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Surprise Anniversary Dinner

Figured I'd continue from my trip thread instead of creating a whole new question!

Looking to hit Au Cheval on a Thursday night before a Second City show. It's not too close to the theater, but it looks doable even for a no-reservations busy place like Au Cheval. Plus, we will travel great distances for great food :)

Anyway, I've heard there can be 30+ minute waits even as early as 6pm - around when we expect to arrive. What are some good places to go for a drink while we wait for our table?

Jun 03, 2014
Ausconsin in Chicago Area

Surprise Anniversary Dinner

Then I shall call in late April. Maybe we'll see you there!

Apr 02, 2014
Ausconsin in Chicago Area

Surprise Anniversary Dinner

Also, does anyone know the specifics of Grace's reservation policy? The website quotes "two months out", but is that two months from the date (e.g., April 2 - June 2, April 3 - June 3, etc.) or is it a general two months (i.e., April 1 opens reservations for all of April, May, and June) à la Alinea?

Sorry if my question is confusing! But the reservation is for late June; so, if it's the latter case, I'd hate to call end of April only to find the Saturday unavailable since it's been reservable for weeks prior.

Also, the excitement is killing me! Just want to get the res in and done with :)

Apr 02, 2014
Ausconsin in Chicago Area

Surprise Anniversary Dinner

Original poster reporting in!

Grace will be the restaurant of choice for that particular dinner. Now on to the full itinerary!

Thursday Lunch: Frontera
Thursday dinner: Au Cheval or Fat Rice
- I've read great things on Au Cheval. But how are the dishes other than the burger and egg with foie? My partner is allergic to eggs. Will she still enjoy its egg-centric menu?
- Also heard great things on Fat Rice. Which would you choose between here and Au Cheval, keeping in mind the rest of my itinerary and the fact that I'll be going with my 2 parents who are in their 50's :) not that their not adventurous eaters, but not huge fans of very loud, cramp spaces.

Friday lunch: Lou Malnatis
Friday dinner: Girl and the Goat (reservations already secured. 3 years in the making!)

Saturday lunch: Hot Doug's or Publican Quality Market or other lunch option?
Saturday dinner: Grace (reservations to be obtained in April, 2 months prior to the day!)

Sunday brunch: Any ideas around the James Hotel? Within 30 min walk or short cab ride? Thinking Publican or moving Au Cheval here to fit in both Fat Rice and Au Cheval? Trencherman? Avec?

Feel free to add comments or answer any of my various questions! Chow and it's longtime members have helped with my Chicago food trips for years, and it seems only proper to run it by you guys once again!


Mar 31, 2014
Ausconsin in Chicago Area

Everest or Acadia for special occasion with "careful" eater lol

I haven't even been to Grace (yet...) and I'm excited for you! Please report back :)

Mar 27, 2014
Ausconsin in Chicago Area

Surprise Anniversary Dinner

Great points, nsxtasy. Grace has been on my list for a while, but just missed its opening because of my move overseas!

I've heard nothing but great things about it, especially the food preparations. I've been a fan of Duffy's since Avenue's, where I had one of my favourite Chicago meals. Grace seems to be Duffy's food matured and set free. Nothing bad about that :)

Mar 07, 2014
Ausconsin in Chicago Area

Surprise Anniversary Dinner

Thank you for the input! I'll keep an eye on menu changes in the coming months (I know Elizabeth's is changing soon).

And great suggestion on the Moto seating. I'm always a sucker for an open kitchen.

Mar 07, 2014
Ausconsin in Chicago Area

Surprise Anniversary Dinner

Thank you, GourmetWednesday! :)

I wholeheartedly agree with your Alinea assessment, and it is still on the list. But having been there myself, I'd like to go somewhere new to the both of us!

I visited El Ideas about a year and a half ago, and it is indeed a fantastic experience. My parents will be going in early May, so I'm going to wait to hear back from them.

I considered not doing L2O because Australia does amazing seafood. Sixteen is a great suggestion, and one that actually slipped my mind. I know their Chicago-based menu is ending soon, so I'll be interested in what their next theme will be.

Thanks for the feedback, though! I know there's probably not a right or wrong answer with any of the restaurants, but the discussion is half the fun!

