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Pick 2- Spiaggia, Tru, Charlie Trotter's

Uh-oh..."picky" and "not so adventurous" aren't a good match for Alinea. Could make for a very *interesting* evening! Oh well, if he hates it, he'll have great stories to tell.

Aug 22, 2008
Pugman in Chicago Area

Takashi?

It is a very small restaurant and given chef Takashi's reputation (and warranted early buzz), you'll want to reserve well in advance. When I was there on Saturday, some people were dressed up and others were very casual. Even describing it as "business casual" might be an overstatement. Just be aware that this is really more of a neighborhood place (albeit a nice one), so don't expect all the creature comforts and super-solicitous service of a fine-dining establishment. People that loved Tribute in Michigan or Okada at the Wynn in Vegas may not feel the same way about the new venture...but that comparison wouldn't really be justified in the first place. The tables are very close together and the chairs are not particularly comfy and the noise level can get high. On this level, it reminds me of Blackbird. As does the quality of the food, which is high praise indeed. I can easily envision becoming a regular patron.

Jan 15, 2008
Pugman in Chicago Area

Takashi?

Two friends and I went to Takashi on Jan.12 and it was outstanding. Hawaiian Kampachi sashimi topped with tiny pieces of Ankimo (monkfish liver) was sublime and the bluefin tuna tartare was pristine and not overwhelmed with other ingredients. House-made tofu was anoter nice treat. These 3 light cold appetizers paved the way for the much-richer hot apps, the highlight of which was pork belly served with some little steamed buns and garnishes (like a deconstructed cha-siu bow). Not to be missed! The veal sweetbreads with Swiss chard and chestnuts were great, too, although I was the only one at our table who would eat them! Because we wanted dessert, we only tried one large plate (clay pot chicken) and it was a great choice. Normally, I don't order chicken at higher-end restaurants but I'm glad that we did this time. Totally crave-worthy. Desserts were terrific, too, especially the sheep's milk pana cotta. It was topped with yuzu gelee, which was a perfect acidic counterpart to the richness of the pana cotta. Wine prices seemed quite reasonable. It was refreshing to see many by-the-glass selections for under $10 and decent bottles around $30. Way too many places seem to be charging $12-$15/glass for so-so wines. All in all, a very welcome addition to the dining scene.

Jan 14, 2008
Pugman in Chicago Area

What was the best Chicago Meal you had in 2007?

Two dinners at Alinea, in spring and fall, were far and away the best Chicago meals of 2007. In fact, the most recent one was perhaps my best dining dining experience ever. Is any meal actually worth hundreds of dollars? I don't know, but I've never had any regrets dropping the dough for chef Achatz's food. For dinners that don't cost as much as round-trip airfare to California, I had several really terrific meals at Boka.

Jan 12, 2008
Pugman in Chicago Area

Which One - or Two - Places Do You Go Most Frequently?

I eat my main meal at lunch, and Custom House is my most frequented place (at least once a week). Portions are the right size for me because I like to eat several courses. I go to Le Colonial quite often, too.

Jan 11, 2008
Pugman in Chicago Area

Everest or Tru

I agree 100%. Tru definitely gets my vote between the two. I can usually remember exact details of fine-dining meals, but my one and only meal at Everest was utterly forgettable. I also resented that the server was distant to the point of being a non-entity and not particularly polished, either. I also got the impression that I was initially sized up as an "amateur fine diner," which is quite insulting (even if it had been true). Usually we'll give a place a second chance, but we decided mid-meal that we'd never go back there. I do love Alsatian wines and their list is mind-blowing, however.

I think the service at Tru is among the best I've ever experienced in any city.

Jan 11, 2008
Pugman in Chicago Area

Best Seafood Restaurant?

You might want to check out Takashi, a just-opened place run by a super-talented chef. I haven't been yet (going tomorrow), but there are some positive posts on this and other boards. Although the space (where Scylla was) is cozy, it probably won't be too quiet.

Your research about Spring is on the money--it is one of the best and most consistent seafood-oriented restaurants in this (or any other) city. I hadn't been there in a long time, but my meal on Wednesday was incredible. My business companions were still raving about the meal all day yesterday. All of the food, from the amuse to the post-dessert herb-infused liquid chocolate, was flawless. The atmosphere also seems exactly what you're looking for, too.

