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My Weekend Chicago Restaurant (tentative) Schedule. Comments? Changes? Suggestions? Much Appreciated

Hello Chow!

I realize I started another topic a couple of days ago regarding Alinea, so my apologies for bombarding your board. You have been so helpful so I'd like to ask some opinions regarding my food schedule that I have planned for an October weekend.

My sister and I are traveling to Chicago for the Skate America competition. She is a skating fanatic, and I am tagging along to sample the Chicago cuisine. Our schedule is pretty tight as there are competitions from 1-4PM and 7-10PM daily at the Sears Center. I wanted a combination of fine dining and casual dining and everything in between.

Here is what I have for now:

1. Friday Late Dinner - Pequod's Pizza/Franks N' Dawgs
2. Saturday Lunch/Brunch: Publican (Made reservations for 10AM)
3. Saturday Dinner - Girl & the Goat (Made reservations for 4:30PM), post-skating snack: Purple Pig (planning to go at about 11PM)
4. Sunday Lunch - Avec
5. Sunday Dinner - Alinea (we are skipping the end of the competition to make time for Alinea)

Thoughts? I know we may be overloading ourselves with food, but there are so many places to try in one short weekend. A little bummed that there isn't any time for Grace.

Thanks again!

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  1. I like all of your choices, although I believe Publican, Purple Pig, and GATG are too similar to try all in a few day period. While there are some differences, they all specialize in rich and meaty small plates. Avec is also sharable small plates, with a more Mediterranean focus, but their most popular item, the bacon-wrapped, chorizo-stuffed dates, qualifies as "rich and meaty". My bigger concern than restaurant style, however, is travel distance. Where is your hotel? Are you planning to drive? The Sears Centre, in the suburb of Hoffman Estates, is approximately 35-40 miles to the Chicago restaurants you are considering. While Mapquest will say to plan 45 minutes or so, at most times, and for most people, this is greatly underestimated. I would expect it to take at least an hour each way, and if there is rain or (possible but not predictable in late October) snow or rush hour traffic or an accident, 1.5-2 hours is possible (you also have to factor parking lines at the Sears Centre, a potentially long walk from the lot, etc.). If there is a convenient train (Metra) option, I do not see it identified on the Sears Centre website. Add to the travel times that some of your restaurant choices don't take reservations, and this itinerary would stress me out, with way too much time on the road or waiting in line. Unless I misunderstood your plan and you will be dining while your sister attends the skating, I would strongly recommend finding a hotel and some less foodie/popular restaurants in the suburbs, and possibly coming into the city for one special meal as time allows.

    1 Reply
    1. re: GourmetWednesday

      Thanks for your input GourmetWednesday! Any other suggestions for a less "meaty" meal?

      Our hotel is going to be in city, near-ish all the restaurants are. :) Thus quite a bit away from the Sears Center.

      Here is my thought process on the above: Friday night at around 11PM we come back starving and grab pizza and a chicago dog for a quick bite. Shouldn't be overly stressful.

      On Saturday, we dine at 10AM, and hopefully finish by 11:30 to be on our way. We are less keen on the pairs free skate, which is at 12PM but HAVE to watch the women's event at 1:30PM. Should be enough time. This ends at 3PM so off to Girl and the Goat we go at 4:30PM. Then back to the arena at by 8PM. Everything ends at 10, so if we are hungry, we can stop by Purple Pig at round 11PM, hopefully no line.

      On Sunday, we have the brunch/lunch at Avec at around 10:00 to 12:00 (called yesterday, they said there is no wait at 10AM), then be at the arena by 1:30. After the show ends at 5, the evening is free for Alinea.

      I do realize, now typing this out, it is going to be a ton of driving. But I'm actually okay with this, as crazy at it seems haha! Good thing both of us are still young. :P

    2. Nice places, but a few are similar food and ambiance to one another, so I will recommend some excellent venues that would add a little variety:

      *Publican, Girl & the Goat, Purple Pig and Avec are the venues that are a bit similar to one another; certainly not identical, but hitting all four in a weekend would be a bit repetitive. Of these Publican and Girl & the Goat are my favorites; Purple Pig I would rank just a tiny bit below and Avec would be a more distant fourth. I recommend you drop two or three of these and swap it out with some of the following:

      Asian: The past couple of years has seen some outstanding Asian venues open in Chicago. Juno (Japanese) will be back open by the time of your trip (they have been closed the past several months because of a bad fire in the building) and is outstanding. http://junosushi.com/
      Embeya serves modern Asian fusion and also is a wonderful place; delicious food and beverages, nice ambiance/decor and really friendly staff: http://www.embeya.com/

      Regional Mexican: Rick Bayless' sister restaurants Topolobampo and Frontera Grill have some really special food and a type of Mexican cuisine not easily obtained elsewhere in the US. Not the best ambiance or service, but amazing food. If you are flying in or out of O'Hare you could hit his airport venue, Tortas Frontera - best airport food I have ever had by far! http://www.rickbayless.com/restaurant...