Surprise Anniversary Dinner

Wow, great reply Gonzo! I've read your many reports on this site, and somehow knew you'd be among the first to reply :)

If money was no issue, I assume you'd choose Grace (assuming you haven't been to any of the three)? The one thing about Grace that makes me weary is that it might be too formal. Not from a service standpoint, which I've heard is excellent, but just from an overall feel of the food and setting. Like I said, my partner has never had what I would consider a 2 or 3 Michelin star experience. Would you view Moto as more approachable for a first-timer?

Mar 06, 2014
Ausconsin in Chicago Area

Surprise Anniversary Dinner

My partner and I will be traveling from Australia in June to visit some family in Wisconsin. While we're on that side of the planet, we decided to stop down in Chicago for 4 nights with the parents.

I'm from the Midwest and have been to Chicago a number of times, but this will be my partner's first trip to the US. Dinners 1-3 are with my parents, and we will likely hit distinctly Chicago places serving food we can't find in Australia (Mexican, deep dish, etc).

On the fourth night, I want to surprise my partner with a fine dining anniversary dinner for just us two (I love my parents, but...). I have been to Alinea years back and have heard middling reports as of late. Schwa would be a really unique dinner, but organising it via phone from Australia will be near impossible. I'm really tossing up between Grace, Moto, and Restaurant Elizabeth.

Moto is actually most intriguing for me, because I've heard it has gotten better under Chef Farina. My partner isn't that experienced at fine dining, and Moto looks - for lack of a better word - fun. Whimsical dishes who's flavor is starting to catch up. Any word on Moto lately? Any other suggestions? 42 Grams has popped up on my radar, but seems less romantic due to the communal table.

Chicago has spoiled me with choice! Any advice?

Mar 06, 2014
Ausconsin in Chicago Area

El ideas chef "gift"?

Just out of curiosity, how would the note hand-over work? Just hand it to them afterwards?
I'm not disagreeing with you in any way! I think it's a great idea. I just don't know the etiquette for such an exchange.

Or maybe I'm just an awkward individual :)

Feb 06, 2014
Ausconsin in Chicago Area

Thoughts on Sixteen and other trip questions

Lunch: Publican Quality Meats

Weihenstephaner Lager
o Great crisp summer beer, which was pleasantly unexpected from the lagers I’ve had before. Paired very well with the rest of our meal.

Butcher’s Cold Charcuterie Plate: Duck and pork rillettes, spicy bresaola, and smoked foie pate
o Was trying to decide between the 3 and 5 piece plate. By the size of the serving board and portions, we were glad we went with 3. By the time we got around to tasting it, I wish we would have ordered 5. My favorite was the duck and pork rillettes topped with blackberry compote. It was rich and ducky, with the pork adding a nice bit of deep porcine flavors throughout. The bresaola was also very good, though we did not find it the least bit spicy. The smoked foie pate was deliciously smoky and paired well with the whole grain mustard and pickled peppers. I tried to compare Publican’s charcuterie with Vie’s, but seeing how we had different items on the plates, I didn’t find the comparison to be on a solid comparison. I will say, however, that the rillettes from Publican and goose breast pastrami from Vie are some of the favorite bites from the trip.

Pork Belly Sandwich with romesco verde, watercress, summer apple, mint, and yogurt on cibatta. Side of marinated kale with pecorino
o Come on, this isn’t even fair. What’s not to love? Two thick slices of crispy pork belly that were not dry! (which I tend to find in some pork belly sandwiches). The romesco verde is a spicy green pepper sauce, which, along with the rest of the ingredients, offered cool, sharp contrasts to the pork belly. The marinated kale was also excellent. Not marinated into mush, but still crisp and had a nice bitter note.

Muffaletta with albacore tuna, aioli, giardiniera, and cabbage on focaccia. Side of bean salad
o Didn’t get to snag a bite of this, so take that for what it’s worth! I loved how it was cut pizza slice-style from a larger sandwich. Again, the sandwich was huge – much bigger than I was expecting!

Kahan’s restaurant empire has never failed to impress me, and he has another hit with PQM. The deli counters and freezers are jam packed with meats of all sorts – cured, aged, whole, cuts, dried, frozen, fresh. Though definitely a specialty shop, I could see myself spending way too much money in here way too quickly. Above all that, however, the food is awesome. Great products, great execution, and the service was very attentive and friendly especially given the busy lunch rush. Go here. Get the pork belly sandwich before it’s gone. And maybe take some rillettes to go. Oh, and go downstairs and check out the bathroom. You get an open view into the butchering area and the aging room. If seeing animal carcasses freaks you out, maybe go beforehand.

