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Brief trip to Chicago: Itinerary feedback requested


prcentauri
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Brief trip to Chicago: Itinerary feedback requested

I'm a NYer coming to Chicago w/ my GF this Thursday night through Sunday early AM. Wanted to get a mix of great Chicago food and a high end dining experience. FYI, I may rent a car. I was hoping to snag a seating at Alinea and/or Schwa but I was unable to do so. Here's what I planned:

Thurs night arrival. May be 9:00

Would like to try Avec. If unable to be seated may try one of Tony Hu's restaurants.

Friday

Breakfast. Lulu's.

Lunch. Maybe North Pond or Blackbird. Leaning towards North Pond b/c I anticipate visiting other Paul Kahan places this trip. North Pond seems like a romantic setting but I'm actually doing this meal alone. She'll be at an interview. If I end up without a car I might just walk over to Xoco for a torta and churros.

Dinner. We have reservations at The Publican. We like meat. We dont mind noisy. I think we should be ok.

Saturday

Breakfast. M Henry.

Lunch. I had in mind some sort of self-directed foodie tour. Art of Pizza or some other Chicago pizza place. I'm leaning away from Spacca Napoli b/c we have a lot of neopolitan places in NYC w/ Motorino, Keste, Lucali etc. Would love to try Hot Doug's but fear the line. I hear Portillo's is good but I'm thinking I'd be missing out if I can't get to Hot Doug's.

Dinner. I have somewhat late reservations at both L2O and Avenues. I am sooo torn about which place to eat at. Both seem to be boundary pushing modern cuisine. Both are run by talented chefs. The fact that L20 is fish-centric and Avenues is not doesn't swing me one way or the other. I considered Trotter's, Everest, Spiaggia and the like but somehow it came down to these two.

Sunday

Early AM flight back to NYC.

Just looking for your thoughts, comments, etc. Thanks.

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Here's my feedback as a semi-frequent visitor to Chicago, not a resident.

Unless there's a specific need for a car, I'd recommend against it. If you're considering walking to Xoco from your hotel, then you're centrally located and pretty much everything will be within easy reach of public transportation or your feet, or even a cab ride if need be.

I suspect you won't have too much trouble getting a seat at Avec, but I've always gone there early, so I'm not the best advisor about that.

For Friday breakfast, do you mean Lula Cafe? If so, good choice, and very near the Logan Square stop on the Blue Line. For lunch, North Pond would be fine, and is indeed accessible via public transportation (Brown Line to Diversey, then the eastbound #76 bus.) However, there also are many excellent choices much closer to where you're staying, including The Purple Pig, Naha, and Topolobampo.

For Saturday breakfast, M. Henry is a bit of a schlep, but it's right on the #22 Dearborn/Clark bus line. For lunch, as a closer-in alternative to Hot Doug's, you might consider Franks 'n' Dawgs. (Here's their LTH forum thread.) It's a short walk from the North/Clybourn stop on the Red Line.

I have no opinion about L2O vs. Avenues, never having been to either. :sad:

Edited by Alex (log)

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."  -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act 1

 

Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

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I like Avec, but whenever I go there it seems crazy crowded. I just sit at the bar, which is fine. Since Blackbird is right next to it, you could use that as your back-up plan. Just a thought.

I love the Publican. Good choice. Too bad about Alinea.

If you want a nice selection of Italian Grappa, Spaggia is a great. There is no dress code at the bar (or the cafe).

k.

I like to say things and eat stuff.

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Thurs night arrival. May be 9:00

Would like to try Avec. If unable to be seated may try one of Tony Hu's restaurants.

You shouldn't have a problem at Avec, but if you do, Sepia is right around the corner and is worth a shot. Though, I'd never discourage anyone from a trip to Lao Sze Chuan.

Friday ...

