40,000 restaurants in the downtown area and I pick the one my mother goes to.
January 18, 2011 7:26 PM   Subscribe

Chicago birthday restaurant for locavore foodies aged 30 and 60 and their adult companions (six people total). Early evening Saturday, River North (or anywhere downtownish). GO!

We'd like a place that will let us linger a bit and enjoy each other's company. The 30-year-old, my brother, lives in Chicago right by Navy Pier and is culinarily trained. The 60-year-old, my mom, is a farmers' market devotee. My brother's girlfriend and I are more or less pescetarians, but everyone else eats meat.

Ideally, we're thinking of a place not quite as high-end as Everest or Tru, but still something of an experience. Maybe up to $100/person, including wine (we're not big lushes, but I'd love to get my mom tipsy :P).

We're probably looking at January 29 or later, so we have a *little* time to call ahead.

posted by Madamina to Food & Drink (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you're open to non-American cuisines, your family might enjoy Mercat a la Planxa. (Warning: website plays sound automatically, don't hold it against them, the food is amazing.) I've taken large groups here and had excellent service, plenty of time to linger, and it's definitely an experience. You'll likely be able to get a reservation if you call this early.
posted by juniperesque at 7:52 PM on January 18, 2011

Two thoughts:

The Dining Room at Kendall College. Really excellent food, and more to the 'experience' since it's an actual academic class for the people cooking and serving.

Quartino. Italian small plates. Sometimes can be hit and miss, but since it's small plates you can pass on the 'meh' ones. It's a very nice group experience, lots of sharing of food, good wine, good atmosphere.
posted by true at 7:53 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and seconding Mercat. And adding The Gage. Mercat, The Gage, and Quartino are the first three on my "dinner for a mid-size group of people in the downtown area" list.
posted by true at 8:09 PM on January 18, 2011

The Publican is in the West Loop, totally terrific, and an amazing beer selection. It's a loud and casual atmosphere, and would be great for a group. They have very fresh selection of oysters and most of the meat dishes are pork.
posted by hooray at 8:19 PM on January 18, 2011

If you can manage to leave downtown slightly, Mado is not far from the Damen blue line stop and is delicious, mellow, and farm-to-table focused (they buy whole animals from local farms and use as much of them as possible in their dishes - but they also have good fish). I haven't been there since their owner left to open a butcher shop, but their menu hasn't changed much so I would assume that they are still just as good. It should be noted that they are BYOB, should that sway you.
posted by bubukaba at 8:27 PM on January 18, 2011

We just came back from the Publican 10 minutes ago--highly recommended!
posted by onepot at 8:27 PM on January 18, 2011

FYI - Mado is now closed.

I walk past there every day and it's sad to see it set up for service, knowing it's done for good.
posted by bibliogrrl at 8:37 PM on January 18, 2011

Blackbird sounds like exactly what you're looking for. The food is mouthwatering and original, and it's definitely locavore-y. It's quiet and peaceful and sounds right for your age range (not a retirement home but not Longman and Eagle either). They also have a fantastic wine list.
posted by libertypie at 9:37 PM on January 18, 2011

Publican is great, but their menu is pretty meat-heavy, though it's certainly doable if you're the kind of pescetarian who likes to eat a fair amount of fish. The same is true of Mercat, but I've eaten fabulous meals at both. If you're willing to venture a bit further out of downtown (and the meat-eaters are willing to not eat meat), Green Zebra serves exquisite and inventive pescetarian small plates. It's a great place to take groups if you're the kind of people who are willing to just ask them to bring whatever's best, because you'll get to try tons of fabulous things.
posted by dizziest at 9:37 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I adore Joe's Stone Crabs. The steaks are great too, so it's not just seafood. The food is really good. It's definitely quite upscale yet not at all snooty or pretentious. The service is very polished and friendly without being overly familiar and annoying. It's always busy with a sophisticated vibe. It's on the expensive side but not quite in the same realm as Tru. I always leave there quite happy.
posted by Kangaroo at 3:44 AM on January 19, 2011

I hear Sunda is the new, you know, whatever was awesome last month.
posted by timsteil at 3:58 AM on January 19, 2011

Response by poster: These are all really intriguing! We get down there fairly often, so I hope we get to try some others on this list.

Re: Publican, I think we'd go for a slightly quieter atmosphere this time, but we'll definitely have to try it later.

