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Family August trip to Chicago - need some help and direction please

Hi all,
I have been following a few threads here with great interest.
We will be travelling to Chicago this summer for our son's birthday celebration and spending 6 days. It will be our first visit.

My daughter (16) is limited in that she does not eat red meat, shellfish or most fish in general (she will have salmon very rarely). She does well with chicken, pastas, vegetarian dishes and salads. This is why we do very well at Italian restaurants in general.

Through these most recent posts, I have created a list of places that interest me as follows:

Mindy's Hot Chocolate;
Sable;
Little Goat;
Portillo's;
Stella Barra;
Anteprima or Azzurra (anyone have feedback about the latter?);
Frontera Grill;
Beatrix (for daughter);
Jam;
Pastoral (for picnic-in-the-park sandwiches);
Park Grill;
Balena;
Piccolo Sogno.

I have a few questions:

1. Is there a dud on my list or a must-do, in your opinion?
2. The birthday boy loves a good bouillabaisse or zuppa de pesce - any good ideas for this?
3. He also loves basic sushi - spicy salmon rolls, spider rolls, etc. Any good place for mainstream sushi downtown?
4. I am overwhelmed with Sunday brunch options - are there some places that accept reservations that are awesome?
5. We would like to find a great steakhouse (daughter can have salads and chicken). Gibson's? Michael Jordan's (son would like this I am sure) or Chop House?

Thanks so much! You Chicago chowhounds are so helpful to visitors!

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  1. >> 1. Is there a dud on my list or a must-do, in your opinion?

    No duds. I consider Sable and Jam as "must do"s. Also Anteprima, as long as the location isn't too inconvenient for you. I'd add deep-dish pizza, such as at Lou Malnati's, as a "must do". And Garrett's Popcorn, too.

    >> 2. The birthday boy loves a good bouillabaisse or zuppa de pesce - any good ideas for this?

    The problem there is reconciling his desire for seafood with your daughter's dislike for it, which rules out seafood-focused restaurants. So perhaps go to a good French bistro for bouillabaisse (it's on La Sardine's website lunch menu, not the dinner menu) or a good Italian restaurant (you have Piccolo Sogno and Anteprima on your list) for zuppa de pesce.

    >> 3. He also loves basic sushi - spicy salmon rolls, spider rolls, etc. Any good place for mainstream sushi downtown?

    I don't eat sushi. Hopefully someone else can guide you on that question. Again, though, this could be a problem for your daughter.

    >> 4. I am overwhelmed with Sunday brunch options - are there some places that accept reservations that are awesome?

    North Pond and Shaw's.

    North Pond is the elegant restaurant in the middle of the park, facing its namesake pond with the city skyline looming over the opposite shore. When you make a reservation, ask for seating in the front room with the full-length windows. The food there is as outstanding as the setting; I had dinner there a week ago and it was wonderful, the best I've had in six months. On Sundays they serve an a la carte brunch, which is a great way to enjoy the food and setting without spending as much as you would at dinner.

    Shaw's Crab House has an all-you-can-eat buffet. At $55 it's not inexpensive as brunches go, but it's really terrific. Highlights include king crab legs both hot and cold, crab cakes, the best thick-cut caramelized bacon you've ever had, smoked fish, a carving station with filet mignon and often also roast turkey, custom-made omelets, and the best crème brulee in the city.

    >> 5. We would like to find a great steakhouse (daughter can have salads and chicken). Gibson's? Michael Jordan's (son would like this I am sure) or Chop House?

    More steak aficionados consider David Burke's Primehouse to be the best in Chicago than any other steakhouse. A plus with Burke's is that their menu is much more varied than the typical steakhouse; I'm sure your daughter will find something there.

    2 Replies
      1. Tanoshii is near Little Goat and is a fun spot for sushi. Your daughter will find something there that meets her needs.

        One other thought, The French Market has a Pastoral outpost, a (little) Little Goat and many other outposts of local spots under one roof (it aspires to be a European food hall and does okay). A good spot to walk around and get a little of this/little of that for a nice lunch break. Just West of the Loop in the commuter train station.

        1 Reply
        1. re: ferret

          The French Market is on the list - thanks. I was thinking of hitting up Pastoral neal Millenium Park and getting a picnic lunch to enjoy in the park, weather permitting.