Lunch. Maybe North Pond or Blackbird. Leaning towards North Pond b/c I anticipate visiting other Paul Kahan places this trip. North Pond seems like a romantic setting but I'm actually doing this meal alone. She'll be at an interview. If I end up without a car I might just walk over to Xoco for a torta and churros.

Dinner. We have reservations at The Publican. We like meat. We dont mind noisy. I think we should be ok.

North Pond is great, but I can't imagine it being as good dining solo...if you get the urge to go to Xoco, I'd skip it in favor of Big Star. The pork belly tacos and queso fundido are consistently better than anything that Xoco puts out. Plus, the bourbon selection is amazing. The only bar within 250 miles to serve Old Heaven Hill Gold Label, I'd wager.

Still in love with The Publican...

Saturday ...

Lunch. ...

Would love to try Hot Doug's but fear the line. I hear Portillo's is good but I'm thinking I'd be missing out if I can't get to Hot Doug's.

Unless you're sure you'll never be back, the Hot Doug's line on Saturday is just not worth it. Urban Belly or Belly Shack? The Bristol?

Dinner. I have somewhat late reservations at both L2O and Avenues.

I was very disappointed in my meal at L2O. Did you consider Graham Elliot?

True rye and true bourbon wake delight like any great wine...dignify man as possessing a palate that responds to them and ennoble his soul as shimmering with the response.

DeVoto, The Hour

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Some thoughts...

Avec at 9pm on a Thursday is a bit of a crap shoot. You might have a long wait or you might be able to sit at the bar (my recommendation) with relative ease. If it doesn't work out, Province is nearby and is very good. A trip to Lao Sze Chuan, though, is never a bad idea.

Maybe if you line up at Hot Doug's before they open on Saturday, otherwise I wouldn't recommend it. FWIW, sometimes I'll go on Friday's at around 11am and it usually takes about 45 minutes to 1 hour to get through the line...so maybe that's an option. That wait is totally worth it, and I hate waiting in line for anything.

L2O and Avenues is a real toss-up. I think both are great. If you're really into seafood then I would give the edge to L20, but I think Avenues provides the better overall experience. Also, the style of the food at Avenues is pretty similar to Alinea, so this may be a good "second choice" for you.

I was just at The Publican last week and they are absolutely firing on all cylinders.

Coming from NYC, I'm not sure you'll really want to go out of your way to eat pizza here. If you want to try deep dish, I'd probably recommend Lou Malnatti's (but everyone has their own personal favorite). For thin crust (sliced into little squares) my favorite is probably Vito & Nick's, which is down by Midway (not really do-able unless you wind up renting a car).

-Josh

Now blogging at http://jesteinf.wordpress.com/

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I certainly don't want to ignite another pizza debate, but as a native NY'er, I have to agree with Josh's assessment. Deep-dish pizza was an interesting diversion when I was much, much younger and in my "mo' cheese, mo' better" mode, but frankly, I think there are better alternatives if you're looking for Chicago-ish food. For example, there are authentic and delicious Mexican restaurants in the Pilsen neighborhood, as I mentioned in another forum. (Here's an article about Rick Bayless's Pilsen tour.)

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."  -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act 1

 

Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

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Maybe if you line up at Hot Doug's before they open on Saturday, otherwise I wouldn't recommend it. FWIW, sometimes I'll go on Friday's at around 11am and it usually takes about 45 minutes to 1 hour to get through the line...so maybe that's an option.

I ate at Hot Doug's on a Friday a couple of weeks ago. I arrived at 1 pm and I reached the front of the line to place my order 80 minutes later. Yes, 1 hour and 20 minutes. When I left around 2:30, the line was even longer than when I arrived, so the wait must have been approaching two hours. (And after waiting all that time, I wasn't impressed.)

As for our wonderful deep-dish pizza, I think it's terrific, absolutely delicious. It's also a local specialty you can get here and, for the most part, nowhere else. If you've never had it, this is your opportunity to try it! You can't go wrong with any of the places in which the Malnati family was instrumental - the original Uno and Due in River North, Lou Malnati's (31 locations), or Pizano's (3 locations).