Closer to Mag Mile, I'd recommend Kevin, another Asian-influenced $$$/*** place with good (albeit limited) seafood. Also nearby is Roy's and although it is not unique to Chicago (there are 30 or so, I believe), the seafood is always very good, as are the service and ambiance. I recently ate at one of the Roy's in Hawaii (in Kauai, not the original one) and actually think the one in Chicago is superior.

Jan 11, 2008
Pugman in Chicago Area

Upscale vegetarian...

If you want to go REALLY upscale, Charlie Trotter's and TRU have multicourse vegetarian tasting menus as part of their regular offerings. Alinea (my favorite restaurant anywhere) will also do a vegetarian meal with prior notice, but some of the dishes aren't conceived as vegetarian from the beginning, which may impact them. All of these are well over $100/person before tax, tip, beverages.

For less money, the tasting menu at Green Zebra is the way to go, because everyone will get different dishes (unless it's changed). That way, a party of 3 or 4 will get to sample just about everything on the menu. Which reminds me that it's been way to long since I've dined there.

Nov 08, 2007
Pugman in Chicago Area

Best Chinese Delivery to Downtown

Not to be a downer, but my answer in a multiple-choice test would be "E; none of the above." Maybe there's a hidden gem that I don't know about, but I've found that the Chinese food in the area is really bad.

Nov 07, 2007
Pugman in Chicago Area

Streeterville Italian: Coco Paza Cafe v Bice?

My initial rec is to go a few blocks north and eat at Cafe Spiaggia instead. Can't vouch for Volare, but Coco Pazzo Cafe and Bice are both decent and several notches above average. I actually prefer the original Coco Pazzo a few blocks west in River North, but it isn't as convenient to where you're staying.

Nov 07, 2007
Pugman in Chicago Area

Absolute best burger in Chicago?

My current favorite "splurge" burger is at Custom House (500 S. Dearborn). A blend of different cuts of beef (and I believe, a small percentage of pork), perfect bun and bacon (both house-made), and incredible house-made steak sauce make for a great burger. It has supplanted Naha for my favorite fine-dining hamburger. It's $14 or $16 (with fries) and worth every penny--and I think available only at lunch. For a cheap burger, Paradise Pup is Des Plaines is still my all-time fave (except for Kua Aina on Oahu's North Shore).

Nov 04, 2007
Pugman in Chicago Area

New Vietnamese Restaurant in Des Plaines

The shredded green papaya salad with shrimp (or tofu) is good; the spicy calamari salad is delicious. The Annam Platter is a nice starter since it comes with fresh and fried spring rolls, crispy shrimp rolls and grilled chicken and beef skewers with a sweet spicy sauce. Lemongrass chicken and grilled eggplant are also personal favorites. The menu is definitely geared toward Western tastes (which some may view as a criticism, but the decision is appropriate given the location), so nothing you order should be too "challenging."

The pho (soup with noodles and your choice of other ingredients) isn't going to win any awards, but still qualifies as acceptable-to-good. I haven't yet tried the catfish cooked in a clay pot at the new location. but I enjoyed it when they were in Evanston.

Nov 04, 2007
Pugman in Chicago Area

Looking for restaurant for romantic/fun dinner

I've had really great meals recently at Boka and Le Lan. These are chef-driven places with excellent food, service and wine lists. Boka is in the 1700 block of Halsted, so it would be a cab ride away. Le Lan is on Clark Street, very near Mag Mile. The chefs have excellent resumes (both were at Charlie Trotter's, for example) and are cooking some of the most exciting food in the city. Boka's food manages to be both rustic and elegant; Le Lan serves contemporary Asian food with French and New American influences. Not as "fun" as Carnivale or Red Light, but similar in price and substantially better food-wise (although I enjoy both of those places, too). In fact, my most recent dinner at Boka (2 weeks ago) was one of the best of the year and topped only by places that were much more expensive (such as Alinea in Chicago and Providence in LA).

My other constant favorite is Custom House (500 S. Dearborn)--very classy ambience, top-notch ingredients (largely organic, small farms, local), intelligent wine list, and one of the city's best pastry chefs. Terrific (and unusal) cocktails too, with house-made components. Not walking distance from the hotels you describe, but a pretty short cab ride.

Nov 02, 2007
Pugman in Chicago Area

New Vietnamese Restaurant in Des Plaines

I tried going to Nam Viet a couple times, but both times I went on the day that they're closed. IIRC from seeing Nam Viet's menu, the prices at Dung Gia may be a bit lower and they have more of a strictly Vietnamese menu (Nam Viet was more Vietnamese/Chinese). I grew up near the area known as "Little Saigon" in Southern California and got very spoiled on good, cheap Vietnamese food. Dung Gia's food is "authentic enough" (ie, Westernized, but not insipid) to be an enjoyable cheap eats alternative in the N/NW 'burbs.

