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Mar 19, 2014 09:35 PM

Visit to Chicago (And question on Tru)

Hi everyone,

I'm visiting Chicago for the first time with a friend from Mar. 24-28 and pinning down some places to try. We like affordable to high-end eats, but on this trip have room for one meal that is >$100 pp, we both don't drink which lowers prices somewhat. This is our restaurant itinerary so far based on recommendations and reading some Chowhound threads:

Dinners: Avec, Girl & The Goat (reserved), Frontera Grill (reserved), Tru (reserved)

Question on Tru, my friend is only comfortable with the prix-fixe at $125. Is it worth going if not getting "The Experience" option?

Lunches: Au Cheval, any lunch recs. greatly appreciated

If anyone has input into whether there is a must eat missing from our dinner list (<$100 pp) or maybe a better swap in for Tru if the prix-fixe isn't worth it, that would be helpful.

Also trying to think of other good places for lunch, two potentials are Hot Doug's and Black Bird.

Thanks for the advice in advance!

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  1. Sable and GT Fish & Oyster are both excellent chef-driven small plates restaurants turning out some of the best food in town. You could visit either one for lunch or dinner; both are quite affordable. I would also recommend Naha, which is chef-driven (not small plates); although somewhat more expensive than the previous two, it should still be under $100 at dinner with no alcohol. They also have a $22 prix fixe at lunchtime.

    (I can't respond about TRU because when I went there a couple of years ago, we ordered a la carte, which they discontinued since then. It was excellent, though!)

    2 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      Thank you for the recs.! Naha looks like a great deal for lunch. Would you recommend Sable over Avec, or are they just different in cuisine on offer but both solid?

      1. re: szrah

        Naha is indeed a great deal for lunch. However I see from their website that I mis-stated the price of their three-course prix fixe in my previous post. It is now $25.

        >> Would you recommend Sable over Avec, or are they just different in cuisine on offer but both solid?

        I've been to both numerous times; here are the differences. I absolutely LOVE the food I've had at Sable, whereas I've found the food at Avec to be pretty good but hasn't impressed me nearly as much as Sable. (Avec has its fans too, though.) As you are obviously already aware, the cuisine at Sable tends towards contemporary American, whereas Avec has an obvious Mediterranean influence. Sable is also open for lunch (and breakfast) whereas Avec is dinner (and Sunday brunch) only. Sable accepts reservations (including on Opentable), while Avec does not, and waits to be seated at Avec are commonly 90+ minutes unless you go very early or very late. Avec is extremely noisy (it's a very small room with all hard surfaces), much louder than Sable, and much of the seating at Avec consists of uncomfortable hard backless wooden stools and benches, as you can see on their website. So I do indeed recommend Sable over Avec for the food as well as for all these other reasons. If you go to Sable, don't miss the sweet corn crème brulee, a savory riff on the classic dessert. Enjoy!

    2. I recently had "the experience" at Tru. My SO doesn't like extended tastings so all of our previous experiences at Tru were the prix fixe or ala carte (when they offered it). I really enjoyed the extended tasting menu but I don't think that it is essential to have it. We've been going there for years without trying it till now. You're experience may vary if extended tastings are your thing. I'd definitely do both again but I still am unhappy with their desserts.

      I like Hot Doug's but it's seriously out of the way location and waits kinda kill the experience for me on most days. If I were visiting without a car it would not make my list of places even if I were a confirmed encased meat junkie.

      I like Blackbird and Avec and even love some of the things on their menus but the food just doesn't grab me the way some other places do. If you can be flexible with lunch times I'd go to The Purple Pig. It's in the general area of the other restaurants you have reserved (near north and near west loop) and I love the food.

      6 Replies
      1. re: KateBChi

        I love the food at the Purple Pig too. I don't usually mention it because the waits are during mealtimes are ludicrous (two hours or more during dinner). If it works for you to go between 1:30 and 4:00 in the afternoon, you can usually get seated immediately.