I think creative provincial Mexican food is something Chicago does extremely well but it's difficult to find in other cities this side of the border. Of course Topolobampo and Frontera Grill are the most famous and still lead the pack. Other great places include Mixteco Grill, Mundial Cocina Mestiza, Rustico Grill, Fuego, and Mexique. Check out the menus on their websites; we're not talking your plain old everyday enchiladas and tacos!

Edited by nsxtasy (log)
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I read a lot about Urban Belly and it was worth it for the price and BYOB, but I did find the food underwhelming. Just my 2 cents. The menu sounds great though and maybe they were off that night, but some of my dishes were way too salty.

If you do go that route though, when I come from out of town, I order wine (lately from Flickinger) and have it delivered to my hotel upon arrival. I have even brought wine to Avec for a corkage fee. If you are alone, a great bottle of Chateauneuf is a fine companion, but make sure it is something special and I usually leave the last glass in the bottle for the server/staff.

k.

I like to say things and eat stuff.

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Avec: my favorite restaurant in the city, though at 9pm I'd be hesitant. I tend to go when they first open (around 3 or 4 in the afternoon) and the place is so laid back. The waitresses are cool. They're chatty. You can shoot the shit with the people sitting next to you. At nine, Avec is far more high-strung and tense. Waitresses have far less time for you and there is a lot more attitude (from both the wait staff and the customers).

Hot Doug's: You're going to wait in line. It will be a long line. If you are coming all the way from NY to wait in line for a hot dog, this is your place.

Xoco: I like Xoco. It's a great place for lunch, especially if you're alone. Plus, I personally could not handle a meal from both North Pond and Publican in the same day. For me, that would be culinary overkill.

Pizza: This might be helpful: http://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/July-2010/Photos-Best-Pizzas-in-Chicago/

It's just a list. I neither agree with it nor disagree with it. It's just a list. My personal favorite is Piece, but it's about as non-Chicago style as you can get, though I readily admit I am not a Chicago style “pizza” fan (as far as I am concerned it’s a tomato pie, not a pizza). If you are looking for Chicago style it probably isn't the place to go. However, Piece does offer some very respectable beers, if that factors into your decision at all.

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I read a lot about Urban Belly and it was worth it for the price and BYOB, but I did find the food underwhelming. Just my 2 cents. The menu sounds great though and maybe they were off that night, but some of my dishes were way too salty.

I share some of your concerns...in my opinion Belly Shack is more interesting (and closer to the L).

I usually leave the last glass in the bottle for the server/staff.

Do the server/staff really drink what's left in the bottle? (Not trying to criticize, just curious.)

If it's any good, absolutely. I've known some smaller places that strongly suggested a pour for the staff was part of the corkage fee. In an interesting twist on this practice that I discovered this morning, Gilt Bar insists you share a glass of any wine you bring from outside with someone at another table...

True rye and true bourbon wake delight like any great wine...dignify man as possessing a palate that responds to them and ennoble his soul as shimmering with the response.

DeVoto, The Hour

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Do the server/staff really drink what's left in the bottle? (Not trying to criticize, just curious.)

Sure they do. Often they will bring an extra glass to the table and pour it with you and have a taste, but it depends upon how busy it is, how you get along, and if the person is 'into' wine. It also depends upon the wine (you should always bring a good bottle if bringing a wine to a restaurant) and also where you are sitting. When I am at the bar, tasting is more common it seems.

If the conditions aren't right, I might not offer a taste at all, but will give a better tip. About 40% of the time when I give the sommelier/bartender/server/cook a taste, the corkage fee seems to disappear.

You should also call ahead if bringing a bottle and never bring a bottle that is on their wine list.

k.

Edited by mr drinkie (log)

I like to say things and eat stuff.

