I’m a big fan of Chicago Restaurant Week. While I don’t necessarily think it’s a phenomenal deal across the board (although you can find some really sweet deals out there), I love the event-focused nature across tons of varied restaurants in this awesome culinary city. It’s a wonderful way to get excited about going to dinner, and ensuring that you get 3 courses during a sit down dinner with friends. I typically try and do 2 or 3 combinations of lunch and dinner during that week, and decided to reminisce a bit via this page on my favorite restaurant week experiences in Chicago over the past few years that I’ve been doing it. I really don’t think I’ll be able to recall every single dish, so I’m going to rank these on overall memorability of my experiences there.
1) Aria, Dinner 2012
This definitely was the best Restaurant Week experience that I’ve had by far, based on a combination of excellent food and service. I can even recall all the dishes that I ordered since they were that good. I had this wonderfully light short rib appetizer, a beautiful XO scallop entree, and a pineapple chili ice dish for desert. I believe these are all on their normal menu, and this is one of the scenarios in which the restaurant week menu is a fantastic deal. The scallop dish is normally about the same cost as the whole prixe fixed menu! The service is what really propelled this experience to the top. Many times during rest. week, I get the sense that the servers have to go along with this, and aren’t too excited for it. It’s like they feel like they could generate higher bills and tips if the patrons are ordering off of the full menu. There was no sense of this at Aria whatsoever. From the host, to the server, to the sommelier, to the head chef herself, everyone seemed to be really excited about this great opportunity to bring new people into their restaurant. Bev had just recently packed her knives from Top Chef, and was very open and generous as she walked around from table to table, honestly and eagerly interested in if everyone had enjoyed their visit.
2) David Burke’s Primehouse, Lunch 2010, 2011 and Dinner 2012
DB’s Primehouse is close to my office, thus the multiple visits during all 3 years that I’ve been hitting up restaurant week. There IS a reason that I kept going back though. It’s a fantastic meal for the price. I recall a really nice surf and turf dumpling appetizer, Wagyu carpaccio on a block of pink salt, one of the best burgers I’ve ever had, a solid steak, and a dessert that is comprised of 3 different items. $22 for lunch or $33 for dinner is well worth it. Hit this place up if you’re looking for a place to hit over restaurant week. Reservations tend to be easier than some of the other buzzworthy locations.
3) Devon Seafood Grill, Dinner 2011
My family came in to visit one year over rest. week, and I booked us a table at Devon Seafood Grill. I really liked the modern/sleek layout of this place, and the overall vibe in general. Given the size of our party, we were given a table in a little secluded side-room, which was really cool. I recall a lobster bisque, and a very attentive, genial server. Absolutely towards the top of my experiences over restaurant week, give them a shot.
4) Nacional 27, Dinner 2013
This is a recent visit, and one where I sensed the serving staff wasn’t the biggest fan of rest. week. However, the menu was fantastic, and we all got to try a wide variety of food. A nice experience, but the service was lacking a bit. They had a flyer that said free salsa dancing lessons on Thurs. night, so keep that in mind if you’re into that. The best thing was the grilled kabob style skirt steak, sausage, peppers, onions, and the roasted corn, rice, chimichurri, and sauce that came with it. Real good.
5) Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse, Lunch 2012
I was a little skeptical going into this meal, since the idea of a celebrity-owned steakhouse is a bit cheesy. However, this Michigan Ave. spot located within a hotel had a classy, upscale steakhouse vibe to it. The food was your typical steakhouse fare, but all in all I enjoyed myself. Not sure if I’d go back, but if you’re in the area around Restaurant Week, this is a valid option (although David Burke’s Primehouse is pretty close, and there’s a reason why it’s higher up on my list here).
6) GT Fish and Oyster Bar, Lunch 2013
This one is fresh in my mind, since I just ate there this past week. I also had dinner here for my birthday back in April of this year. I really really want to like GT Fish and Oyster Bar more than I actually do. The interior design and layout of this restaurant feels modern and hip, but there really is a fishy smell inside that’s not very appealing. We’ll see if I make it back there, but if I’m in the mood for a Lobster Roll, I’m definitely going to New England Seafood Company. Bigger, meatier, and far superior to what I’ve had at GT. The shoestring onions at GT were good, but I wasn’t a big fan of the side of pickled vegetables.
7) Duchamp, Dinner 2010 Meh, I see that they are closed now. This ranking sure does correlate with that. Each course just seemed really average, and uninspired. They had the communal tables, and our server really didn’t seem into the whole Restaurant Week concept.
8) May Street Market, Dinner 2010 The main thing that I recall about this meal that the lighting in the restaurant was just awful. Kind of a flat darkness, which gave everything sort of a gray color (including the food). Not surprised that they are no longer around, and they wrap up the bottom of my list here.
I’ll be sure to update this list after next year’s rest. week, and we’ll see how this list will change! Hoping to try out a Blackbird, or something along those lines.