Aug 25, 2012
Ausconsin in Chicago Area

Thoughts on Sixteen and other trip questions

Hey all,
So, I am uploading this from the Windy City, and let me tell you, our trip is off to a great start. I'll try and upload impressions as quickly as possible so as to avoid my own procrastination tendencies. First up, I present to you Vie:

Amuse: Fried matsutake mushroom with beet

Prairie Fruits farm ricotta and spigarello gnocchi, sherry glazed peppers, wood-grilled fennel, cilantro
o A great opening course and reflective of what Vie does great: Distinctive, collaborative flavors heavy on the sour/salty combo. The list of ingredients for each dish can be overwhelming, yet each bite tastes well thought out and clear. Take our opening dish of perfectly light ricotta gnocchi, dyed green with spigarello (a leafy green not too much unline broccoli rabe). As great as these were, the accompaniments of the sweet and slightly spicy peppers and fennel reminded me of a sort of saccharine giardiniera. Then came the cilantro, seemingly out of nowhere, yet sneaking in when you least expect it and offered a refreshingly clear flavor that cut through it all. Everything had a purpose, everything in its right place.

Nathan’s charcuterie plate: pork pate, crispy blood sausage, goose breast pastrami and coppa, local greens with mustard vinaigrette, house made pickled green beans, blackberry compote
o Wow! This was a hefty portion even considering we split it! But I certainly was not complaining. Favorite thing on the plate was the goose breast pastrami, which was very lean yet tender, and offered a hint of game flavor. The blood sausage was also excellent and appeared to have been stuffed with pinenuts, which offered a great textural contrast. The surprise of the dish: The pickled green beans. I knew Chef Virant was into pickling before dining here, but boy does that man know how to pickle. Not lip puckeringly acidic like some homemade pickles can be, but it definitely offered a nice refreshing crunch amidst a sea of heavy cured meats.

Gunthorp farm rabbit ballotine, caponata, buttered fingerlings, mustard pickled local cauliflower, roasted rabbit jus, basil
o This was my dish, and I know I’m sounding like a broken record, but I really loved the interplay between the sour and savory. The ballotine was a rabbit sausage, stuffed in a rabbit loin, all wrapped up in a blanket of rabbit bacon. Delicious, flavorful, coarse ground rabbit sausage made this ballotine stand out. What made the dish, however, were the other members of the band. On bass, you had the buttered fingerlings. Though they offered the least in terms of overall flavor, they served to absorb on many of the accompany flavors, and helped to temper the stronger elements on the place. Enter: The pickled local cauliflower on guitar and rabbit jus on drums. The way that Chef Vierant can pickle a vegetable and have it remain crisp and crunchy in texture is beyond me, but these were again excellent.

Local pork combination (pork sausage and porchetta), buttered corn, roasted sauerkraut, toasted bread puree, sherry vinegar glazed summer apples, roasted pork jus
o This was my dad’s choice, and would have been mine, too, if not for the appearance of rabbit on the menu (which is not too easy to find in my neck of the woods). A homemade pork sausage and thin slices of fatty porchetta rested amidst the sea of accompanying flavors, whose profiles closely match with my rabbit dish. Though I didn’t try any of this dish, the empty plate told me it wasn’t too bad.

Zingerman’s Creamery gooey buttercake, snicker doodle cookie apple compote, caramel, brown sugar granola, seedling hard cider sorbet
o My dessert. I’d read about this dish many times on various blogs and forums, and knew I was getting it weeks before I ate here. Needless to say, “gooey” does not begin to describe the buttercake. Not a dry crumb on the plate, with the sweet taste of butter in every bite. This went brilliantly with the apple compote, whose warm flavors matched well with the heavy cake. The hard cider sorbet sort of grew on me. I admit that, at first, I found it a bit too tart. But interestingly, as it began to melt and mix around a bit with the caramel and soak into the cake, I found it much more complimenting and toned down in a good way. Who knows, maybe I’m more of an ice cream person. Either way, an excellent dish, and a great dish.

Peach semifreddo, red raspberry torta, grilled peaches, toasted pistachios
o My dad’s dessert. He is much more of a fruity sweets guy compared to my rich desserts preference. Again, I did not try this dish (I’m starting to sense a trend here…), but again, all signs pointed to this being a perfect ending to his meal.