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I'd sure push for L20 or TRU as possible get-in places. L20 is absolutely ingenious without being Cirque du Soleil showy; the flavors are the object and they're phenomenal. Both it and TRU tend to be overlooked, but I've had world-class meals and great service in both.

For a traditional grand time (haute but modern) try Everest with Jean Joho in the kitchen and probably North America's best Alsatian wine discoveries.

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Thanks everyone for your detailed replies!

I think the latest plan is...

Thursday Dinner

Try Avec regardless of our late arrival on Thursday. If we can get seated or have a bar spot than great. If not we may seek a nearby alternative spot as you all have mentioned or just go over to a Tony Hu place. My girlfriend is Chinese and we can also enjoy a good Chinese meal.

Friday Breakfast

I was actually referring to Lula Cafe. Sorry about that. I'm going to hop on the M Blue line as I am a few blocks from there and take it to Logan Sq.

Friday Lunch

As for my lunch alone on Friday it will probably be a whim decision as to whether to hit up a sandwich place like Xoco via walking from my hotel or taking the 134 bus to North Pond.

Friday Dinner

For dinner Friday we have reservations at Publican which is walking distance.

Saturday Breakfast

We are staying at a different hotel at that point near north side. If we don't rent a zip car I thought to take the 22 bus to M Henry. It seems a little far but I love a good breakfast.

Saturday Lunch

It's really up in the air. It doesnt seem like we'll be able to arrive at Hot Doug's prior to their opening and I dont think I can bear waiting in line for 90 minutes. So I might need some alternate hot dog rec's. We'll be near north side as I said. I only know of Portillo's. My girlfriend is intent on hitting up a deep dish or stuffed pizza place. Or possiblilities include Art of Pizza and Lou Malnati's.

Saturday Dinner

We are still wavering between L2O and Avenues.

Sunday

We're on our way back to NYC.

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I'm going to hop on the M Blue line as I am a few blocks from there and take it to Logan Sq.

I think you mean the CTA Blue Line.

As for my lunch alone on Friday it will probably be a whim decision as to whether to hit up a sandwich place like Xoco via walking from my hotel or taking the 134 bus to North Pond.

The CTA #134 bus is an express bus and only operates during the morning and evening rush hours, not around lunchtime. You can find CTA information on their website here.

It's really up in the air. It doesnt seem like we'll be able to arrive at Hot Doug's prior to their opening and I dont think I can bear waiting in line for 90 minutes. So I might need some alternate hot dog rec's. We'll be near north side as I said. I only know of Portillo's.

Portillo's is good for Chicago-style hot dogs. If you want a place that has exotic sausages a la Hot Doug's but without the lines, as noted above, consider Franks 'n' Dawgs. (Personally, I would go for the deep dish over the dogs, any day, any time.)

Saturday Dinner

We are still wavering between L2O and Avenues.

Of those two, I would take Avenues. But I would take Everest, TRU, or Trotter's over either one.

Edited by nsxtasy (log)
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Saturday Dinner

We are still wavering between L2O and Avenues.

If it were me, it'd be Avenues. L20 has a lot to offer but Curtis Duffy has a voice that anyone who's serious about food really needs to hear.

I'm sure you'll have a great experience, whichever you choose. :smile:

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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The CTA #134 bus is an express bus and only operates during the morning and evening rush hours, not around lunchtime. You can find CTA information on their website here.

There are two CTA buses that go past North Pond on Stockton Drive and operate throughout the day and evening: the #151, which runs along Michigan Avenue downtown, and the #156, which runs along LaSalle Street downtown. North Pond (the pond) is visible from Stockton, but North Pond (the restaurant) is NOT visible from Stockton. The nearest posted stop on Stockton is at Roslyn and you can walk around the pond to the restaurant. If you're walking around the neighborhood, the closest entrance to the park and the restaurant is at Deming and Lakeview, which is also where you can find cabs and, for dinner and Sunday brunch, a valet parking stand.

