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Jan 3, 2014 10:42 AM

Celebratory dinner suggestions?

Four of us are going to be in Chicago in a few weeks to celebrate three birthdays and two promotions. Initially I thought that we'd go to Everest for our celebratory dinner. Now, after spending some time on Chow and Yelp, I am not so sure.

I don't mind spending the money for the meal ... IF the meal is excellent and the service is good. But the reviews of Everest seem to indicate that the service is so-so and the food is expensive for the quality you get.

So, with that in mind, maybe I could get some recommendations. Here are the issues I'm facing (and this is primarily why I am asking for guidance). I will eat anything you put in front of me. My husband is picky and doesn't like seafood or foie gras/pate; our friends are basically foodies and will eat mostly anything. So one of the issues we're facing is that a lot of the fine dining establishments aren't a la carte, but tasting menus are usually seafood heavy and my husband just won't eat it.

Suggestions? We can afford to spend what we would have spent at Everest. But I want to eat great food, and I want it to be worthy of a celebration. If I want good-to-great food with middling service, I can stay here in Madison. Thanks in advance.

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  1. Everest used to be one of Chicago's finest; while it is still quite good, it is somewhat dated and several more modern, exciting venues have since opened. As such Everest would not be near my top choice for a celebratory dinner.

    I am not sure if Grace still has reservations available, but that would be my top choice based on what you are saying. While it is a tasting menu, they do a great job making modifications based not just on allergies, but also dietary preferences and they should be able to make your husband happy without sacrificing the quality of the meal. It is a bit more expensive then Everest ($185 per/person for food), but is a memorable meal with phenomenal, high end, interesting, artistically presented cuisine, stellar service (perfect blend of polished and personable), excellent wine program and a stunning dining room that manages to be elegant but comfortable. Completely worthy of a special education. While they are on Open Table, they do not release weekends to Open Table - but only book weekends over the phone.

    If Grace is booked, Moto would be another option for a special occasion worthy tasting menu (in fact went there for my wife's birthday, my birthday and New Years' Eve in 2013). Moto also does a very nice job modifying the menu for dietary preferences.

    If you do want a la carte, some great venues worthy of a special occasion in terms of ambiance, service and food quality would be North Pond, MK and Sepia; Naha and Acadia also have their fans, but my experiences have not been the best there. Boka would be perfect, but they are currently remodeling and will not be open again until approximately February 7th. The Lobby also would be perfect, but recently lost their head chef, both sous chefs and pastry chef - so not the best time to dine there.

    7 Replies
    1. re: Gonzo70

      It looks like Tru is doing a prix fixe, in addition to their tasting menu, so you can each make your own choices in each category, and seafood can easily be avoided. The offerings will surely change prior to your visit, but here is a sample/current menu. This would be a step up, and more modern, than most of what you will find in Madison. (I cancelled our reservation for L'Etoile last week in favor of a pizza dinner/holiday party with in-laws, so, sight unseen, that might be close.)

      1. re: GourmetWednesday

        Hey GW - Thanks for the Tru recommendation! Much appreciated, and I put it on the list for consideration. As I said to Gonzo, I would love to be able to make these decisions for the greater collective, but whatever...

        Are you from the Madison area? I only ask because you mentioned L'Etoile. I agree that it is over-hyped. There are better places to eat in the Madison area.

        1. re: mskilgore

          Have lived in Chicago for >15 years, originally from Kentucky. My husband is from Madison, so we go regularly, although mostly for family events and not culinary exploration. We did get to Graze for brunch on the way out of town last year and thoroughly enjoyed it.

      2. re: Gonzo70

        Hey Gonzo - Thanks for the recommendations! I really appreciate your thoughts on the matter. I suggested Moto, Tru, MK and Sepia to my friends/husband and I am waiting to hear back from them. I wish this wasn't a group effort, but unfortunately people aren't interested in me just making an itinerary on my own!

        I will do a trip report afterwards, and let you guys know where we went and what we thought.

        1. re: mskilgore

          Of those four, the only one I would recommend is Tru. A recent visit to MK was not especially memorable. I have been to Sepia only once and that's because the first time was "fine" but just that. And I don't care for the silly, self-conscious stuff that Cantu does with food at Moto. My experience is that it wasn't to make the food taste better, only gimmicky. Admittedly, others who have been there more recently than I, say it is much better.

          I would add Naha to the list. It is consistently classy, comfortable and with exemplary food. Not a lot of bells and whistles, but they know what they are doing and do it well.

          1. re: chicgail

            When were you last at Moto? Farina, not Cantu has been the executive chef there for nearly two years. Totally different experience, emphasis and concept since. Apparently Tru just very recently resumed an a la carte menu, so agree that is a good option. Personally I have found Sepia and MK to be superior to Naha (been there a coupe times and found ambiance blah, service middling and food good - not great) but as I said some enjoy. Hopefully you've been there more recently than Moto.

            1. re: Gonzo70

              Gonzo, I do know about the change and I know that you and others have really liked Moto. Moto is a pretty high price point, Chicago offers so many interesting options and I just haven't gotten myself to go back and give it another try.

              I do stand by my experience of Naha as consistently superior to both Sepia and MK, but that may well be a function of personal experience and opinion. Mine is just the opposite of yours between those which is what makes this such an interesting board.

      3. Tru is a very solid choice. We were just there and the food was outstanding. The wine service has dropped off significantly though if one is really into wine.

        Grace is a great choice, too. I am not a fan of Everest and quit going years ago after too many service issues.

        As to others mentioned: We've been to Naha many times and as said before it is consistently excellent. I like MK almost as much as Naha and better than Sepia.

        Not mentioned, we like Les Nomades a lot but it is a bit stuffy for some, I think. Blackbird is fantastic but maybe a bit loud for what it sounds like you are looking for.