Maybe it’s just because it hasn’t felt like the holidays yet, what with the 50-degree weather, green grass, false budding on trees and all, but we’re well into December and New Year’s Eve is coming whether we like it or not. Happily, here in the Chicago area, there’s a plethora of choices, from the low key to the high brow. Here are some of our favorite options:
Have you heard about Chi-Town Rising? JK, of course you have. The ads have been everywhere. And while I’m not a fan of the nomenclature — who is? — this is sure to be a very special evening, filled with family events, live performances and more. Family fun can be had at the Family Countdown Celebration in Millennium Park from 3–6 p.m., which is free to the public. Looking to be part of the TV audience? Check out Broadcast Boulevard and the TV Audience Zone, in operation from 7 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. The Rising Music Series will feature some of Chicago’s hottest artists on the Countdown Stage, and at midnight a giant Chicago star will rise up the Hyatt Regency Chicago followed by spectacular fireworks, all presided over by the adorable Mario Lopez of “Extra” fame. Hotel partners for the evening are the Radisson Blu Aqua and, of course, the Hyatt Regency Chicago.
The two-Michelin-starred Acadia will be doing it up with a 1920s supper club theme. Chef Ryan McCaskey puts his creative spin on the traditional menu, including Cream of Mushroom Soup with lobster, truffle and foraged mushrooms; a deconstructed “Waldorf” Salad with grated foie gras adding a touch of luxe; and an Onion-Horseradish Soubise gilding the Prime Rib. The 5 p.m. seating is six courses for $150pp, plus $105 for optional wine pairings; the 9 p.m. seating is seven courses for $250pp, plus $150 for optional wine pairing. The fun continues with an after-party from 12:30 a.m. until 4 a.m.; $25 per person includes cocktails, a full buffet and DJs, along with themed burlesque dancers. Truly an over-the-top evening.
Also in a Roaring Twenties mood is Ada Street, where their big soirée, “Great Gatsby Goes Hip Hop,” is on starting at 9 p.m. The $75 per person ticket includes special cocktails, tempting retro hors d’oeuvres (Truffle Potato Croquettes, Crab Dip, Beef Tenderloin Sliders), a midnight champagne toast and non-stop tunes from DJ Dan Demchuk.
Newcomer (and popular Canadian import) Earls Kitchen + Bar in Lincoln Park is the perfect jumping-off spot for later festivities (like Chi-Town Rising, theater tickets, Star Wars and whatnot). Chef Chris Memme has a five-course prix-fixe dinner for $45pp (optional cocktail and wine pairing is $30 additional). Love their Tuna Tostadas, which start the meal — and the moist and spicy Gingerbread Cake to end it. Dine after 8 p.m. and enjoy party favors and some midnight bubbly.
One has to look backward to move forward, yes? That’s the thought at the Virgin Hotels Chicago, where they are hosting a celebration of the year past at the very modern Cerise from 8 p.m. to midnight. Your $200 ticket will include an all-inclusive premium open bar with midnight champagne toast; a chilled seafood bar; culinary delights from Chef Rick Gresh; and a special DJ set by Sasha Grey. There’s a high hip factor here.
Embeya, to my mind one of the most beautiful rooms in the city, is serving a three-course, $75 per person prix fixe (beverage pairing $35pp) at the first seating (reservations taken from 5–7 p.m.), and a four-course, $95 per person prix fixe with free bubbles (additional beverage pairing $55 per person) at the second seating (reservations taken from 7:30–10:30 p.m.). You’ll find Hamachi Tartare, Green Papaya Salad with Grilled Beef Jerky, Roasted Cod with Crab-Fried Rice and more of Chef Michael Sheerin’s greatest hits on the to-die-for menu.
It’s always a party at Mercat a la Planxa, and New Year’s Eve is no exception. Four courses of ultra-indulgent Spanish eats from Chef Jose Garces will run you $90 per person. We’re talking Foie Gras with Raspberry Jam and Brioche; Braised Oxtail and Goat Cheese Ravioli with Manchego and Black Truffle; Smoked Ribeye with Chanterelle Mushrooms, Oysters, Eggs with Poached Lobster and much more from which to choose. Reservations are accepted from 5 p.m. to midnight; there will be a champagne toast when the clock strikes 12.
Feeling really ritzy? Join the James Beard Award-winning Chef Tony Mantuano for a blowout Italian meal at Spiaggia. You’ll have three options: early seating (5–6 p.m.) is $175 per person for seven courses; second seating (6–7:30 p.m.) is $250 per person for seven courses; and the New Year’s seating (from 8 p.m.) is $300 per person for 10 courses. The menu includes Seared Foie, Porcini Chestnut Bigoli and Veal and Uni Brioche.
Roka Akor Old Orchard, which specializes in innovative Asian cuisine from sushi bar and robata grill, will have a three-course, prix-fixe early seating (4:30 and 5:30 p.m.) for $65 per person prepared by Executive Chef Boyd Cheong. The five-course $89 per person menu, featuring Prime Beef Tartare with Ossetra caviar and quail egg, a gorgeous Sashimi Platter and Lobster Tempura, is available after 6:30 p.m. Shopping, sushi and champagne? Yes, please.
The suburbs get their own shot at Bohemia, 1920s Paris-style, at Found Kitchen & Social House in Evanston. Feast your palate and your senses with Chef Nicole Pederson’s five-course, shared-plate menu for $65 per person. From the House-Cured Skuna Bay Salmon with Fennel Confit to the umami-laden Lamb Meatballs with Pistachio Chimichurri and Black Striped Bass with Blood Orange Butter, you won’t find a misstep. A beautiful Cheese Course followed by some moist Basque Cake with Caramelized Pear will end the meal. I love the freewheeling vibe here.
Wilmette’s Firefly Kitchen will celebrate its first New Year’s Eve with a Brooklyn-style party (space is limited to 125 guests). The party starts at 7:30 p.m. and runs ‘til 1:30 a.m. Eat your fill from the raw bar and “action” food stations, enjoy passed appetizers, bop to great tunes, and toast to the New Year with bubbly at midnight while you watch the ball drop on the monitor. Late-night snacks will also be served; additional beverages available for purchase. Pricing is $65 per person online and $70 at the door — if they don’t sell out!
In the mood for a quieter, though still delicious, evening? Check out the $80 five-course tasting menu (Shrimp Bisque, Black Cod Teriyaki, Pork Belly with Quince, Filet Mignon Oscar and a decadent Chocolate Hazelnut dessert) at Hearth at The Homestead, served from 5–10 p.m. Chef John “Woody” Linton is also offering a lovely vegetarian menu (Beets and Goat Cheese, Polenta Cake, Maitake Mushrooms with Parmesan Cream, Vegetable Linguini and that same yummy dessert) for $70 per person.
BUY NOW: Before dinner, pamper yourself with a blowout from BlowDry Boutique. You’ll look fabulous as you ring in 2016!