North Pond is a very special place and a very special restaurant; it's a great choice for your itinerary.

Edited by nsxtasy (log)
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Everyone, thank you so much for your advice. I appreciate the transportation help as well.

My girlfriend just told me that she might be able to make it for lunch on Friday so I've made a reservation for North Pond. I think if she can't make it I enjoy the meal alone.

As for that last night thats all that's left undecided. L2O or Avenues. Or some other great high end meal other than Alinea or Schwa as I couldnt secure a spot. My girlfriend and I have had many fine dining experiences in NYC and elsewhere but we've never had an ultra-modern / molecular meal. We've had fine Italian quite frequently whether it be at Scarpetta, Marea, Maialino, etc so I'm not inclined to dine at Spiaggia. I need to let L2O know today if I'm not planning to attend otherwise I'd have to take a financial penalty.

It is nice to be stuck with these decisions though, :smile:

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As for that last night thats all that's left undecided. L2O or Avenues. Or some other great high end meal other than Alinea or Schwa as I couldnt secure a spot. My girlfriend and I have had many fine dining experiences in NYC and elsewhere but we've never had an ultra-modern / molecular meal.

If your goal is to experience ultra-modern/molecular, I would take Avenues over L2O. But you might also consider Moto, which leans even further in that direction towards molecular gastronomy (although it does not provide the kind of high-end experience you'll find at Avenues).

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It never hurts to try calling Schwa again...things seem to change by the moment over there. So, even if you were told a week or two ago that there was nothing, something may have opened up. I'd also recommend Avenues or (as I mentioned up thread) Graham Elliot over L2O. Moto is certainly ultra-modern/molecular, but I don't know if I can call it a "meal" in the same sense as Alinea or any of the other places mentioned. It's more performance art in your mouth.

True rye and true bourbon wake delight like any great wine...dignify man as possessing a palate that responds to them and ennoble his soul as shimmering with the response.

DeVoto, The Hour

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If you're looking for "ultra-modern/molecular" I would have to agree Graham Elliot should be given some consideration. Afterall, he was Avenues' prior chef.

As for moto, I believe Cantu likes to call his food "Postmodern."

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May I introduce another option for Saturday night (or for your next trip to Chicago): the eight-course tasting menu at Vie, in Western Springs. It's not as "ultra-modern" as Avenues or L2O (as I mentioned earlier, I haven't been to either), but in its own way is certainly "high end." (Here's an eGullet thread about the place.) If you don't have a car (or even if you do :wink:), it's right by the Western Springs Metra station (timetable), about a half hour from Union Station.

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."  -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act 1

 

Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

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Vie, in Western Springs

As you note, Vie is really not a place for "molecular gastronomy"; it's a contemporary American restaurant, and a very good one.

If you're willing to take the Metra commuter train (or drive) to the 'burbs, there are two other restaurants where I have had some of the very best meals in recent years (yes, even better than Vie, IMHO). One is Michael, in Winnetka, a block from the Indian Hill station on Metra's Union Pacific - North line. I ate there again a few weeks ago and it was just amazing, the best dinner I've had in a very long time. The other is Inovasi, in Lake Bluff, a block from the Lake Bluff station on the same line.

Edited by nsxtasy (log)
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I guess I shouldn't say molecular per se. I really just want to experience flavors that will be memorable and that are new to me but still "taste-accessible." But I also really dont want to leave hungry.

I've had great meals at Blue Hill at Stone Barns which I figured Vie is kind of like. Plus I intended on going to North Pond which I assumed was similar in its philosophy of farm-to-table, market-driven, etc. one would experience at Blue Hill Stone Barns or Vie.

Everest seems to be Alsatian which is surely delicious however our last fine dining meal we had was at The Modern which is Alsatian.

It seems Avenues would be favored over L2O but I'm surprised theres only 40 or so reviews on yelp for Avenues but hundreds on other high end spots.

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