For These Restaurants, You Can Order the Pheasant; Hold the Sliders
How do you know you're not in Kansas anymore but at a fine restaurant? Look for a menu of hard-to-find ingredients and, of course, check the prices.
There's eating out and there's fine dining.
Eating out might be a thick-crust pizza with sausage, mushrooms and
Fine dining might include a bite of tempura-dipped pheasant served on a branch of burning oak leaves that summons up memories of autumn. Fine dining is like obscenity, hard to define, but you know it when you see it.
Sandy Kaczmarski has a great weekly column editor Rick Nagel decided to call "My Dinner with Sandy," only because it was the best he could come up with on short notice. It has a nice combination of those restaurants that include standard fare—pizza and pubs—and the fine dining mentioned here.
(Editor's note: Frankly, I think they missed some of the biggies in Geneva, and that's OK. I'll probably forget several, too. I haven't been to Fiora's yet, but I hear it's terrific, and the venue is certainly beautiful. Foxfire is certainly high quality and high end, if you consider a great steak fine dining. Bien Trucha is right at the top of my to-do list—and has had great reviews. Big Fish Grille is new out on Randall Road and sounds excellent. I haven't eaten at Wildwood yet, but you can add it to my New Year's resolutions. For me, the Gratto Italian Tapas Bar ought to be in that fine-dining category. We had a wonderful meal with friends there last summer.)
What follows is a bit about fine dining in Chicago's suburbs, which is a wider than the usual Geneva Patch spectrum, but what the heck. It's New Year's and you can drive to these places.
"Just look at the check and you can tell if it's fine dining,'' laughs Toni Leahy, chef/instructor at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Chicago. "Fine dining is high-end dining.''
"Fine dining uses high-price and often hard-to-find ingredients,'' Leahy says. "It is prepared by well-trained chefs using the latest and most current culinary techniques.
"Fine-dining restaurants have really high service levels. You won't just have one person schlepping things to your table. There will be a captain, waiters, probably a sommelier (wine steward), lots of people filling your glasses and bringing you things."
Decor is an important ingredient in fine dining. "Lighting and ambiance are perfect,'' Leahy says.
And fine dining costs the customers a lot because it costs a lot to operate a fine dining restaurant. "The decor, the ingredients, the personnel, all of this is expensive,'' Leahy says.
Don't Expect Big Portions
"Don't expect jumbo portions at a fine dining restaurant," Leahy says. "That's not what fine dining is about. It's about flavor, ingredients, artistry and preparation. There is an inverse ratio between price and the amount of food you get.
"It's not about quantity. It's about quality.''
Fine dining used to be the preserve of cities. But as the suburbs have grown over the years, the number of fine dining establishments in the suburbs has grown.
The Michelin Guide has been the bible of fine dining all over the world since 1900, when the first edition was published in France and given free to motorists to let them know where to get a good meal on their travels. Today, Michelin has 25 guides covering 23 countries and more than 45,000 dining establishments.
In November 2010, Michelin published its first-ever guide to fine dining in Chicago and the Chicago area. The Michelin uses a star system to rate restaurants: one star is a very good restaurant in its category; two stars is excellent cooking and worth a detour; and three stars is exceptional cuisine and worth the journey.
Of the 23 Chicago-area restaurants to receive one star or more, only one suburban restaurant made the list, Vie, in Western Springs. Vie received one star from Michelin.
Vie, 4471 Lawn Ave., offers seasonal and contemporary American cuisine. Executive chef is Paul Virant, who has won numerous awards for his cuisine.
At Vie, diners might start off with an appetizer of wood-grilled au bon canard foie gras, Tom's quince butter, arugula, glazed and fried parsnips for $24. For the entree, a diner might select wood-grilled Tasmanian Ocean trout, braised fingerling potatoes, roasted brussels sprouts, crispy guanciale, pickled celery root caesar dressing for $32.
There is, of course, an extensive wine list.
But there are many other fine dining restaurants in the suburbs.
How do you find them?
"There are many guides,'' Leahy says. Two she mentions are Zagat and Gault-Millau.
Gault-Millau is one of the most influential of French restaurant guides. In the United States, these ratings and reviews for American restaurants can be found at gayot.com.
Listed on Zagat
The Zagat Guide can be found at zagat.com. The Zagat Guide isn't restricted to fine dining. The list includes restaurants categorized by cuisine type and rated, based on the quality of the food, decor, service and cost. A paid subscription is required to access the ratings.
Among the west suburban restaurants rated by Zagat, you will find:
- Adelle's, 1060 College Ave., between President Street and Stoddard Avenue in Wheaton, featuring contemporary American cuisine.
- Atwater's, 15 S. River Ln., Geneva, featuring contemporary American and French cuisine. (Woo hoo!)
- Bank Restaurant & Bar, 121 W. Front St., between Hale and Main Streets in Wheaton, for contemporary American and eclectic international cuisine.
- Bella Bacino's, 36 S. La Grange Rd. in La Grange, for Italian food and pizza.
- Bistro Monet, 462 N. Park Blvd., between Crescent Boulevard and Duane Street in Glen Ellyn, for French bistro cuisine.
- Cab's Wine Bar Bistro, 430 N. Main St., Glen Ellyn, for contemporary American cuisine.
- Carlucci, 1801 Butterfield Rd., near I-355 in Downers Grove, for northern Italian cuisine.
- The Cellar Bistro, 132 N. Hale St., in Wheaton, featuring eclectic/international cuisine
- Chinn's 34th St. Fishery, 3011 W. Ogden Ave., in Lisle.
- Eñye, 330 W. State St., in Geneva for pan-Latin cuisine. (Hello!)
- Finley's Grill Room, 3131 Finley Rd. in Downers Grove, for traditional American fare.
- Glen Prairie, 1250 Roosevelt Rd. in Glen Ellyn, for contemporary American cuisine.
- Il Poggiolo, 8 E. First St., between Garfield Avenue and Washington Street, in Hinsdale, for Italian food.
- Isacco Kitchen, 210 Cedar St., between 2nd and 3rd Avenues in St. Charles, for eclectic international and Italian cuisine.
- Kama Indian Bistro, 8 W. Burlington Ave., La Grange.
- Lao Sze Chuan, 1331 W. Ogden Ave., Downers Grove, for mandarin and Sichuan Chinese fare.
- Maijean, 30 S. Prospect Ave., Clarendon Hills, for French bistro cuisine.
- Niche, 14 S. Third St.d, between James and State Streets in Geneva, for contemporary American food. (That's us, again!)
- Nickson's Eatery, 30 S. La Grange Rd., in La Grange, for regional American cuisine.
- Parkers' Restaurant & Bar, 1000 31st St. off Highland Avenue in Downers Grove, for contemporary American cuisine and pizza.
- Prasino, at two locations at 93 S. La Grange Rd. in La Grange, and 51 S. First St. in St. Charles, for contemporary American and vegetarian food.
- Swordfish, 207 N. Randall Rd., in Batavia, for sushi.
- Topaz Café, 780 Village Center Dr., Burr Ridge, for contemporary American fare.
- Vie, 4471 Lawn Ave., Western Springs.
- Zak's Place, 112 S. Washington St., between 1st and 2nd streets in Hinsdale, for contemporary American cuisine.
Closer to home, dining reviews and ratings are available in print and online from many sources: newspapers and city, suburban and regional magazines. Each source uses different rating signs and symbols. But it's not too difficult to tell which restaurants are places to go for a good dinner out for the family and which are for special occasions, i.e., fine dining.
"Key onto cost,'' Leahy says. "If a restaurant you are considering has, say, three dollar signs in the listing, you're onto fine dining."