14 Restaurants for 2014

There are always tons of restaurants I want to try and simply haven’t gotten around to yet (due to lack of time, the not-optimal location of the restaurant, and/or, most commonly, lack of finances). And now that I have a stable job, I’m going to work actually dining at some of those restaurants. Around the beginning of the year, in lieu of creating New Year’s resolutions, I compiled a list of restaurants to visit this year from all of the restaurants I’ve recently researched. I’ve decided that if I pick a set number and post about it, I may actually make it happen. So, here are those fourteen restaurants that first came to mind:
  1. Alinea, Grace, L2O, or Elizabeth Restaurant – Because seriously, Alinea will always be on the list of restaurants I want to visit. And given that dinner there costs nearly half of what I pay in rent each month, it is highly unlikely that I will actually eat there anytime in the near future. But I couldn’t leave it off the list (it’s the only three-star Michelin restaurant in Chicago!). Grace and L20 each have two Michelin stars, while Elizabeth Restaurant has one. Grace was Chicago Mag’s Best New Restaurant of 2013, and Elizabeth Restaurant was fourth of their list of eighteen. They all sound incredible, so I would love to have them all be on my list individually, but given their prices, that’s unrealistic (or at least fiscally irresponsible). Still, I’d really like to try at least one of them, and if I’m going to splurge on a single meal this year, one of these restaurants would likely be an excellent choice. Elizabeth Restaurant sounds lovely and perhaps even accessible, compared to the others, so I may be able to dine there.
  2. Nico Osteria – Paul Kahan and One Off Hospitality Group’s newest restaurant. I am so excited. Their Blackbird (one Michelin star) has been my standard response when I am asked about my favorite restaurant in Chicago since I first went there before attending the Barbra Streisand concert in October 2012 with my mom. I also really like The Publican, although I haven’t managed to go to any of their other restaurants due to the distance between their locations and my apartment. But Nico Osteria is in Gold Coast, which makes it far more accessible for me. Plus, I met Paul Kahan at a cooking demo at Sur La Table last year, which was awesome (and the food he made was, unsurprisingly, fabulous).
  3. Spiaggia – I really like Cafe Spiaggia, their more casual sister restaurant, and Spiaggia itself is generally recognized as one of the very best Italian restaurants in Chicago. Chef/partner Tony Mantuano is also a big name in the Chicago restaurant scene, and since Spiaggia is celebrating their thirtieth anniversary this year, 2014 seems like the time to actually try to visit.
  4. iNG – I know molecular gastronomy has a bad reputation, but I think it’s fascinating. The prices have unfortunately increased since the glowing 2011 NY Times review I read, but it still looks fun, and the prices are still far more manageable than Alinea or Next. Plus, I’ve read that they use miracle berries, about which I am quite curious.
  5. Sepia – I’ve been wanting to go to Sepia since at least last summer – I was hoping to go with my family when they were here for The Book of Mormon (side note: the Chicago cast was unbelievably incredible, and it became tied with Wicked for my favorite Broadway musical), but it’s not really my brother and father’s type of restaurant, so we went elsewhere. Sadly. Still, Sepia! One Michelin star, and Executive Chef Andrew Zimmerman competed on Iron Chef America and won. Chef Zimmerman also has been a finalist for the James Beard Foundation’s Best  Chef: Great Lakes award for the past two years.
  6. Longman & Eagle – Everyone talks about Longman & Eagle, and it’s one of the few Michelin-starred restaurants that aren’t super expensive (nearly all entrees under $30). If it weren’t all the way over in Logan Square (or if it took reservations), I’d probably have gone multiple times by now. Still, I really should just go some day.
  7. Girl & The Goat – Obviously! I really liked Stephanie Izard on Top Chef, and she and Girl & The Goat have won tons of awards. Reasons why I haven’t yet gone:  the Randolph Street location (anything not in the Loop or north of it along the Red Line is generally difficult for me to access via CTA); it is a bit pricey, especially since the small plate format wasn’t designed with solo diners in mind; reservations are not plentiful. But I happened to walk past it one day after work, on the way home from Nellcote, and it looked not too terribly busy, so I might try to stop by one day after work and hope to find myself a single spot somewhere.