        2. Nice list you have. Balena, Jam and Little Goat are places I love and dine at frequently. Steak wise Dave Burke's is definitely a wonderful option: one other to consider is Bavette's Bar and Bouef - it has become my favorite steakhouse and has lots of non-steak options that are outstanding that your daughter likely would enjoy. Fun lively atmosphere and just amazing food; they are very popular so book a reservation far in advance if you opt for them. I would second Nsxtasy's North Pond recommendation for Sunday brunch; beautiful, unique setting, excellent food and brunch is a bargain for a dining experience of that caliber.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Gonzo70

            While not as strongly negative to be a "dud", I would knock Park Grill off the list. To me, there is nothing special about it other than the location in the park, and there are many better restaurants nearby now compared to when it opened without much competition. In the summer, I'd wholeheartedly advocate for a picnic on the lawn (as you mentioned above) over Park Grill.

          2. Thanks to everyone for the great replies so far.

            Bavettes' and David Burke's menus both look fantastic for us - better than any of the others that I mentioned. Thanks - now will have to decide between these two - if Bavettes had a good bouillabaisse it would be a simpler decision:)

            And not that we are bringing our own wine, but Bavettes corkage is great. From their website:
            " 3.) Instead of charging a corkage fee, guests are required to share one full glass of wine per bottle with someone else in the restaurant. The recipient of the glass can be of the guest's choosing or of the server's choosing, but it may not be gifted to a member of our staff.

            4.) The glass of wine must be given away as soon as the bottle is opened."

            I have decided to do Sable for the Sunday brunch instead of dinner. The brunch menu looks great and we love to share - I will probably partake in one of their terrific sounding cocktails too.

            Are there any standouts for veg cuisine in Lincoln Park area?

            Thanks again - you Chicago people know your stuff!

            2 Replies
            1. re: elasticwaistband

              >> Are there any standouts for veg cuisine in Lincoln Park area?

              Café Ba-Ba-Reeba serves tapas in Lincoln Park, and the number of vegetarian items on their menu is huge. Check it out at www.cafebabareeba.com

            2. Should have mentioned that North Pond does sound awesome but we will be exploring that area on the Saturday, and their Sunday brunch options wouldn't be great for the kids. Do they do a la carte at brunch as well? I couldn't find it on the site.

              1 Reply
              1. re: elasticwaistband

                >> Do they do a la carte at brunch as well?

                I believe the only option they offer for adults at their Sunday brunch is the three-course prix fixe, currently $34. I don't know if they have a lower-priced option for kids; you'd have to ask them.

              2. We also love Med cooking and I just checked Naha's menus. Too pricey for us at dinner but lunch is looking good:)

                1. One more question (at least for now):
                  My son loves fried fish tacos. He has been spoiled with some of the best at Tacofino in BC! If we are going to spend an afternoon wandering around the Lincoln Park area (zoo and environs), would you suggest Taco Joint or Del Seoul or somewhere different?
                  (Also closer to our hotel I noticed another Taco Joint location and Mercadito.)

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: elasticwaistband

                    I really like Taco Joint. Don't know about fish tacos since I only eat them near a beach, not here in landlocked tilapia land. Taco Joint's barbacoa and carnitas tacos are great.

                  2. Laughing - "landlocked tilapia land"! Thanks for the input.

                    1. We decided to book our dinners in advance, and leave the lunches to be determined based on where we are in the city when we get hungry and breakfasts will be on the go most days (ie, coffee and bagel or fruit from somewhere close to hotel).
                      For dinner I booked Frontera Grill, Little Goat, Piccolo Sogno and Summer House (the latter just for my daughter and myself as the rest will be at a baseball game). I booked Sable for the Sunday brunch.

                      We will be at the Navy Pier show one night which will probably let out around 9 pm.

                      Any ideas near Navy Pier for late night snack/small plates that would be okay to visit with kids?

                      Also are there any great sushi places for lunch near Mag Mile shopping, River North area (hotel) or Museum Campus?

                      Thanks for all of your help. I am getting very excited for our visit.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: elasticwaistband

                        For sushi, I love Sunda which is in River North. They have a lot of non-sushi items as well so you can take a look at the menu and see if that works for your daughter- they have a really good brussel sprout side etc.

                        On your tacos question, I really like Mercadito, but don't usually have their fish tacos so can't comment on those specifically.

                        1. re: ms. mika

                          Thank you Sunda looks awesome! If we decide on tacos, we might go to Big Star on our last day for lunch before the airport.

