Chicago's a great eatin' town. From deep-dish pizza to ethnic fare to haute cuisine, the Windy City serves up tasty choices for romantic couples. These are among the best restaurants we sampled on a recent visit to Chicago.
Fortunately you don't have to climb Everest to eat at this Relais & Chateaux restaurant; elevators inside the Chicago Stock Exchange swoop diners up to this 40th floor aerie. While the decor is a bit dated (brass railings, mirrored walls) and we couldn't understand why window-side chairs faced into the restaurant rather than out at the view, savoring the cuisine yields a peak experience. Chef Joho is a masterful melder of flavors who had us at the amuse bouche, an array of four complementary delights that piqued our palates. Although patrons can order from the à la carte menu that changes monthly, if you come to celebrate a special romantic occasion, trust the chef and select his tasting menu. It's pure seduction.
Do you get gooey inside when you gaze at one another? I'm not saying the feelings aren't real — but if you're dining at Geja's Café, I submit that the cheese fondue may be causing the sensation. The restaurant, which has taught romantics to share for generations, specializes in Sterno-stoked fare. Tables are thisclose together, and with so many open flames, we wondered if it was a fire hazard. An owner assured us the only conflagrations there were emotional ones. Use the special fork to spear your first course of bread, apples, and grapes and dip them into a pot of bubbly Gruyère. Skip the second course (meat, seafood, and/or chicken to be boiled in oil) unless you're famished. Instead go straight to the mmm-mmm-melted chocolate fondue. Adding to the romance of this Chicago restaurant is the policy: "Because of safety concerns we do not allow children under the age of 10."
There's something festive about Mercat a la Planxa, the romantic restaurant inside Chicago's
. The cuisine is Catalan — derived from the Andorran region close to the border where Spain meets France and it encompasses the city of Barcelona. It was here that tapas, those tasty, tiny appetizer plates, began. It's the kind of food that fosters fun, friendship, and the impulse to share so that you can taste a little of everything. Main courses predominantly come from the grill, and you can wash down your choice of meat, poultry, fish, or shellfish with sangria (choose red, white, or the seasonal specialty), martinis, beer, or any of 40 Spanish wines.
You can't eat atmosphere, but as a romantic, you can certainly drink it in. Food is secondary to the setting at Ralph Lauren's only branded US restaurant, which is adjacent to the designer's Michigan Avenue store. In good weather, score a seat for lunch or dinner at the street-side outdoor café and watch the stylish parade pass along the Magnificent Mile. The interior has the look of an upper-class gentleman's library, all burnished leather and bound books. It's a clubby Ralph Lauren fantasia. And like the man's fashions, it's one club that is willing to have you as a member — as long as you can afford to pick up the tab.
Seasons restaurant in the Four Seasons Chicago hotel makes us feel as if we have to be on our best behavior and dress to suit the formal environment. (Jackets are recommended for men.) It's a minor sacrifice for well-prepared Midwestern fare enhanced with pickings from the chef's rooftop garden and local farmers markets. Every week the chef creates a new tasting menu. Lamb and lobster, filet and foie gras are among the regular menu selections. Sunday brunch is a Chicago institution where diners feast on everything from California rolls to chicken parm, applewood-smoked salmon to chilled crab claws. Those with the heartiest appetites can pull into both the omelette and waffle stations, and even vegetarians won't go hungry.
Note: Seasons has closed since this writing. The main restaurant in this hotel has been converted to Allium, a less formal eatery than Seasons. Its brunch is still a popular offering.