Nov 02, 2007
Pugman in Chicago Area

New Vietnamese Restaurant in Des Plaines

I've been waiting for Dung Gia (on Northwest Highway in downtown Des Plaines; technically 1436 Miner Street) to open ever since I saw the "coming soon" sign. To my great surprise, it turns out that the proprietors are from Annam Cafe, which was one of my favorite lunch spots when I worked in Evanston. Last night, we enjoyed an excellent spicy squid salad, an appetizer combo platter and lemongrass chicken.

Of course, the menu is not as extensive as one would find on Argyle Street and the prices are not quite as low, but the food is solid and fills a huge void since there are virtually no Vietnamese restaurants nearby (and barely any in the suburbs at all). After two really terrible experiences at Tay Do in Glendale Heights, I had given up hopes for decent Vietnamese food outside of the city limits.

Located across from the Des Plaines Metra station, it's pretty much a bare-bones storefront, so don't be expecting a suburban version of Le Colonial or Pasteur! But the food is fresh, tasty and cheap.

Oct 31, 2007
Pugman in Chicago Area

In Oahu with car - good eats, good value?

I just got back from 11 days of eating my way across Kauai and Oahu and found the pickings to be anything but slim. (And gained 10 pounds as proof!) Waikiki proper isn't a great foodie destination, but there are plenty of great places mere minutes away in Honolulu. I had excellent dinners at Chef Mavro, 'Elua, Hiroshi's, Town and Okonomiyaki Chibo (the latter is smack-dab in Waikiki in the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center). If I lived there, I think Town would become a weekly destination. The prices are reasonable given the high quality of the mostly local/organic ingredients. Honest food and honestly good.

But bite for bite, I enjoyed Hiroshi's most of all. Our party of four ordered about 10-12 tapas-sized plates and a couple entrees and every single dish was delicious. Maybe a tad pricey given the size of the small plates, but worth it.

Mavro's definitely fits the bill for an expensive night out...our meal there was three times as expensive as the other places (each of which, strangely, ended up being $63/person). My partner and I thought it would have been a great $100 meal...but since it was nearly $200 we expected to be a bit more wowed by the experience. It was good...just quite not at the level as the best you'd encounter in Chicago, NYC, SF or LA. But in this stratosphere it needs to be resolutely excellent without having to add "for Hawaii" to that description.

Okonomiyaki Chibo was something of a "discovery" for us. It caters to an almost exclusively Japanese clientele. I'd never had "fancy" okonomiyaki or yakisoba before (mostly just the cheap stuff from a food stall in a big Asian market). They also have an extensive teppanyaki menu (including splurge items like abalone). I will definitely return there on my next visit.

Other Oahu highlights from this trip (lunch and snacks): Hank's Haute Dogs, Dim Sum at Legends and Won Kee in Chinatown (we thought Legends was the better of the two), Kua Aina Sandwich in Haleiwa for good burgers, Jimbo's for great Japanese noodles and tempura, the North Shore shrimp trucks (of course), Beard Papa for the world's best cream puffs--dangerously good, and really good shave ice at Aoki's (better--this time at least--than their more famous neighbor, Matsumoto's). We ate shave ice almost every day for 11 days...the best of the bunch was Wishing Well in Hanalei, Kauai.

I can elaborate more on specific meals, dishes, etc., if anyone is interested.

Aug 14, 2007
Pugman in U.S. Elsewhere Archive

Le Lan, Blackbird or Arun's?

I had an incredible meal at Le Lan last week. The new chef, Bill Kim, who most recently worked at Charlie Trotter's, also spent time in some of the nation's other top restaurants (including the late, great Trio under Shawn McClain and Susanna Foo's in Philly). I enjoy chef Kim's pan-Asian flavors much more than Le Lan's former French-Vietnamese format. We ordered a lot of dishes and every one of them was terrific.

Blackbird remains a great restaurant, serving beautifully conceived and executed (but unpretentious) dishes. However, if you want a quiet, romantic dinner be aware that the tables are extremely close together and the restaurant can get quite noisy (Le Lan is better--but not by much--in this respect). This is a deal-breaker for some (not me).

I haven't been to Arun's in years, so I can't comment. I know what you mean about Alinea. It truly plays in an entirely different league than almost any restaurant in the country.

