bar Big Jones

The Smart Set – Restaurant Week Top Picks

Saturday, January 23, 2016 tgoandco

Ok… this is not my first rodeo. Restaurant week has come and gone before and it’s kind of a love/hate thing. I love trying out a new restaurant and having a wonderful experience. I hate it being gouged and getting nothing in return — no offerings or no variety on the specials menu.  Many times the restaurant offers a prix-fixe that doesn’t have the same verve as the regular menu OR options are extremely limited (like a selection of ONE on the menu) OR the portion size leaves one running to a burger joint to get something after dinner. You get my drift! I want something more — ok… I demand it. Face it. $22 for lunch or $44 for dinner still is not exactly chump change. Add tip and you are still looking at a tab over $100 with tip and ahem…. cocktails. You really didn’t think dinner would be dry? Some of the restaurants offer dinner at $33 but many have pushed to the upper bracket and still offer nothing in return.

Let's be clear – This bar is set a little high. 

There are many great restaurants that have signed up for Restaurant week. The variety is great — but for my buck, the winners of the week have to offer a few things:

  • Bells and whistles. Sexy space, great service and good eye candy on the plate and around the room.
  • Good food offerings – I want more than one or two things offered to me to pick from. “Variety is the spice of life“ and I prefer my life zesty.
  • Something more than food — great cocktail options and not just a signature cocktail of the day or a recommended house wine. Really? Someone is going to pick out MY glass of wine? Ahem no — don’t go there.
  • And finally… “un certain quelque chose” or more familiarly stated that “je ne sais quoi”. That certain something that can’t be expressed – and intangible quality that makes it more than a great meal and more of a memory. 


Sullivan’s – It’s been around since 1999 and still has the capacity to dazzle.  Things that put this on the list: GREAT SELECTION for restaurant week.  They are trailblazers in offering variety. They are also doing a novel concept of hitting diners expectations and stand apart from other steakhouses — they actually are offering STEAK on the prefix. YUP! Do your homework. Many of the steakhouses are NOT putting steak on the offering list for restaurant week but instead offering chicken, fish or pasta and a couple offer a pork chop. If I’m a diner walking in to a steakhouse during restaurant week, not offering steak is a total buzz kill. Think about it. You’re going to a steakhouse. Don’t ya kinda want… hmmm… steak? Take note: one of the better-known steak places is offering a hard boiled egg as the appetizer and a donut (hole) for dessert. Eeeeew. Sullivan's hits the mark.

Where’s the beef? At Sullivan’s.

Sullivan’s gives you the option to get a 12 oz. New York Strip or a 8 oz. Filet Mignon plus the option to order the chicken or salmon. They DON’T come a la carte either.  All the meals come with veggies and potatoes. If you want to upcharge for a lobster tail or crab to make it a surf-N-turf kind of thing, it can be done and it won’t break the bank.  But wait! You get lobster as an appetizer.  Yes – shrimp and lobster bisque is on the menu as part of the prefix as well as three other salad offerings as the offering for the first course. They are not microscopic with portions. You will feel like I have eaten an excellent meal and still have dessert coming. Dessert offering BTW include New York-style cheesecake with fresh strawberries, Bananas Foster Bread Pudding or a decadently lovely Flourless Chocolate Torte as well as a couple equally lovely selections. Sullivan's offers a great experience for restaurant week.

We are not dry. 

Sullivan’s offers a knockout martini – Apply called “the Knockout”. It is a flavorful concoction with vodka that has been steeped in fresh pineapple for two weeks.  It has a deceivingly light and fruity appeal with a bit of tanginess to it. Yes, it delivers a punch and it's not small. It is one of the larger martinis that are available in downtown Chicago. While Sullivan’s lists one Cabernet Sauvignon on the Restaurant Week menu, they actual host over a dozen, wines-by- the-glass in a full range of tastes. One can get parchment dry to sweeter varietals in either red or white. If one gets confused, they will pour a sample so you can try and compare before you buy. I like that.

Here’s the kickers that makes for a lovely meal in my book. I love white linen on a table. I am confused as to why some places put white paper over it. It’s a practice that wreaks of  “cheap”. And while some restaurants have gotten rid of linens altogether and opted for a communal dining experience or electric candles, I am a bit old school and I prefer to not hear my neighbor’s conversation. I want to enjoy my date – not dine with the unknown person sitting at the school lunch table when I am really looking for an intimate moment. Sullivan's also stands out also because they offer LIVE MUSIC.  I am hearing a concert with my dinner at Sullivan’s. Diner is more memorable.

Sullivan’s has a nightly combo playing in the bar. They host a variety of groups that differ nightly. They are entertaining and add much to the dining experience. The music drifts into the dining room making the dining experience much more romantic but festive. The room has the right mix of subdued lighting, twinkle and sparkle, soft jazz music from a LIFE band with great food and an awesome selection for restaurant week. It is firing on all cylinders.

Here’s another Knockout: 

In case you didn't know, Sundays and Thursdays are great deals at Sullivan’s in the bar. It really is one of the best happy hours in town. That fabulously nice Knockout Martini is just $7. Happy Dance! Should you NOT be able to make it in for restaurant week, Sullivan’s offers a “Sure Thing” Prix Fixe menu that features an appetizer, soup or salad and a nice selection of entrees at great price that is slightly cheaper than the Restaurant week. If you like the experience during restaurant week, you will become a regular.

Other top picks:

So steak is not  your thing? Here are a couple recommendations that offer a little “joie de vivre” during restaurant week.

Embeya – Contemporary Asian. Voted one of the sexiest restaurants in the US, it is truly beautiful and the food is complex with lots of flavor nuances to savor over. Dress to impress — it’s a slick looking place and you will want to put on the dog. The food offerings on the restaurant week menu are a little more limited — either lamb or chicken. It is however a good sample of what the chef does best. Embeya is also a great lunch offering but a little off the beaten path if working on North Michigan Ave. Drinks are amazing and paired nicely with the meal.

Odyssey — This is a $34 option that is pretty cool. It includes dinner with a cruise on the Odyssey. The cruise starts at 7:00 and returns at 9:00. It comes with a mixed green salad, choice of 4 entrées (one vegetarian) and a dessert bar. The real deal is getting the cruise with it.  It’s 25% off the regular price during January and 40% off high season rates for the prix fixe. You will get some great pictures on the trip with a view of the city and a pleasant meal.

Geja’s in Lincoln Park — It ‘s fondue. It's fun and totally different if you haven't had it as a meal. They are doing an excellent value of $33 for the International (beef, shrimp and chicken combo). This place is deeply and passionately romantic. No kids allowed under age 12 (too many open flames). It is a 60s and 70s throwback and hasn’t changed in years. It is cozy, dark and intimate. The wine collection is vast. They have their own wine club. It is sooooo deeply romantic, there is a reason they have a roster of folks who have got engaged there.  It is not exactly a group place. Three’s a crowd here.

Big Jones — This is a great place for groups and friends. If you want southern comfort food, this is the spot. The fried chicken is perfection but the Crawfish étoufée is a party in your mouth. They are calling the menu the Louisiana Mardi Gras Odyssey and it is reasonably priced at $33. The name says it all. Take a group and enjoy.

Fox & Turtle — They take the prize on most offerings. I got lost not only in the number of items available on the menu but also in the number of menus. They have a lunch menu, $33 and $44 dinner menu PLUS an equal number of menus that are gluten free. There are so many choices that it is overwhelmingly wonderful. It is however a schlep to Itasca. Should one be out that way, this is the go-to spot.

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