        1. re: nsxtasy

          Those are the perfect times for eating at Purple Pig! I've never had to wait at all during those hours even on weekends.

        2. re: KateBChi

          Thanks for the advice! Question about the Purple Pig. I don't eat pork, is it worth going if 'pig-items' are not an option for me?

          1. re: szrah

            Yes absolutely! The turkey leg confit, razor clams, and wagyu sirloin are excellent. They also do a wonderful job with vegetables, 'smears', and seafood.

            1. re: szrah

              100% yes. I am a fiend for their vegetable as well as seafood offerings. I was actually chagrined when recommending favorite dishes that it was pointed out to me that not a single one contained pork (other than as a sausage or pancetta flavoring element).

              1. re: KateBChi

                I agree with the previous two posters that there is plenty more than pork. Check out the menu on their website and you'll see that it features other meats, various fish and seafood, and vegetarian dishes. I've enjoyed just about everything I've had there. A LOT. Including their lemon panna cotta for dessert.

          2. I have done both the tasting menu and the prix fixe at Tru and actually preferred the prix fixe. The tasting menu had mostly amuse bouche sized courses and I actually felt as though I received more overall food with the prix fixe; I added a cheese course (definitely recommend - they have some outstanding cheeses) and with the amuse, bread service, intermezzo, mignardises and my three courses I felt as though I had a very nice dining experience and was able to sample a nice variety of what Tru has to offer. That said, near the $125 price vicinity there are other venues that I personally prefer to Tru such as Elizabeth (a bit less expensive than Tru's prix fixe on a weeknight, a bit more expensive on a weekend), El Ideas, (about $20 more than Tru), Senza (you can do the tasting menu there for about the price of the prix fixe at Tru) and Goosefoot ($10 more - though reservations are very difficult to obtain). These places to me are just a bit more modern and warmer while having food that is at least as good. If you want a really formal fine dining experience though, Tru would be the perfect choice as these other venues are significantly more casual. El Ideas and Elizabeth are really interesting, fun, unique dining experiences; they feature open kitchens and the chefs often deliver and present the food to your table; they both feature lengthy tasting menus of extremely creative, artistic and delicious food.

            For your other dinners I would consider swapping out Avec; it is somewhat similar in terms of type of cuisine to Girl & the Goat and IMHO there are numerous better options at that price point. If you want a second nose-to-tail./farm-to-table type meal I think Publican or Bristol or superior options to Avec. If you want to add some diversity to your dinners than I would recommend looking at Boka (Contemporary American), Balena (Italian) or Embeya (Modern Asian Fusion) - all of these are excellent, will be under $100 since you are not drinkers and are quite different from your other dinners.

            For lunches, Embeya has a very nice lunch offered on weekdays (no lunch service weekends). Blackbird is definitely a nice choice for lunch. Publican does a wonderful weekend brunch. GT Fish is great. North Pond (Sundays only) has a great brunch (three course prix fixe that is similar to their dinner menu - not a breakfast food type brunch) and Jam (open daily) is a fantastic place for brunch or lunch.

            4 Replies
            1. re: Gonzo70

              Thank you for this wonderful advice and suggestions. I think Elizabeth or Senza over Tru makes sense. Which would you recommend/how are they different?

              1. re: szrah

                You're welcome.

                I would give a bit of an edge to Elizabeth over Senza if picking one, but both are excellent. Elizabeth's cuisine is a bit more exotic/interesting and you likely will try things you would never have imagined eating (i.e. during my recent meal there I had a rice krispie treat like course that had bear meat mixed in; another course looked like a bowl of Fruit Loops but one color of the cereal was made of lobster, one of a type of mushroom etc.). I also like that the chef at Elizabeth completely changes the menus with the seasons and plays a role procuring some of the food herself (she goes on foraging expeditions, grows some of the produce and does some hunting and fishing). The open kitchen at Elizabeth is also appealing to me. It is really a unique, memorable dining experience.