Aug 14, 2007
Pugman in Chicago Area

Thoughts on Cyrano's wine bar & bistro?

Unfortunately, I have to cast another negative vote for Cyrano's. It is right near my office, yet I'll cab elsewhere when I want Bistro food. My last meal there was dreadful (a particularly horrible cut of steak), finished off with stale cake. The meal prior to that was quite bad, which I thought was a fluke, so I tried again.

Jul 20, 2007
Pugman in Chicago Area

Caliterra? / Eno?

Bin 36 has an extensive cheese selection, but not a cart. I'm not crazy about their other food (or actually the wine selection), but they have LOTS of cheese: http://www.bin36.com/menu.html#cheese

I ate at Caliterra a few months ago and I can't remember one single thing about the meal, except that my co-worker said we didn't ever need to go back.

Jul 20, 2007
Pugman in Chicago Area

Ethnic Food in the NE Suburbs?

I live in the area, so here are a few recs:

Woo Lae Oak (on Algonquin Road in Rolling Meadows) is a higher-end Korean restaurant (they have several locations internationally). While it is more expensive than most Korean places (though not really "expensive" in the grand scheme), it is also much more elegant and with generally better service, although some of the staff don't speak English very well. Famous for their Bibim Nang Myun (cold buckwheat noodles with vinegary/spicy sauce) . They also have some elaborate set dinners, which aren't translated in the menu, so you'll need to ask. Tabletop grills are available, too.

There is a brand-new Malaysian restaurant, Penang, on the same street. We thought the food was good, but way overpriced for the area ($6 for a beer and $20-something for shrimp entrees--"city" prices). I think they will get a lot of resistance from the locals at those prices...but the food was quite tasty. Worth a visit, however, because it's good and quite different than what else is around here.

There are many Thai restaurants in the area (in nearby downtown Arlington Heights alone, there are three). Most are good, but none are particularly noteworthy (compared to the best ones in the city of Chicago). I like Bangkok Cafe in Arlington Heights.

Nobu's Japanese Restaurant (not, not the one of "Iron Chef" fame) in nearby Schaumburg is quite good and reasonably priced. Sushi, noodles and most of the usual mom-n-pop Japanese restaurant dishes, but generally executed better than other places in the area. I am extremely particular about my sushi and this is one of the very few places in the area that has consistently delivered a top-quality product (albeit just your basic non-trendy, non-exotic stuff). But the fish is fresh and cut properly and the rice is correct.

Yu's Mandarin (on Golf Road, east of Roselle Road) is an extremely popular Chinese/Korean restaurant (mostly Chinese, but there are Korean-style dishes on the non-English menu). They make some of their noodles in-house (the Peking noodles are a personal fave) and also have really great live Dungeness crab when in season. The restaurant is also notably cleaner than most Chinese places in the area (they have a glassed-in open kitchen)...the grunge factor is distressingly high at many of the nearby places, including some of my formerly-favorite spots.

Most of the Mexican food in the area is dismissable, although Fuego in Arlington Heights is several notches above the others I've been to. I've heard great things about a Mexican seafood place called Flamingo (not too far from R.M.), but haven't tried it.

Jul 18, 2007
Pugman in Chicago Area

Hank's Haute Dogs Honolulu

Any 'Hounds tried Hank's Haute Dogs (Coral St. / Ala Moana Blvd.)? I'll be going there next week during my vacation, but am eager to hear the early reports. I know the proprietor from his many years in Chicago fine dining (his legendary restaurant, Trio, was the springboard for a bunch of famous chefs). The Chicago style dogs will be the real deal, because he is shipping Vienna beef dogs from the WIndy City. I'm more interested in finding out about the more exotic dogs.

Jul 18, 2007
Pugman in U.S. Elsewhere Archive

Weekend in Chicago

Frontera Grill serves brunch on Saturday (only). I've not been for brunch but have had numerous great meals over the years at Frontera/Topolobampo (including quite recently).

Jul 18, 2007
Pugman in Chicago Area

In town from SF Sunday, Sept 9...

PERFECT choice! I actually prefer the 12-course over the "tour". If you enjoy wine, be sure to do the wine pairings.

Jul 17, 2007
Pugman in Chicago Area

Sunday Brunch in Evanston July 8?

I hope Quince's brunch is better than dinner. Maybe we went on an "off" night, but our meal at Quince was very disappointing--OK conceptually, but really shoddy execution on several dishes. Inexcusable at their price point. I have no desire to go back.