      Contemporary American: Boka has become one of my favorite restaurants in Chicago. Fine dining quality food but reasonable prices and more of a laid back, upscale neighbhorhood bistro ambiance. http://www.bokachicago.com/
      Senza is another of my favorites in this category: http://www.senzachicago.com/

      Italian: Sister restaurant of Boka (and Girl & the Goat is also a part of the same restaurant group) Balena has become my favorite Italian restaurant; fun, energetic vibe, some of the best service in the city, the best pizza I have had in Chicago and just a wonderful menu (outstanding cocktails too). http://balenachicago.com/

      Steak: I have really taken a liking to Bavette's Bar & Bouef; much sexier than your typical steakhouse; in addition to some of the best steaks you will find anywhere, the sides, appetizers, desserts and even the non-steak entrees are all fantastic as well. Love the energetic, but not too loud or pretentious ambiance. They have a great cocktail lounge down the street (same owners) named GIlt Bar that is perfect for before or after drinks. http://bavetteschicago.com/ & http://www.giltbarchicago.com/

      Seafood: My favorite seafood venue in Chicago is GT FIsh & Oyster. Served small plates/tapas style and everything I have had here has been excellent. Can be a little on the loud side is only drawback. http://gtoyster.com/

      Relaxed Fine Dining:
      Chicago has also seen some great new venues the past 2-3 years that are fine dining quality food and presentation, extensive tasting menus but in a relaxed, fun atmosphere. My two favorites are El Ideas (http://elideas.com/) and Elizabeth (http://website.elizabeth-restaurant.com/). These make for extremely enjoyable, unique, memorable dining experiences. El Ideas is set up like a dinner party where you can wander into the kitchen and observe/chat with the chefs between courses. Elizabeth also has an open kitchen, some interaction with the chefs and some of the most beautiful and creative food I have ever seen.
      I will also mention Goosefoot. This also would fall into the relaxed fine dining category and is tasting menu only (nine course); the BYOB factor brings down the price and IMHO Goosefoot has the best tasting food anywhere in the city. Reservations here can be rather tough: http://www.goosefoot.net/
      Schwa would also fall in this category and can be mind blowing, but due to consistency issues and a penchant for canceling your reservation hours before your meal I do not recommend them for out of towners or for special occasions. When they are on they can be in the "one of the best meals of my life" category, but they also can be a real dud.

      Fine Dining: I will not go into detail here since I spoke about this on your other thread and assume you do not want to do a second really expensive meal, but Grace and Moto are currently my two favorite special occasion/splurge type venues. http://www.grace-restaurant.com/galle... & http://motorestaurant.com/

      Brunch:
      Chicago is known for outstanding brunches. Two places to consider for Sunday:
      North Pond: This is a Michelin starred Contemporary American venue that is only open for dinner - but on Sundays does a three course prix fixe brunch. It is lunch fare rather than breakfast foods and the setting is beautiful; situated in the heart of Lincoln Park with beautiful views of the park, pond and skyline. Request to be seated in the room that has the views of the park/pond/skyline if you dine here. The food is incredible but service not always on par with the cuisine. http://www.northpondrestaurant.com/
      Jam: My favorite breakfast/brunch place in the city. Upscale takes on typical brunch fare (the chef has a fine dining background having worked at Charlie Trotters). http://jamrestaurant.com/menu/
      Bongo Room is another wonderful brunch place, especially if you like sweet brunches: http://thebongoroom.com/

      Those would be my favorites that would add some nice variety to what you have planned and would make for a memorable trip.

      7 Replies
      1. re: Gonzo70

        Dear Gonzo70,

        Your reply has me floored! Thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful and comprehensive message. You seriously make me want to stay in Chicago for at least a week to sample every restaurant you posted!

        Based on your recommendations, I am now planning to swap out Avec brunch for North Pond brunch. With 10:30AM reservations, I don't have to worry about any lines. I also checked out the menu for North Pond and I am salivating. Especially excited about: Perch, grits (Buttermilk Fried Great Lakes Perch, White Corn Croquettes, Radish Slaw, Rhubarb Jam, Mint). I definitely appreciate the mix of breakfast and lunch fares. Excellent suggestion! And so reasonable too at $34!!

        I think I will stick to Publican and Girl & the Goat, I showed my sister the menus and she was very pleased.

        Since Purple Pig is too similar to those two, can you kindly suggest a place that is good for a late-night dinner/snack? We will be back at around 11PM in the city and probably starving as our dinner was at 4:30. GT Oyster closes at midnight. Do you think last call will be at 11:30?

        Thank you for your recommendations on Asian and Mexican cuisines. We actually grew up in Asia and frequented HK, Japan, Thailand, so we would love to keep to our contemporary American theme. Open to French/Italian though!

        I would love to try Grace, L20, Moto and Everest, but there's my excuse to travel back to Chicago!

        All my best and thanks again!

        1. re: Loubie_Lover

          For late night dining, I love Maude's Liquor Bar (some of my favorite items there are roast chicken, oysters, seafood towers, pomme frites, and roasted bone marrow, plus great cocktails) and Au Cheval (considered by many to be the best burger in town; other comfort foods are done well, too). Both places are in the on Randolph Street in the West Loop, and are sister properties to Bavette's, recommended by Gonzo.