                Senza's food is at least as good as Elizabeth's from a taste perspective, and while it is creative and artistically plated it overall does not have as much of a wow factor as Elizabeth. The dining experience itself is more traditional (and therefore not as memorable or unique) as Elizabeth (i.e. at Senza all the courses will be served by front-of-the-house staff whereas at Elizabeth the chefs often serve and present at least a few courses directly to you; you also will not be able to see into the kitchen and watch your food being prepared between courses like at Elizabeth).

                1. re: Gonzo70

                  It's also worth noting that Elizabeth requires the purchase of tickets in advance, with no refunds. So if there's any possibility that your plans may change, even for reasons that you cannot foresee right now, that is something to consider.

              2. re: Gonzo70

                >> North Pond (Sundays only) has a great brunch (three course prix fixe that is similar to their dinner menu - not a breakfast food type brunch) and Jam (open daily) is a fantastic place for brunch or lunch.

                Jam is indeed a wonderful place for breakfast or brunch. Imagine what a creative chef with a fine dining background would do for an inexpensive, casual, breakfast-focused restaurant, and that's what chef-owner Jeff Mauro (formerly with Charlie Trotter's and North Pond) has done in creating Jam. Keep in mind that, like most of our breakfast-focused restaurants, they do not accept reservations, and waits to be seated can be lengthy (30-60 minutes) on weekends between roughly 9:30 and 1:00. On weekdays you can usually be seated immediately.

                North Pond is excellent too, for its Sunday brunch as well as for dinner, and they accept reservations. It's also worth pointing out that North Pond not only offers its delicious food from James Beard Award-winning Chef-owner Bruce Sherman, but also its exquisite setting in the middle of the park, facing its namesake pond, with the city skyline looming over the opposite shore.

              3. In place of Hot Doug's try Franks 'n Dawgs on Clybourn in "West" Lincoln Park. It's much closer to downtown and much easier to get to than Doug's and, in my opinion, equally good. I do really like the love that Doug has for his art and his business, but unless you have a car, it's kind of a pain to get to for a quick lunch.

                1. Can any of you Chicago hounds comment on Grace vs Tru for a highish end tasting?

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Ciao Bob

                    Grace IMHO has become Chicago's best restaurant (yes, even better than Alinea). The best service I have experienced in Chicago - perfectly polished and attentive, yet also quite personable and they do a remarkable job personalizing the experience to the diner's preferences. The food looks and tastes amazing and is consistently outstanding - even the desserts. The dining room itself manages to be elegant and luxurious yet incredibly comfortable too. Nice blend of classic and modern in both the ambiance and cuisine.

                    Tru is a wonderful venue, but to me it is just a bit stuffy and lacks the warmth and energy of Grace and does not stand out versus other traditional fine dining venues I have frequented (whereas Grace is unlike anywhere else I have eaten). The staff at Tru is incredibly competent and polished, but too formal for my taste and not nearly as personable as the staff at Grace. The food is excellent, but not many dishes blow my mind at Tru like at Grace and during my most recent meals Tru had some misses whereas pretty much everything I was served at Grace was phenomenal.

                    While I am in no hurry to return to Tru (though certainly will return eventually) I cannot wait to return to Grace and plan on booking it this summer for my anniversary dinner. My last meal at Grace was the best meal I have had in Chicago in over a year.

                    1. re: Gonzo70

                      I thoroughly agree with Gonzo that I would recommend Grace over TRU, for all the reasons he indicated. But keep in mind that we are drawing VERY subtle, minor distinctions between two thoroughly outstanding restaurants. If there were no Grace (and no Alinea), we would probably be acclaiming TRU as the best restaurant in Chicago, for food and service, and that speaks to just how excellent it is.

                      My meal at Grace was the second best meal I have had in Chicago in the past year, exceeded only by my dinner at Alinea. The latter was one of the two or three best dinners in my entire life.