  8. Naha – Carrie Nahabedian has won the James Beard Award for Best Chef Great Lakes, and Naha has had a Michelin star for the past several years.
  9. Acadia – One Michelin star, Paul Vettel of Chicago Tribune gave it three stars, and it was eighth on Chicago Mag’s list of the twenty Best New Restaurants in 2012. The photos on the website are stunning. Unfortunately, the South Loop location is not the most convenient, and since it only has prix fixe and tasting menus, it’s not the sort of place I can frequent for the average dinner out.
  10. The Lobby – They were given a Michelin star this year, which seems promising. Plus, the Peninsula is a beautiful hotel, and I do enjoy luxurious surroundings when I’m dining out. I also appreciate that hotel restaurants have far more flexible hours than other restaurants often have. Finally, I’ve read really good things about their afternoon tea, and I haven’t had a proper, fancy afternoon tea in years.
  11. Yusho – Three stars from Chicago Tribune, and rave reviews online – this Japanese street food place looks vibrant and fun. I have a feeling that if it weren’t for the Logan Square location, I would be there all the time.
  12. Café des Architectes – I know it’s a hotel restaurant, but a number of hotels in Chicago have very nice restaurants, and the photos on the website are so pretty. Also, there was a good review in Time Out Chicago, and they offer a temptingly reasonably priced prix fixe lunch (unfortunately only during the week).
  13. NoMi – It looks so lovely, and the location is terrific. Plus, Phil Vettel gave it three stars, and the menu looks intriguing.
  14. Bavette’s Bar & Boeuf – Bavette’s is a Brendan Sodikoff restaurant, and it was second only to David Burke’s Primehouse on Chicago‘s 2013 list of the best steakhouses in Chicago. Plus, I’ve read good reviews of the non-steak menu items as well.
  15. Found – The sole restaurant on my list that isn’t actually in Chicago (it’s in Evanston). But it’s the third on Chicago Mag’s Best New Restaurants of 2013 list, and the reviews make it sound delicious and relatively affordable, so I decided that I really should try to go at some point in time this year. (Also, if you notice that this is actually the fifteenth number – I somehow miscounted when I put together the list, and I didn’t realize it until I actually typed up the post, so I thought I might as well include it.)
So, will I be able to cross off all fourteen restaurants on my list? Possibly. Despite the fact that I created the list before I made my Chicago Restaurant Week reservations (and before we made plans for when my parents are visiting for my mom’s birthday and ALTON BROWN LIVE! The Edible Inevitable Tour), I’m off to a good start. I have reservations for iNG, Sepia, and Naha for Restaurant Week (I wanted to go to NoMi, but they only serve lunch during the weekdays), and I’ll be going to Bavette’s and The Lobby (for afternoon tea!) with my parents when they’re here for Alton Brown. That’s five down of the fourteen, and I’m hoping to have the prix fixe lunch at Cafe des Architectes on Presidents’ Day. So that leaves nine restaurants for the ten months left (not including February, since my dining out budget – and then some – is going toward Restaurant Week). That seems doable.

It’s true that this list leans heavily toward traditional “fine dining” – lots of big plates with small portions of precisely presented food, mostly American or French. It generally seems that those kinds of restaurants involve more planning and more budgeting in order for me to visit, thus the placement of this list (as opposed to my list of restaurants to stop by when I’m planning on eating out). There are a number of other restaurants I’d like to try, although I haven’t fully committed to them: Pecking Order, Fat Rice, Lao Shanghai, Demera, Brown Trout, Honey Butter Fried Chicken, Publican Quality Meats, Big Star, Au Cheval, and Hopleaf, among others.

Thus far this year, I have been to Uncommon Ground, Cafe Ba Ba Reeba, and Cafe Spiaggia, all restaurants I’ve previously visited. I’m hoping to finally go to Takashi Yagihashi’s Slurping Turtle this week, either on Wednesday before Genderqueer Chicago or on Friday before Ghost The Musical (not an especially memorable show, incidentally, other than the special effects, but it’s part of the season tickets for Broadway In Chicago), which will be my first new restaurant of the new year! I am very much looking forward to a year of exploration of new restaurants, return trips to old favorite restaurants, and all-around good eating.

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