          1. re: Loubie_Lover

            >> Since Purple Pig is too similar to those two, can you kindly suggest a place that is good for a late-night dinner/snack?

            I recommend Café Iberico, which is a tapas restaurant in River North. It's open till 1:30 on Friday and Saturday nights. Another good late-night choice is Quartino, which serves Italian food in a late-night format, till 2 a.m. on weeknights, 3 a.m. on weekends.

            >> we would love to keep to our contemporary American theme. Open to French/Italian though!

            For French bistro fare, I really like La Sardine in the West Loop.

            For Italian, my favorite is Anteprima, but it's in the Andersonville neighborhood, seven miles north of the Loop. In the downtown neighborhoods, there are lots of excellent choices, including Piccolo Sogno Due and Piccolo Sogno, Café Spiaggia, Coco Pazzo, Tesori, and Vivere.

            www.cafeiberico.com
            www.quartinochicago.com
            www.lasardine.com
            www.anteprimachicago.net
            www.piccolosognodue.com
            www.piccolosognochicago.com
            www.cafespiaggia.com
            www.cocopazzochicago.com
            www.tesorichicago.com
            www.vivere-chicago.com

            1. re: nsxtasy

              I would add Cicchetti to the list of good Italian spots (got some recent love from Chicago magazine). It's sibling, Trattoria No. 10, is a long-established spot (that I'm not so crazy about) but this new spot is worth a visit -- and desserts are excellent.

              1. re: ferret

                Sounds good, I'll have to try it - thanks for the rec!

              2. re: nsxtasy

                Those all sound fantastic! I will make a note of those restaurants for my next trip to Chicago. Unfortunately they are mostly open until 9-10PM and we won't be back in the city until around 11PM.

                Thanks for the recs!

          2. Updated Food Itinerary:

            1. Friday Late Dinner - GT Fish & Oyster
            2. Saturday Lunch/Brunch: Publican
            3. Saturday Early Dinner - Girl & the Goat,
            4. Saturday post-skating snack: Pequod's
            4. Sunday Brunch - North Pond
            5. Sunday Dinner - Alinea

            I think I am very happy with this plan. I took a few days of thinking it through (plus figuring out times that do not conflict with the Skate America schedules). Reservations have all been made, except of course for Alinea, which is coming in August.

            Thank you everyone for your help in polishing the list and all the wonderful recommendations! I'll report back on my experience if you'd like and have a feeling I will go back again soon to sample all the other places you mentioned!

            5 Replies
            1. re: Loubie_Lover

              Sounds great.

              One thing I would consider changing - for deep-dish, instead of Pequod's, I'd go to one of the Lou Malnati's or Pizano's locations. Better pizza, most are open late, and one of them is probably a lot more convenient to your hotel.

              1. re: Loubie_Lover

                Solid choices all around - Pequod's is streets ahead of anything I've had at Lou Malnati's in terms of character and quality. It may not be as convenient to Loop/Magnificent Mile hotels but that cheesy crust...

                1. re: danimalarkey

                  I recommend Malnati's (or Pizano's) for their better pizza, not just a matter of convenience. I just don't like the burnt crust at Pequod's. Bleh. And Malnati's has become THE classic deep-dish in Chicago.

                  1. re: nsxtasy

                    Lou Malnati's is good but Pequod's is the ticket - distinct carmelized crust and bursting with flavor. Only had Pizano's once but that was enough thank you.

                    1. re: burton

                      Thanks for all the suggestions! I'll try to hit both places (Pequod's and Lou's) if I can. I'm sure they are both delicious! :D

              2. I will be going to the Sears Centre in September for the Davis Cup match. Does anyone have suggestions for food in this area (eg. Hoffman Estates) if you don't want to drive to Chicago? Especially breakfast/brunch and dinner? Thank you.

                1 Reply
                1. re: livinginexile

                  Breakfast/brunch:

                  Richard Walker's Pancake House, Schaumburg - www.richardwalkers.com
                  Apple Villa Pancake House, Hoffman Estates - www.applevillapancakes.com

                  Better, but further:

                  Walker Brothers Original Pancake House, Arlington Heights - www.walkerbros.net

                  Brunch, Sundays only:

                  Shaw's Crab House, Schaumburg - www.shawscrabhouse.com

                  Dinner:

                  Shaw's Crab House, Schaumburg (seafood) - www.shawscrabhouse.com
                  Lou Malnati's, Schaumburg (deep-dish pizza - Roselle Road location has dine-in, Barrington Road location is carry-out only) - www.loumalnatis.com
                  Taste of Thai, Hoffman Estates (Thai) - www.tasteofthaihoffmanestates.com
                  Chef Vince's Zeal, Schaumburg (American, Italian) - www.chefvinceszeal.com
                  Salsa 17, Arlington Heights (contemporary Mexican) - www.salsa17grill.com
                  Seasons 52, Schaumburg (American) - www.seasons52.com
                  Coopers Hawk, Arlington Heights (American) - www.chwinery.com
                  8000 Miles, Roselle (Chinese) - www.8000milesrestaurant.com

                  Where they take them, reservations in advance are advisable, especially on weekends. Many of the above accept reservations on Opentable.com