First tasting menu?
My sister and her husband are visiting me in Chicago in a few weeks and I want them to try their first tasting menu. I am just looking for recommendations for a place that would not be overwhelming, but would encourage them to try more. Although money is not really an issue I don't want to shock them with the price either. I personally have only been able to enjoy two menus before, both in LA (n/naka and Trois Mec, loved both) so I have no experience in Chicago dining (I'm new here too!) Looking forward to your suggestions.
Lots of great tasting menus in Chicago. For a first timer it might be best to do one of the casual fine dining venues as this would be a more relaxing, approachable experience than a more formal setting (that can sometimes come across as stuffy). The casual fine dining spots also tend to be less expensive.
As to which I would recommend, that would depend some on how adventurous of an eater they are and how energetic of an ambiance they want. Here are some suggestions, all of which have interesting, amazing tasting food and warm service:
Senza: Perfect if they are not too adventurous. Ten course tasting menu of beautifully plated modern American cuisine. Laid back, but extremely competent and friendly service. Has the vibe of an upscale neighborhood bistro, but fine dining quality food.
Also in this category would be Goosefoot; very approachable food and laid back staff. Some of the best tasting food I have ever consumed. Only issue with Goosefoot is reservations can be a bit challenging to obtain. Contemporary American cuisine.
Elizabeth: Great if they are adventurous and willing to consume a variety of unusual foods (i.e. bear meat) and some organ meats. Really whimsical, artistic looking dishes of extremely fresh, seasonal cuisine (the chef/owner plays a large role in procuring the food that is served via foraging, growing items in her garden and occasionally hunting/fishing).
El Ideas: Best choice if they would like a lively, energetic, interactive dining experience. El is set up like a dinner party while all guests are served simultaneously. There is an open kitchen and guests are invited to hang out in between courses in the kitchen watching and mingling with the chefs. The tasting menu features modernist cuisine. The chefs themselves serve and present the courses. The location is a bit obscure (in the southwest side of the city) but really an amazing, memorable experience. Is BYOB so helps some with keeping the cost in check.
One more I will throw in the mix is Moto. Slightly more expensive (but still not as high as the likes of Grace, Alinea, Spiaggia). Moto features molecular gastronomy/modernist cuisine. I really enjoy being seated in the downstairs - the "lab" as they call it - that is set up looking like a chemistry lab. During the past couple of years they have improved tremendously whereas now the food tastes as wonderful as it is creative; in the past they used to have wildly creative concepts, but they did not always taste the greatest. Moto has become one of my favorite restaurants and I came here for my last birthday as well as for New Years' Eve. Just a bit more formal than the other restaurants I named, but not at all uptight or pretentious. Moto is also the best of those that I listed in terms of adjusting the tasting menu for not just allergies people might have, but even for aversions.