An excellent way to test a chef’s skills is to order the tasting menu—a progressive, multi-course experience that arrives in smaller portions than usual. Lincoln Park’s Alinea sets the standards when it comes to tasting menus, as Chef Grant Achatz creates thoughtful and mind-blowing presentations that you’re not going to see anywhere else. Who else gets it right, and which tasting menus are worth the money AND time?
Grant Achatz perfected the cuisine tasting menu, so it makes perfect sense for him to do the same with cocktails. At The Aviary, his innovative cocktail lounge in the red-hot Fulton Market area, you can buy tickets for a five-course package, which consists of five cocktails paired with intensely flavored bites. The mixology program goes beyond what you find at typical watering holes, with deconstructed Manhattans and Old Fashioneds, an “ice chef” solely dedicated to crafting the frozen necessity, and exotic and rare ingredients you’ll be hard-pressed to taste anywhere else in the city. The cocktail program is seasonal and always evolving, so there’s a chance you might not experience the same lineup on your next visit.
Every young chef’s wildest fantasy is to cut loose in the kitchen and whip up fabulous meals for a sold-out, well-heeled crowd. Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises makes this goal possible with Intro Chicago, a visionary concept spotlighting up-and-coming culinary artists who hold residence at this venue for two to three months at a time. It’s a great way to catch rising stars before they hit the big time, as they take over the space and transform it into their dream restaurant.
One of the hardest reservations to obtain in town comes courtesy of Michael Carlson, the elusive, award-winning chef whose 26-seat establishment in Wicker Park is an unconventional place for a world-class tasting menu. But that’s the appeal: Schwa is a no-frills dining room bumping with music ranging from NWA to Nirvana. It’s also BYO—a rarity in this world—which lets you display your own creativity with inventive pairings.
A Streeterville gem for more than 15 years, the progressive, French-focused Tru continues to earn props as one of the most glamorous restaurants in Chicago. Under the leadership of Anthony Martin, Tru is slightly less formal than it was when it opened in 1999. You now have the option to order an abbreviated version of the prix fixe menu, so instead of the standard nine courses, you can order a still sumptuous seven. That leaves more room for caviar—and with up to 10 hand-selected options, you can have eggs your way.