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Too Late for Reservations. Now What?

We are planning a last-minute trip into the city for dinner Saturday night and many of the places I wanted to go are booked. Looking for a celebratory, hip place for dinner for two, where I can feel I've crossed something off my Chicago dining bucket list. Preferred cuisines include Italian, contemporary, seafood, Gastropub, with good vegetarian options. Preferred areas include Downtown, Gold Coast, River North, River West, and West Loop, although we will have a car. We don't mind waiting a bit for a table as long as there's fun people watching, a good bar, and cuisine that's worth the wait. Any suggestions?

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  1. Can you name some of the places that you wanted to go that were already booked? That would help narrow down what available restaurants might be a good fit for you; also information about price range would be helpful too - there are still lots of great restaurants with availability Saturday.

    1. Try Sepia in the West Loop. It doesn't seemed to be flooded like some of the places, but it got a Michelin star and, heck, the chef was a winner on an Iron Chef episode.

      1. Have you contacted the restaurants directly by phone or just checked OpenTable? Sometimes restaurants hold back tables from OT so a call directly to them may get you a reservation. (You are probably out of luck with the the hot, hot restos like GATG unless you are willing to wait without a reservation for more than an hour.)

        1. Sorry ... Piccolo Sogno was our first choice, especially for the patio. Girl & the Goat was another, of course. Maybe Sable or GT Fish and Oyster. I heard good things about Sepia from a friend, so that's an idea. Around $50 pp (without drinks) is fine.

          Oh! And if anyone has an educated guess as to expected wait times at the places I was considering (and how comfortable that wait might be) that would be helpful, too!

          1 Reply
          1. re: jaschultze

            If you don't mind eating on the early or late side, Piccolo Sogno has openings at 5:00 or 9:30, Sable at 5:45 or 9:15, and GT Fish at 5:30 or 9:30.

            FWIW, I had dinner at Sepia a few months ago, and I wasn't impressed. It wasn't awful, but not a single dish was all that great, either. For upscale contemporary, IMHO you're better off at Naha, TRU, or Acadia, all of which are wide open for availability. Or, if you want to keep the price down, Perennial Virant.

          2. Here are times that are available right now on Opentable for a party of two this Saturday, at some really great places, including some of our best:

            Acadia (contemporary) - wide open
            Blackbird (contemporary) - 9:00
            Boka (contemporary) - 6:45, 9:00
            Brindille (French) - 9:00
            Café Spiaggia (Italian) - wide open
            Carnivale (Latin fusion) - wide open
            Coco Pazzo (Italian) - wide open
            Davanti Enoteca (Italian) - wide open
            David Burke's Primehouse (steaks) - wide open
            Everest (French fine dining) - wide open
            GT Fish & Oyster (seafood) - 5:30, 9:30
            L2O (contemporary/seafood fine dining) - wide open
            Mercat a la Planxa (tapas) - wide open
            Mexique (contemporary Mexican) - 5:00, 9:00
            MK (contemporary) - 6:30, 9:30
            Moto (contemporary) - wide open
            Naha (contemporary) - wide open
            NoMI (contemporary) - wide open
            Perennial Virant (contemporary) - wide open
            Piccolo Sogno (Italian) - 5:00, 9:30
            Piccolo Sogno Due (Italian) - wide open
            Sable (contemporary) - 5:45, 9:15
            Salpicon (contemporary Mexican) - wide open
            Shaw's Crab House (seafood) - wide open
            Sixteen (contemporary fine dining) - 8:30
            Tesori (Italian) - wide open
            The Florentine (Italian) - wide open
            TRU (contemporary fine dining) - wide open

            If I had to narrow it down to just a few, my top picks would be Naha for contemporary finer dining, any of the Italian places, or - if you don't mind eating on the early or late side - GT Fish or Sable for small plates.

            1. Thanks, @nsxtasy. I did some Opentable research, too. I eliminated seatings that were too late (we are coming that day from Michigan, so there's a time change) but we might be able to do a seating before 7 pm. We've been to Cafe Spiaggia, David Burke, Carnivale, Coco Pazzo, Mercat a la Planxa, and Shaw's (plus, a independent, "local vibe" is preferred anyway). I did find a 7:30 reservation to Blackbird when I re-checked so I nabbed that one but I am still open to other suggestions.

              On a related note, what do people think of Table 52 these days?

              3 Replies
              1. re: jaschultze

                Blackbird is good and worth considering; good on you for snagging that 7:30 res. (It can be very loud, though.)

                I actually like and recommend all of the places I've listed above, depending on what kind of food you're in the mood for, etc. Which is why I listed times for those, out of the 529 places available on Opentable.