Others I've seen: Cafe Iberico? Purple Pig? Is Graham Elliott worth it/doable with judicious ordering?
posted by Madamina at 9:41 AM on January 19, 2011

Purple Pig doesn't take reservations, something to keep in mind.
posted by Windigo at 10:18 AM on January 19, 2011

It's been a few years since we've been there, but North Pond Restaurant is wonderful, supports organic farms around the Great Lakes Region, and is all gorgeous Arts and Crafts inside. (It's *in* Lincoln Park--not the neighborhood, but the park.)
posted by tully_monster at 11:18 AM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

And I second Mercat a la Planxa, where we had dinner last time we were in Chicago. Also a great choice. I love Catalan cuisine, and it's all about local.
posted by tully_monster at 11:19 AM on January 19, 2011

Purple Pig can be as loud as Publican, and because of its Michigan Ave. locale it gets slammed on the weekends. You wouldn't be able to linger. I'm personally not all that impressed with Cafe Iberico, and it gets pretty busy on the weekends as well.

Avec is a little more casual than its sister, Blackbird. North Pond is lovely, and definitely worth considering.

Girl & The Goat is the hot place right now, but if you're able to go early enough, you might be able to get a table.
posted by me3dia at 7:10 PM on January 19, 2011

I love Mercat. Girl & the Goat was trying to get into, noisy when we were there, and we felt like we were being rushed to leave.

I really liked South Water Kitchen, too, but maybe not the vibe you're looking for
posted by darsh at 12:47 PM on January 20, 2011

Response by poster: Okay, holy crap.

I was going through this list when I clicked on the Blackbird site. "Huh," I thought, "that new head pastry guy has the same name as a guy from my old BBSing days in high school -- but honestly, how many [Common Irish Name]s are there in the world?" (I could swear that the last I had seen of him was 12 years ago in, like, a police report.)

And there he is, freshly returned to Chicago after a year at some old dive called the French Fuckin' Laundry.

Maybe we should go to Blackbird.
posted by Madamina at 3:22 PM on January 20, 2011

If you're still reading this and haven't set your heart on Blackbird, you might try one of Rick Bayless' restaurants. I've only been to Xoco, which is AWESOME, but Frontera Grill or Topolobampo might be what you're looking for. It's not the right season for locally grown food in Chicago, but Rick tries to get local food whenever possible.
posted by achmorrison at 5:06 PM on January 25, 2011

Response by poster: I AM still reading this, because we still haven't gone out. Thanks, pneumonia!

Originally, we had planned to go to Mercat, but that got scuttled. They're not available this weekend, so we're going to try Viand. Any thoughts?
posted by Madamina at 3:34 PM on March 24, 2011

Never been there. How was it?
posted by achmorrison at 1:26 PM on March 27, 2011

Response by poster: ...

My mom was sick. AGAIN. She cancelled the morning after we made the reservations. And I know this has nothing to do with the restaurant, but I just have to share her e-mail:

Dang, I am sick again. I am so sorry. SO sorry.
This winter has seemed long in its gray coldness. I can't seem to shake free of the sticky grime that my students bring to me every week.

However, I can see the colors of each dawn, and the sun comes in the kitchen window in the morning now, whereas the winter slant didn't allow that. It was always hidden behind [neighbor's] house and [nearby school].

That morning presence gives me a lift, and I do feel like spring IS actually coming, and it will be easier and easier to travel and also to get around Chicago. But I am very disappointed not to join you this weekend. Again.

I want to enjoy your company and have fun with the four of you. I regret that I don't know [brother's lady friend, with whom he has lived for 2.5 years and with whom my mom has communicated a grand total of once -- when they were in town] any better than I do--which is hardly at all.
I gotta get goin' on that.

So thanks once again for the plan, I'll miss you so much this weekend. Soon, SOON I'll be back to 100%.

I love you all dearly.
Love, Mom

Conversation with KathrynT:
Mads: is it just me, or does she sound like she's writing from her deathbed after an extended bout with TB?
KathrynT: she does. "I just start every day grateful for the life God gave me."
Mads: "Don't mind this blood on my lace hankie."
KathrynT: "Because it is only in dying that we truly see the beauty of Life."
Mads: oh god don't laugh in the office don't laugh in the office
posted by Madamina at 7:51 PM on March 27, 2011

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