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Mar 18, 2014 09:04 AM

5th Wedding Anniversary dinner suggestions for downtown??

My wife and I are celebrating our 5th anniversary with our first trip to Chicago. First...I know this is a food site, but we are trying to decide between the Palmer House and Sofitel Water Tower which are far apart. Which do you guys recommend? NOW, onto the food of course. What would be your go-to best special occasion restaurant (a great view of the city would be nice but not essential) for both the Sofitel area and the Palmer House area? We'd like to hit $100-$150 total check before tax and tip if possible. THANKS!

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  1. Do the Sofitel. Modern, great neighborhood. Rooms are very nice. Palmer House is in the Loop. May get a good room but more likely to get a closet.

    1. I agree with Chulacat regarding the preference for the Sofitel. Furthermore, the location of the Sofitel is better for your trip, since it's in the "Magnificent Mile" (North Michigan Avenue) area, with its hotels, shopping, restaurants, and nightlife. By contrast, the Palmer House is in the Loop, which has more emphasis on commercial office workers (although there are some hotels and restaurants there too, but not as many).

      The problem with your query is that our very best special-occasion restaurants cost a lot more than the target budget you mention. So you'll need to either adjust your budget if you want to dine at our best places, or else dine at a place that is not quite as elegant and upscale. I'll give you recommendations in several price brackets, to help you decide.

      $100-150 check, including moderate alcohol but excluding tax/tip, works out to $130-200 including tax and tip. The numbers I'll quote below are the total for two including moderate alcohol as well as tax and tip, so consider those numbers comparable with your $130-200 target. And of course those numbers are approximate, with lots of variables that affect the total check. Feel free to consult the restaurants' websites, as most display menus and wine lists that can give you a better idea of pricing.

      Our best special occasion restaurants include:

      Alinea (advance ticket purchase required, expect to pay $600-800 for two) -
      Grace ($600-800) -
      TRU ($500-700) -
      Everest ($400-600) -

      I don't know if it matters to you, but these are all fairly formal (jackets required for gentlemen).

      There is one bargain in this group. If you eat at a 5:00/5:30 seating at Everest, they offer a prix fixe (no substitutions) three-course menu for around $50, in addition to their regular menu.

      A small step down from the previous group in price and in formality (business casual, no jackets required), but still very elegant and with very creative food, yields:

      Naha ($200-250) -
      North Pond ($200-250) -
      Acadia ($200-400) -
      NoMI ($200-300) -
      Shanghai Terrace ($200-250) -

      If you absolutely need to make sure you stay within the dollar figure you mentioned, then you might consider the following. Keep in mind that while these are nice restaurants with excellent food, they are not nearly as elegant and upscale as those listed above:

      Café des Architectes ($150-200, and it's inside the Sofitel) -
      Café Spiaggia ($150-200) -
      La Sardine ($100-150) -

      Personally, I think that second group (the one with Naha and North Pond) offers the best value, with great food and an elegant experience approaching that of the more expensive places. From those mentioned, my top picks would be Naha and North Pond, both with chef-owners who have won the James Beard Award. Naha is walking distance from the Sofitel; North Pond is two miles north, and is distinguished by its exquisite setting in the middle of the park, facing its namesake pond. I think either of these is perfect for a special occasion meal without breaking the bank.

      You mentioned that a nice view would be a plus. Here are the places I've listed that offer a great view. I mentioned North Pond's location in the park; it faces its namesake pond, with the city skyline looming over the opposite shore. When reserving, ask for the front room, which has full-length windows looking that way, rather than the rear room, which is nice with its open kitchen but has no view. Everest is on the 40th floor of the Midwest Stock Exchange Building and looks out over the city; the view is spectacular, although the windows are traditional rather than full-length. NoMI has full-length windows on one side, looking out at the park and the Water Tower.

      Location-wise, the Sofitel is just west of the Mag Mile, a few blocks south of its north end at Oak Street. The Palmer House is in the middle of the Loop, a mile south of the Sofitel. Café des Architectes (of course), TRU, NoMI, Shanghai Terrace, and Café Spiaggia are within a five-minute walk of the hotel. Naha is a 10-15 minute walk. The others are all a short cab ride away (1.5 to 4 miles).

      I'll be happy to provide more information about these places if you can narrow down your requirements (particularly regarding the discrepancy between the special occasion objective and your stated budget).

      2 Replies
      1. re: nsxtasy

        P.S. Wherever you go, let the restaurant know it's your anniversary when making your reservation. Many restaurants can do something special and unique when they know it's a special occasion.

        1. re: nsxtasy

          One more note, with regard to the total bill at various restaurants. There is a fair amount of variation in charges at any restaurant. Alcohol is the biggest variable; some people get one drink each or split a bottle of moderately-priced wine, while others don't order alcohol at all, and still others prefer more to drink and/or more expensive selections. Charges for food can vary but typically not as much, especially if you're getting the common three-course appetizer-entrée-dessert format. So you can take this into account when determining how much *you* might spend.

        2. I agree with Nsxtasy that at your price point the elite venues such as Grace and Alinea are out of range. One option for fitting in a bit or romance and a stunning view of the city would be to have a round of cocktails at the Signature Lounge in the John Hancock building before dinner (short walk from the Sofitel). This is on the 95th floor and the views are really amazing. The food is overpriced IMHO, but would be great for a pre-dinner drink.

          For dinner, if you are willing to take a short and fairly inexpensive cab ride (just under two miles from the Sofitel) two of my favorite restaurants are in Lincoln Park and depending on what you order you should be able to have an outstanding meal within your price range. One of these is Boka (Contemporary American cuisine) and the other Balena (Italian). Boka is a little more romantic, Balena a little more energetic depending on what type of vibe you are seeking; both are worthy of special occasion but not uber expensive. The food is outstanding at both, great wine & cocktails too and some of the friendliest staff in Chicago. They are a short walk from one another (and owned by the same restaurant group) so you could do what I call a B&B night and have dinner at one and dessert and an after dinner drink at the other.

          Signature Lounge:



          1 Reply
          1. re: Gonzo70

            Nsxstasy & Gonzo have it covered. Stay at the Sofitel.

            Signature Lounge for a drink and Cafe Spiaggia for dinner is your best option within budget (and no cabs to pay for!).

            If you are stretching your budget, go to Naha or Boka.

          2. For the budget you've presented, probably Cafe Spiaggia, or Baffo(note: I haven't been here yet, but if it's anything like it's NYC counterpart, it should be decent) if you need to stay downtown. Sepia or Boka if you are willing to take a cab or public transportation.

            2 Replies
            1. re: sunbrace

              You summed it up perfectly for me, sunbrace. And none of those options will occur - at all - like a compromise or make-do option. Congratulations and enjoy.

              1. re: sunbrace

                Baffo is excellent, though might be pushing the limit of your budget, depending on what you order. For views, Sixteen in the the Trump Tower, but that one will surely bust your budget.