                I haven't been to Table 52. Hopefully those who have, can provide input for you.

                1. re: nsxtasy

                  Here's another recommendation for you. It meets everything you're looking for except it's not downtown. So bear with me and see if this is a place you'd like to go.

                  I'm referring to Anteprima, an Italian restaurant in the Andersonville neighborhood, six miles north of downtown. It's a neighborhood bistro kind of place, a little bit cramped, a little bit noisy, but oh the food there is absolutely stellar. Everything they have is prepared just perfectly, from the homemade breadsticks (best anywhere) and bread, to the appetizers (the grilled octopus is wonderful), to the pastas, to the main dishes, and the desserts (I love their lemon panna cotta). The prices are very reasonable as well, even on weekends (although they have an even better deal during the week, when almost any three courses are $29). They also have a lovely outdoor patio in the rear, which tends to be quieter than the main dining room. There's also lots of nightlife in the vicinity, in case you were thinking of that for after-dinner drinks. I know you mentioned the downtown neighborhoods, but since you have a car, Anteprima is really worth considering. Parking on Clark Street in front of the restaurant can be tough to find (make sure you pay at the pay boxes), but if you go one short block west to Ashland, or the side streets just west of Ashland, street parking is easier to find and free. Right now they have openings on Opentable for this Saturday for 7:00 or earlier, and 8:30 or later. How highly do I think of Anteprima? I don't live nearby, but I eat there every couple of months, more frequently than any other restaurant. www.anteprimachicago.net

                  So there's one more choice for you to consider. As usual in Chicago, there are lots and lots of great choices, and the dilemma is choosing just one!

                2. re: jaschultze

                  I only have been to Table 52 for brunch and was not impressed; good-not-great food that seemed overpriced, skimpy portions and poor service.

                  Since you have a car, I would consider heading to Boka in Lincoln Park (they have valet parking). Would be in your price range and is one of my favorite venues. Contemporary American cuisine that is fine dining quality, but in a relaxed, upscale neighborhood bistro setting. Beautiful recently renovated dining room, extremely friendly staff, uber talented chef and fantastic cuisine. Nice bar area too for a before or after dinner drink. They have 6:45 showing as available. This would be my top choice as to what fits your criteria and is available with a decent reservation time.

                  Be advised that Blackbird's head chef has resigned and his last day is the end of this month, so this is a bit of a transition period for them. The type of cuisine at Boka and Blackbird is somewhat comparable, but Boka is a bit less expensive and IMHO just a warmer, more inviting space.

                3. Both Antemprima and Boka look perfect! I know I said downtown (because that's where we are staying) but I lived in Chicago many years and don't have a problem venturing out for either of these.

                  I have reserved at both and will consult with hubby and show him the menus. I'll let you know what we decide. Thank you so much!

                  1. New challenge (or should I start a new thread?): Where could we have lunch on Saturday between Ukranian Village and Grant Park? We will be driving from one to the other to drop my son off at Lollapalooza. :) Would this be a convenient time to check out some places on West Randolph?

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: jaschultze

                      The Randolph (West Loop) area would definitely work. Publican on Fulton Market (just north of Randolph) offers one of the best lunch/brunches in the city. They are showing availability on Open Table for Saturday. Outstanding farm-to-table cuisine in an energetic gastropub like ambiance.

                      1. re: jaschultze

                        I'd go to Mexique. They serve delicious contemporary Mexican cuisine with a French influence. It's really terrific. It's in West Town on Chicago Avenue just east of Ashland, so it's right on your way. They're open for brunch on Saturdays 10-3, and availability is wide open on Opentable.com You can get an idea of their cuisine from their website at www.mexiquechicago.com - they don't have their regular brunch menu posted there (only a special menu from Easter) but they do have their lunch menu.

                        1. re: jaschultze

                          If you're looking for less of a longer lunch, I often go to Publican Quality Meats (across street from Publican). The pork belly gyro is fantastic and a couple months ago I had a porcheta sandwich (a special of the day) that was to die for. If you chat up the counter guys before you sit, you can taste a few house-made salumi and flesh out your meal.

                          Another option that's more brunch is Wishbone (n'awlins style). Still one of my favorites as I really enjoy the chicken andouille hash with poached eggs and a biscuit as well as their "-cakes combos" -- black bean cakes, salmon cakes, crab cakes, and corn cakes if that's your thing.

                          Finally, even though it was just sold to new owners, the biscuits at Bang Bang Pie shop (and admittedly sometimes a piece of pie) are awesome before noon.