Fine Dining: Revelation or Relic?

The view at Everest restaurant.
The view at Everest restaurant.

Fine dining, by most people’s standards, is a luxury.

For some, it’s a necessary luxury; for others, pure excess. But wherever you come down on the issue, one thing is clear: There are far fewer restaurants in the category than before.

In the last few years, we have seen the closing of Seasons at the Four Seasons; Avenue at the Peninsula; The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton; Carlos’ Restaurant in Highland Park; Gabriel’s in Highwood; Le Titi de Paris in Arlington Heights; and most recently, Charlie Trotter’s eponymous restaurant in Lincoln Park and Il Mulino on the Gold Coast. (Photo: the view at Everest)

Many factors played a part, including the economy. But perhaps looming largest are our changing eating habits and expectations. We aren’t into stuffy or formal restaurants that take themselves too seriously, but at the same time, we expect great service, superb food and a deep wine list.

A few area restaurants have held fast; producing exquisite, French-influenced cuisine that has been the benchmark of luxury in the past. A number of interlopers have edged their way in with Asian, Latin and Mediterranean fare. The one thing they all have in common is a level of service and atmosphere that can justify the price.

So if you have a special occasion to celebrate, or are simply seeking a memorable restaurant experience and have a bit of cash to spare, you might consider one of these exceptional favorites in Chicago and on the North Shore. Haute Cuisine isn’t dead. It’s just evolving.

The newest entry to the list and the brainchild of Chef Ryan McCaskey, Acadia offers six- and ten-course market-driven, Modern American tasting menus ($95/145) in addition to a la carte. 1639 S. Wabash Ave., Chicago, 312-360-9500,

Prime-time reservations aren’t easy to come by, but you will never forget a meal at Chef Grant Achatz’ temple of modern gastronomy, where the kitchen flirts with Asian ingredients… and defies gravity. Prix-fixe menu is $210. 1723 N. Halsted St., Chicago, 312-867-0110,

Chef Jean Joho presides over this beautiful restaurant in the sky, located on the 40th floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange. Updated classical French cuisine and a killer wine list, with many Alsatian rarities.  Prix-fixe menu, 3 courses, $94; 4 courses, $115. 440 S. LaSalle St., Chicago, 312-663-8920,

It’s a family affair at this tiny gem, with Chef Chris Nugent in the kitchen and wife Nina helming the dining room. The 8-course, prix-fixe menu is $90, and each course is jewel-like. Goosefoot is BYOB, believe it or not, but service is every bit as elegant as the rest. 2656 W. Lawrence Ave., Chicago, 773-942-7547,

The dining room is every bit as riveting as the food at this seafood-focused stunner. Chef Matthew Kirkeley offers a 7-course prix-fixe ($140) and a 16-course tasting menu ($210). 2300 N. Lincoln Park West, Chicago, 773-868-0002,

Luxury dining at L20.

Les Nomades
Owner Mary Beth Liccioni rules this exceptionally romantic dining room, while her ex, Vietnamese-born Chef Roland Liccioni, brings an Asian sensibility to fine French cuisine. Prix-fixe, 4 courses, $115; 5 courses, $130. Don’t forget your dinner jacket. 222 E. Ontario St., Chicago, 312-649-9010,

To call the concept “genius” doesn’t begin to capture it. The theme and menu change quarterly (El Bulli and Sicily were recent iterations, and prices have ranged from $100 to $485 per person), but the quality remains exceptional. Owners Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas have opened a new chapter in dining. 953 W. Fulton Market, Chicago, 312-226-0858,

Modern French-American cuisine with a pronounced seafood emphasis (hence the name) is Owner/Chef Mark Grosz’ vision at this longtime Evanston favorite. Enjoy a la carte or the 7-course tasting menu, $105, or $170 with well-considered wine pairing. 505 Main St., Evanston, 847-864-3435,

Restaurant Michael
A haven of civility on busy Green Bay, Chef Michael Lachowicz is providing the North Shore with a welcome respite. Dine a la carte or opt for the prix-fixe menu, a relative bargain at $49.50 for 3 courses, $58 for 4 courses. 64 Green Bay Rd., Winnetka, 847-441-3100,

Restaurant Michael interior.

Shanghai Terrace
This homage to 1930’s Shanghai presents swoon-worthy, very upscale Chinese cuisine with exquisite service and presentation. Prices reflect this. Peninsula Hotel, 108 E. Superior St., Chicago, 312-573-6744,

The view is extraordinary, and the globally influenced cuisine of Executive Chef Thomas Lents is right there with it. Tasting menu with 7 courses, $125; 12-course menu, $155; wine pairings $95. Trump Hotel, 401 N. Wabash Ave., Chicago, 312-588-8030,

Widely known as one of the best Italian restaurants in America—and President Obama’s favorite—Spiaggia’s Chef Tony Mantuano and Chef Sarah Grueneberg will knock your socks off. Degustazione (Tasting) Menus, 5 courses for $145, $235 with wine; 7 courses for $235, $430 with wine; a la carte menu also available. 980 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, 312-280-2750,

Luxury dining at Spiaggia.

In my opinion, the best fine dining Mexican cuisine anywhere. Chef Rick Bayless stuns with his brilliant regional, seasonally driven take. There are three 5-course tasting menus offered ($95-$105), or opt for the regular menu. 445 N. Clark St., Chicago, 312-661-1434,

The art on display at Tru—both on the wall and on the plate—is remarkable. Executive Chef Anthony Martin has made his mark on this still vital room. Add the Caviar Service (topping off at $350) to any prix fixe menu: 3-courses, $98; Grand Collection ($110); or Chef’s Collection ($145). 676 N. Saint Clair St., Chicago, 312-202-0001,

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