table, even though we have one more dish due. We finish our wine, still no last dish. Second server finally arrives with new plates, apologizes and puts down new dishes. More waiting. We give up, get our check and head out.

          At least the second server was genuinely upset. They did comp the two glasses of red, as they should have. Bummer. I really wanted to love the place and the food really hinted at greatness. I would have ordered at least two more dishes had service worked right.

          Oh well, there's always next time. Thanks to all for your input.

          1. re: cliresga

            Thanks for the trip report; glad you enjoyed Boka. I actually went there since my last post on this thread as well and had another outstanding meal/experience. Already made plans to go back in December.

            Too bad about the service gaffes at Yusho; at least it sounds like the food was good though. Hopefully they remedy the service issues; service was good the couple of occasions I have dined there, but I have heard this complaint about them from someone I know as well as some other people online.

            1. re: Gonzo70

              Thanks for your detailed and thoughtful report. Very sorry to hear of the problems at Yusho, especially as they seem to be part of a pattern. Curious if Chef/Owner Matthias Merges was there that night. While great venues keep the standards high even when the boss is gone, they seem to be expanding quickly and I'm wondering if anyone thinks they might be getting complacent because of it.

              1. re: GourmetWednesday

                I was surprised, given that he came from Charlie Trotter's, one of my all-time favorites and a temple to good service. Still, I'd give them another chance. And Chicago--always a great food town.

    2. I would take a look at Acadia -- especially for your dressier night.
      http://acadiachicago.com/

      I also think Yusho is great. I'd recommend stopping by Longman & Eagle's cocktail bar (as opposed to Longman & Eagle's main bar... I don't entirely get it, either) called OSB. Billy Sunday, a little farther away, is also lovely.
      http://www.longmanandeagle.com/garage/
      http://billy-sunday.com/

      1. I loved Bavette's, or really anything in that group (Gilt Bar, Au Cheval, Maudes). I took my husband to Bavette's for his birthday and he really enjoyed it. They have jazz playing in the background too!

        I always enjoy Piccolo Sogno as well.

        Recently went to Two and had an incredible meal.

        I enjoyed Sepia, but wasnt blown away the one time I was there. Others have been though.