                          1. re: elasticwaistband

                            A place with good fish tacos and a lot of other great stuff is Big & Little's. My kid loves it and I think your kids would like it to. Just northwest of the Loop.

                        2. re: elasticwaistband

                          >> Any ideas near Navy Pier for late night snack/small plates that would be okay to visit with kids?

                          It depends on what you mean by "near". There are several excellent small plates restaurants open late, clustered in River North. They're just under a mile from Navy Pier, so they're a long walk or a short cab or bus ride.

                          The Purple Pig is the closest of the three, right on the Mag Mile. It gets horribly busy during mealtimes (with waits as long as 2+ hours), but the waits are winding down by 9:30-10:00. And of course if there's still a lengthy wait, you can always walk a few more blocks to one of the other two: Sable (with contemporary American small plates) and Quartino (with Italian small plates). All have excellent food; all also feature drinking but they would still be fine for a group with kids.

                          www.thepurplepigchicago.com
                          www.sablechicago.com
                          www.quartinochicago.com

                          Two other places right on the Mag Mile near the Purple Pig are not small plates places per se, but are excellent choices for late night snacking with the kids: Grand Lux Café and Bandera.

                          www.grandluxcafe.com
                          www.hillstone.com/#/restaurants/bandera

                          1. re: nsxtasy

                            Thanks again nxstasy. Quartino is located close to our hotel and looks great for their $25 for 2 people lunch, as well as late night snacks.

                        3. Hi all,

                          Just wanted to report back on our trip to Chicago. We LOVE Chicago. In general, we found the food fabulous and the people so friendly and helpful. I can't wait to go back and try some new places!

                          We LOVED:

                          Dinner at Bavette's. My husband and I shared what was probably the best filet I have ever had. Hands down - delicious. The room is sexy and low-key (and we were with our 2 kids) and the service was outstanding. I also loved the Whiskey Sour (my fav cocktail). All-in-all a total winner from beginning to end.

                          Dinner at Summer House. My daughter and I went here by ourselves and my daughter declared it her favourite of the trip. We had salads which were both top-notch and the brussel spout dish was amazing. We took out cookies from the front bakery - my daughter loved the cinnamon + butterscotch one - a little too cloyingly sweet for me though. The service was terrific (thank you Mason). Lots of well-dressed families here (hey it's in Lincoln Park). I would recommend this place as a great option for lunch as well.

                          Lunch at The Gage. Great service, nice booth for our family and the sandwiches were delicious. Lots of business lunches going on and we were sweaty from our Segway tour but got great treatment anyways.

                          Lunch at Quartino. GREAT lunch special. Affordable terrific wines by the quarter litre and half litre....what more can I say. The plain ol' cavatelli won me over!

                          We (or I) LIKED:

                          Dinner at Frontera Grill. I enjoyed the food at Frontera Grill but I was alone in my opinion. My daughter thought that the flavours were too much (I adored everything I ate) and my husband had the "bad" seat at the table and kept getting bumped by every person passing by. The service was efficient - but cold and brusque. The room is nothing special. I loved the food though. If they do take-out I would be game on my next visit to Chicago but would never eat in the dining room again.

                          Dinner at Piccolo Sogno. At first we were seating inside (after having made a reservation months before requesting the patio) and then were moved to a great spot in a corner in the lovely patio after asking again...and nicely of course. Service was absent-minded but friendly, and the best thing that we ate was the paglia e fieno pasta but really all of the food was well-prepared and delicious.

                          What we didn't like...

                          Nothing.

                          (We also enjoyed the crepes for breakfast at the Lincoln Park farmer's market on the Saturday morning. I picked up a black garlic paste that I am going to use at home as well.)

                          Thanks to all of the Chowhounders that helped us make this trip a total foodie success.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: elasticwaistband

                            Thank you for your feedback. Glad you found, and enjoyed, Summer House. I often take visitors to that stretch of Lincoln Park for great shopping and a fun residential, neighborhood vibe. Out of curiosity, did you go to the Lincoln Park Farmer's Market by Lincoln Park High School, or the Green City Market in Lincoln Park? I also appreciate your impression of Frontera Grill, and regret your whole family did not have a better overall experience.

                            1. re: GourmetWednesday

                              We did the Green City market in Lincoln Park. I wish we had our own kitchen in which to cook as the fruit and veggies looked amazing. Nice market!