Overall, Vie surprised me. I don’t know why it should have, seeing as it garnered a Michelin Star two years running, and has been going strong six years before that (note: Just by chance, we dined there on their 8th anniversary). But I always thought, “Well, how good could it really be, way out there in the suburbs?” Turns out, very good. Vie is an ode to Midwestern ingredients in a refined setting, for sure. But it is doing something with flavor combinations and tickling neglected flavor sensations that are rarely touched by other chefs. The bitter, the acidic, and sour – all paired perfectly with their respective savory or sweet counterparts. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Vie thinks so, too.

Aug 23, 2012
Ausconsin in Chicago Area

Thoughts on Sixteen and other trip questions

So based on what we've read and heard, we're holding off on Sixteen until this new fall makeover! I'm sure it's an excellent place in its current form, but we'd much rather see it in its prime. So, instead, we are going to Acadia on Saturday and having Yusho as a backup for Schwa on Friday.

Phew...I think the schedule is finally set. For now.

Aug 09, 2012
Ausconsin in Chicago Area

Thoughts on Sixteen and other trip questions

Thanks nsxtasy! I think we're going to do Big Jones on Sunday because of the reservations and it's a good stop to hit as we make our way north back home. The last time I ate at Frontera for brunch, I was able to call weeks in advance to make reservations, so I think I might get on that soon. If that doesn't work, I also had Slurping Turtle on my list for Saturday.
And I'm so excited for Sixteen, especially after the new additions in the pastry department.

Jul 21, 2012
Ausconsin in Chicago Area

Thoughts on Sixteen and other trip questions

Thanks for the help everyone! Going to do Vie, Schwa (Acadia as backup), and Sixteen as our dinners. Lunch/brunch is still to be decided, but Publican Quality Meats, Big Jones, Nightwood, Frontera, and Owen and Engine are all in the mix.

Jul 20, 2012
Ausconsin in Chicago Area

Thoughts on Sixteen and other trip questions

Goosefoot is unfortunately already booked up through the dates I'll be there. And thanks for the thread link! Read through the online review of Sixteen, but was wondering if anyone has an experience they'd like to share about it under this new chef's reign.

Jul 16, 2012
Ausconsin in Chicago Area

Thoughts on Sixteen and other trip questions

Hello all,
I'll be heading down to Chicago at the end of August with my dad in what has become an annual tradition of Epicureanistic exploration. We will be going for three nights (Thur night - Sunday day), and I have a few questions on restaurant choices. Below is a list of places we've been to in the past:
Avenues (RIP)
L2O (under Gras, Tatami Room)
Burt's Place
Perennial (the original)
Longman and Eagle (lunch)

There might have been more, but that's what comes off the top of my head at the moment. Anyway, for the upcoming trip, the only thing we have set in stone is Vie on Thursday night. We are on the waiting list for El Ideas for both Friday and Saturday (not holding my breath), and I'll be calling Schwa this week for reservations since it was my dad and I's number one place we want to return to. Any recommendations for night three if El Ideas doesn't pan out? Because of the recent review, I've considered making Sixteen one of the nights, but has anyone personally been there to experience it under this new chef? I've also been hearing a lot about Acadia, but, like Sixteen, only very recently. Any experiences here worth noting? Other considerations were to Moto, Les Nomades, Graham Elliot, or even L2O (this time in the normal dining room). Any recommendations or experiences from Acadia and/or the new Sixteen, or a place I'm overlooking? Thanks for any and all help!

Jul 15, 2012
Ausconsin in Chicago Area

Reservations for Schwa?

Amen. Can't speak much towards the reported "water/pipe issue" cancellations, but I've never found it too difficult to get ahold of someone at Schwa. Not discrediting any negative reports, but definitely keep at it because it's worth it. Try early to mid evening. My sweet spot seems to be between 3pm and 5pm. Great food with awesome people in my experience. Also, just a heads up, I just called to make a reservation and the guy on the phone (who I think was not Chef Carlson) said they will start taking August reservations next week. So now I sit and wait. Or, you know, that could have just been another Schwa-ism, but I'll keep on trying.
To emphasize the keep trying point: My first visit to Schwa almost didn't happen. I called about a month and a half in advance and was told they were closed for a private event. Called the day of the would-be reservation, and got a table for 2 at 6pm. Luck and persistence, friends.

Jul 14, 2012
Ausconsin in Chicago Area