A Mighty Plan

A new breeze blows through Chicago.

When Charlie Trotter opened his namesake restaurant in 1987, he paved the way for chefs such as Rick Tramonto and Gale Gand, owners of the haute eatery Tru, and Grant Achatz, partner at Alinea. All three acclaimed restaurants offer haute cuisine and extensive wine lists. Alinea is known for its over-the-top 20-course tasting menu.

That said, none of these establishments serve foie gras, as the city banned it from all menus last summer. So, for those in need of a fix, head to the Stained Glass in nearby Evanston (which can serve the delicacy since it’s located outside city limits). Another option is Chef’s Station, a shabby chic restaurant underneath the Davis Street El stop.

For less fancy affairs, foodie locals flock to Blackbird and its sister wine bar next door, Avec, for inventive dishes like gioia burrata salad with braised lobster mushrooms and haricots verts. Pane Caldo is a new Italian joint downtown and delacosta and Nacionale 27 are popular among the tapas crowd. Oprah’s chef, Art Smith, recently opened Table Fifty Two, where, despite his rep for keeping the talk-show host svelte, he serves up Southern comfort food such as buttermilk biscuits and fried chicken. (No wonder Winfrey’s prone to hitting up the more healthy Japonais, an upscale Japanese eatery.)

The best lunch for shoppers on the Miracle Mile is RL, the restaurant attached to Ralph Lauren’s flagship. The interior is full-on Ralph—all leather club chairs and dark wood—and the food, classics like cobb salad and burgers, is well executed.

For brunch, intrepid diners brave long wait lines at Cafe des Architectes in the Sofitel Hotel in River North, or head to the South Loop to Yolk, an eatery that, as its name suggests, specializes in traditional breakfast standbys such as scrambled eggs and french toast.

After dinner, Pops for Champagne, which just opened a new location in River North, is a favorite for its more than 100 varieties of bubbly and live jazz music. For afternoon tea, head to the Palm Court Lounge in the historic Drake Hotel, where scones and clotted cream are served daily.

The boutique hotel trend hasn’t caught on here yet (save for the James hotel, home to favorite steakhouse David Burke’s Prime), so the best places to stay are the gold-star standards on North Michigan Avenue. The Peninsula, the Four Seasons (where Oprah puts up her celebrity guests) and the Ritz-Carlton are all within blocks of each other and walking distance of Oak Street stores, River North restaurants and Lake Michigan. Locals agree the Peninsula is the poshest (Aniston reportedly checks in under the name “Mrs. Smith”) and concierge Todd Nelson has a black book of secret numbers to secure impossible-to-get tables at the city’s hot spots.

Downtown has all the department store standards (Neiman Marcus, Barneys New York and Saks Fifth Avenue), and designer boutiques are popping up with increasing frequency. Marc by Marc Jacobs is opening up in Bucktown, and Tory Burch, Jimmy Choo, Calypso, Scoop NYC and Intermix all have outposts on and around fashionable Oak Street. Material Possessions is the spot there for luxe home goods.

A 20-minute drive north, Lincoln Park could be considered Chicago’s version of New York’s SoHo. A few independent stores, such as high-end linen boutique Le Magasin and cosmetic and beauty emporium Endo Exo, are still standing in the charming neighborhood, but biggies like Cynthia Rowley and Kiehl’s are quickly moving in.

Instead, Bucktown is the new up-and-coming spot for retail, with Jacobs moving in next to existing shops Hegfinia and Helen Yi, which both sell a selection of young designers including Derek Lam and Alexander Wang. And to slip on under their clothes, locals stock up on underpinnings at nearby Raizy, where owner Renee Gertzfeld stocks an impressive selection of La Perla bras.

What’s most surprising about Chicago style is the number of fashion- forward boutiques that dot the city’s landscape. Ikram Goldman pioneered the movement when she opened her eponymous store. It’s where locals go for their fix of Alexander McQueen, Zac Posen and Miu Miu. Next door are Jake and Blake, unrelated shops that sell lines otherwise hard to find in these parts, such as See by Chloé, Steven Alan and Helmut Lang. (So popular among Second City shoppers, Jake has opened two other locations, one in Lakeview and one in the tony North Shore suburb of Winnetka.)
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