My favorite place for weekend brunch in Evanston is LuLu's. It's Pan-Asian, all-you-can-eat, but not a buffet (free reign of the menu, with only a couple of exceptions). Not everything is great, but most is good (and some very good) and a steal at $16 or so.

Jul 16, 2007
Pugman in Chicago Area

In town from SF Sunday, Sept 9...

Lots of good recs from other 'Hounds, but several of the places metioned are closed on Sunday (definitely Avenues, Blackbird and Le Lan). I had a FANTASTIC birthday dinner at BOKA last night. My second-best Chicago meal of the 2007 (#1 being Alinea) and topped only by a few (and much more expensive) meals in Los Angeles and NYC. Avec, while great fun and delicious, is not really "anniversary appropriate" since it is generally off-the-chart crowded and loud. They do open around 3:30, so it could be a great pre-dinner place for some wine and snacks.

I still think Spring http://springrestaurant.net is one of the best restaurants in the city. Certainly in the very top-tier among seafood-focused places. The chef won the 2006 James Beard award (and many other awards over the years). Some people find the flavor profiles to be a bit subdued, but I've always appreciated the subtleties. I like the fact that the chef's fish dishes are still instantly recognizable as fish and that he shows restraint in his approach to fusion (always just the right number of ingredients).

If cost is not a consideration ($135 and $195 before beverages, tax and tip), Alinea is the way to go (and they are open on Sunday). After 7 or 8 meals there since opening, I think it may be the best restaurant in the country.

Jul 16, 2007
Pugman in Chicago Area

sushi in Lincolnshire, Il

That's some encouraging news. I look forward to your report.

Jul 14, 2007
Pugman in Chicago Area

sushi in Lincolnshire, Il

Three not-so-good experiences a week or two apart is more than just a bad night. This was my "regular" sushi place (a few times per week) for a few months, so my observations are based on many, many meals. Initially, the quality was almost at the level of Morimoto or Nobu--super-fresh, creative and beautifully presented (expensive and worth it). Now it just seems like "hotel sushi"--average quality at expense account prices.

If there is even one truly excellent sushi bar in the Northern 'burbs, it would be news to me.

Jul 14, 2007
Pugman in Chicago Area

sushi in Lincolnshire, Il

Have you been to RT Lounge recently? I've never seen such a dramatic turn for the worse at any high-end place. The talented sushi chefs are gone and the selections have been dumbed down. (Unless something has changed very recently.) When the sushi chef doesn't know the right way to cut the fish, you know you're in trouble. Truly terrible (and very sad, because I LOVED their sushi).

Jul 13, 2007
Pugman in Chicago Area

alinea or moto? help please

Alinea is the complete package--food, service, comfort/atmosphere that is among the best you'll find anywhere. Absolutely lives up to all the hype. Even though a meal can last for many hours, you don't want it to end. In my personal "Top 10 Meals of All Time," Alinea holds several places, including the #1 position.

Lots of people adore Moto and I also expected that I would at least enjoy it, since I'm an adventurous food-obsessed geek. But I HATED my one and only dinner there (the top tasting menu with wine pairings). More than half of the 16 or so courses simply didn't taste very good. A few (desserts, mostly) were actually quite repellent. Clever? Perhaps. Delicious? Not even close. The diners seated on either side of our table felt the same way. Combined with indifferent service, so-so wine pairings and surroundings not comfortable enough to spend 4+ hours eating and I have to say that my experience at Moto was the worst big-bucks meal among literally hundreds of 3- and 4-star dinners. Just my two cents worth (or, actually 72,000 cents). I'm sure other 'Hounds will have a very different tale. Admittedly, I've only been to Moto once, so maybe my experience was atypical.

Jul 13, 2007
Pugman in Chicago Area

Mon-Thurs: 4 dinners in Chicago under $60 a person

Yeah, I don't think Cafe Spiaggia can be done (or at least done right) for $60 total...before tax and tip, maybe. You may leave hungry from Mirai at $60, too. They are both worth the extra bucks, however.

VTK (Vong's) is great for lunch...the prix-fixe is a real bargain and I've found that the food and service tends to bet better at lunch. I don't go there for dinner anymore.

Scylla is a little further away on Damen, but has a super-creative menu and really reasonable prices (recently lowered, actually).

The $25 3-course at Opera may be the best deal in the city.

Jun 07, 2007
Pugman in Chicago Area