Based on the wonderful recs, I presented a list of options to the birthday girl and she asked me what I favored. Zest, Cerise, Erwin, in no order. She chose Erwin (I told her next time we would do Moon Palace).
It truly went perfectly. We could hear each other, mostly (she speaks very quietly at 97, so there were times) and she went on and on, quite happy to talk. Also ate much more than I have seen her eat in years. Aunt had the smoked trout rolls for an appetizer, ate the whole thing, then scallops for a main course, and ate almost all of that.
I went with the lamb shank and antipasto salad. The shank was properly tender and decent flavor, but seemed a little dry and underseasoned - very little flavor in the sauce. The salad was quite interesting, chicken/herb (basil, I recall, but did not take notes, sorry) sausages, wood grilled (Aidell's product, I bet) with roasted potatoes, feta cheese, some greens, probably water cress I think, in a light vinaigrette. A larger serving of this, with a hearty syrah, or zinfandel, would have made an excellent meal.
My bride started with a salad, then some grilled salmon, finishing with a sour cherry pie. I did not get to sample others' dishes, both because I was full with mine, and because they ate theirs so quickly. Wines by the glass were quite pleasant - I had a southern France syrah/grenache blend, followed by a Carmenere they suggested with the lamb shank. The French wine was much smoother than the Chilean, though it's touch of wildness held up against the lamb.
So we would definitely go back with Aunt, tho she liked it a lot more than me, to be honest. It was pretty good, but not special. The place was, however, very busy on a Thursday night. All tables turned twice, and some were on a third seating as we left. So, despite mixed reviews here, Erwin is in no danger.
The whole experience reminded me of Yoshi's - once hot and creative spot evolving into regular neighborhood spot, and doing quite well, thank you. For my money, tho, Yoshi's is a bit more interesting.
Sadly, 97 year-old aunt was spun out of the revolving door at Water Tower Place the following day and thrown on the floor. Looks like a broken hip - sadness, anger, frustration. So we will not be dining out for a while... Funny thing, tho, on the phone from the hospital, she repeated what a wonderful meal it was for her.
Thanks to all.