A's List: Romance is in the air for every stage of the relationship at these chic Chicago destinations
By Audarshia Townsend
Whether it’s Valentine’s Day, a milestone anniversary or the third date, setting the mood for the “perfect romantic restaurant” dances a delicate balance.
Still getting to know someone in the early stages of a blossoming relationship? A multi-course tasting menu with pairings might not be a good idea. Celebrating 20 years of matrimony and bliss? A boisterous neighborhood supper club with bottle service should be reserved for couples’ night instead of toasting for two. You get the idea. We highlight some of our favorite destinations in Chicago that cater to each stage of romance.
Chef Ryan McCaskey’s award-winning restaurant is certainly a destination on this stretch of the South Loop. Acadia is great for new and budding romances, and the setting is such that it makes all feel comfortable. For those new couples, making a reservation in the upscale lounge is not only an impressive move, but it offers a great introduction to McCaskey’s style of cuisine. Dishes are casual, pair well with the craft cocktail and wine lists, and consist of items like the signature lobster roll, burger, oysters and 24-hour pork shoulder.
A formal dining experience awaits those who make reservations for Acadia’s main dining room. Here, McCaskey was awarded two Michelin stars for his seasonal tasting menus—which sometimes change daily—influenced by French and Asian accents. Guests going all out may pair each course with wine. Premium seafood and wagyu beef are always part of the menu.
The Spanish-influenced Bar Ramone stands out for its cheery atmosphere, outstanding wines by the glass and fun, shareable menu certain to break any awkward silences on a first date. It’s sorta a tapas bar, with fun choices of Spanish cheeses, curable meats and seafood bites, yet offerings are so much heartier. Servers make the experience here engaging as they help guests pair wine with various dishes. Food-wise, you will find blistered shishito peppers, Ibérico ham, crispy Spanish rice that changes daily, Japanese ice fish and an American wagyu flat-iron steak. It’s a great for those in the early stages of a relationship.
Chef/restaurateur Noah Sandoval has teamed up with cocktail maven Julia Momose for this dual gastronomy gem in the West Loop. Kikko/Kumiko showcases award-winning global fare and a highly regarded cocktail program that includes premium spirit-free drinks. Kumiko, which is upstairs, is reserved for seasonal a la carte dishes that may be paired with Momose's cocktail program. Guests may settle in at the bar or at one of the tables. And downstairs is Kikko, the one Michelin-starred eatery helmed by Chef Mariya Russell. Here, there are only eight counter seats where diners may engage directly with the culinary team as they prepare and serve dishes directly to guests. It’s an experience worthy of a special occasion.
Kostali—which means "coast" in Maltese—takes on Mediterranean fare in the style only the Nahabedians (Brindille, Naha) can do. Chef Carrie Nahabedian handles the cuisine, which includes a hearty seafood and vegetable selection, from whole roasted fish to feta cheese turnovers. Her cousin, Michael Nahabedian, is over the beverage program, which pulls from the Mediterranean's top wine producers. And beverage veteran Clarence Mills, who served as Fred's at Barney's lead bartender for 10 years before it abruptly shuttered, has joined to head up the cocktail and spirit offerings. Located in the luxurious Gwen hotel, Kostali is chic and offers a quite respite from the bustling lobby bar. Guests may settle into the cocktail lounge for bites or drinks or head for the main dining room for the full upscale experience.
Specializing in authentic Italian fare, Osteria By Fabio Viviani is enhanced by made-from-scratch cuisine and the famed chef's family recipes. It's open for brunch, lunch and dinner. Menu highlights range from a roast mushroom pizza and asiago-stuffed gnocchi to braised short ribs atop parmesan polenta. Fabio Viviani's signature meatball is also on the menu. The setting is modern yet understated with accents of hard wood and dark leather booths. The restaurant is also set on the lobby level of Doubletree Suites by Hilton, making it ideal for a staycation.
A throwback to the fashionable casinos of the 1940s and 1950s, The Whale is from the same team behind The Vig (Old Town) and Welcome Back Lounge. The scene here is something you'd typically find in the Gold Coast: extremely fashionable groups dining in high style, whether they're imbibing or noshing on hearty portions of grilled lamb chops, steak frites and fried chicken topped with crystal honey sauce. Thinking of hitting the town with your favorite couple pals? The Whale is a great bet for brunch. Bring larger groups for "brunch towers" of 90 ounces to 100 ounces of mimosas, Bellinis or sangria. Menu delights range from fried lobster and waffles to a blueberry muffin skillet.
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