Eight Chicago Restaurants Worth a Splurge

tru-menuSometimes an expensive meal is just worth it – both worth the price and worth the nights spent eating rice and beans in order to replace the money spent. If you’re in the mood to blow your budget on a to-die-for, unforgettable meal in Chicago, here are some places to do it.

Tru may be a mecca for foodies in search of culinary perfection, but it still manages to not take itself too seriously. Service here is impeccable – guests will be provided with a stool for their handbag, a shawl if they get cold, and a personal escort to the restroom – but the atmosphere is still playful, as is the food. Tasting menu prices range from $110 to $145 and offer six to nine courses filled with foams, reductions, ragouts and gelees. A $95 three-course prix fixe menu is also available. For the ultimate foodie flight of fancy, book a dessert-only tasting, which features three courses of sweets for $40 per person.

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Arun’s Thai
Many of Chicago’s multi-course tasting menus feature New American, fusion, or molecular cuisine. Arun’s Thai is one notable exception that serves Thai fusion food in a elegant and ornate setting.  The tasting menu varies in price from $120 to $175 per person, but with 12 courses, it’s more of an event than a meal. What sets this tasting menu apart from others is that the menu is not set per night. Instead each table’s menu is specifically tailored towards the guest’s preferences, based on what ingredients are available that evening. The ingredients – peanut sauce, lychee, curry, seabass, lobster, mushroom or coconut – are typically Thai with a twist.

Ask any foodie or dedicated chef around the world what he or she considers to be the top ten restaurants on the planet, and chances are, Alinea will be listed among them. Food-lovers in Chicago have been known to save all year for a single meal here, which costs a whopping $225 per person and consists if nearly 30 courses that are served over several hours. The slightly less-intimidating 14-course menu is $150 per person. This isn’t just dinner though, it’s a culinary odyssey that takes familiar foods and flavors and melds them in completely unexpected and amazing ways, often before your very eyes.

Les Nomades
Les Nomades, as its name suggests, is a French restaurant known for its rich, decadent cuisine and romantic atmosphere. The four-course menu is $115, five courses is $130. Dishes include French favorites like rack of lamb, roasted duck, and venison loin. Light fare it’s not; this is hearty French food that will transport you directly to Paris as you linger over a glass of Champagne as the flames from the nearby fireplace cast shadows on the walls.

For seafood lovers, there is no better restaurant for a splurge meal than chef Laurent Gras’ L2O. The four course prix fixe menu offers dishes like cold smoked black cod and Thai curry red snapper for $110, while the 12-course menu of seasonally-changing seafood specialities is $165 per person. For the ultimate in extravagance, the 10 course “luxury ingredient” menu features lobster, foie gras, truffles, toro, and  wagyu beef for $245 per person.

Bonsoiree calls itself a “revolution in BYOB” because it is one of the city’s few restaurants to offer both haute cuisine and the option for guests to bring their own wine. The restaurant does not offer its own wine selection, but guests with dinner reservations can order their favorite bottles from a nearby wine shop and have them delivered and waiting when they arrive for their meal. A five -course meal at Bonsoiree is just $55 per person. Eight courses are $85. But for a meal you won’t soon forget, go for the 13-course dinner for $135.

Getting a reservation at Schwa is difficult – the dining room is small and the seatings are kept small to ensure everyone receives the best service – but those who persevere will be rewarded with one of the most memorable meals of their life. Dining at Schwa isn’t like dining at any of the city’s other tasting-menu culinary castles. Despite a hefty price tag ($110 for nine courses, $55 for three courses), the vibe here is decidedly casual. For starters, there are no waiters. The chefs not only cook the food, they also pour the wine (Schwa is BYOB) and serve the food. Dishes like pickled beef tongue, candied sweetbreads, jellyfish pad Thai, and fried goat brains (all of which admittedly sound kind of unpleasant) are playfully dolled up with foams and infusions, creatively arranged and made to taste absolutely delicious.

Charlie Trotter’s
The original multi-course gastronomic tasting menu, a meal at Charlie Trotter’s is still an epic experience. Though younger, flashier, celebrity chefs have opened up their own takes on Charlie’s molecular gastronomy dining, Trotter will always remain the master. For over 22 years, he’s been racking up awards, with no sign of stopping. The nine course Grand Menu will set you back $165, without wine (plus tax and tip) and features a seasonally rotating menu of dishes made with locally sourced, fresh ingredients prepared in innovative ways. An even more extensive kitchen table menu is served at a table overlooking the action in the kitchen and comes with a price tag of $225 per person.

Photos by: e.t.; e.t.; Suzi Edwards; ulterior epicure