Thanks to everyone who made suggestions for my first Chicago visit.
Over the course of the week I covered the following spots: the Cape Cod Room, Coq d'Or, Cafe Spiaggia, the Tasting Room, the University Club, Cru, Gibson's and Hugo's Frog Bar. I was alone at all but the University Club and Gibson's.
Here are my impressions:
1) night 1 at Gibson's. I know some find the atmosphere cheesy but I loved the two-fisted feel of the place. It was crowded enough (people and tables) to feel lively and yet since everything was rather over scale (tables and chairs as well as steaks) it never felt too frenetic. The steak was good but not great, but I did think they got 'medium rare' right (I often find it's overdone) and I am always happy in front of a bowl of creamed spinach (thicker than the Palm's, and no discernable nutmeg. But then I have found that the Palm, at least the West Hollywood branch, is too heavy handed on that count. Downtown less so). Reasonably priced Coppola claret. I look forward to trying other Chicago steak houses to have more points of comparison.
2)Cru: I had a kir royale at the bar and was looking over the menu, which was most uninspiring despite the bartender's assurance they had 'great food'. It was all pizzas and little salads with fruit (I hate that) and a mixed tuna plate (tartare, seared and something else). I ordered tuna tartare only and shortly after was driven to a table by a drunk person who came in and asked if he could sit beside me and proceeded to attempt a conversation which I was otherwise unable to deflect. No intervention by the staff. Anyway I signalled to the bartender that I was moving but nevertheless waited a full 40 minutes! for my tartare and nearly as long for water and for anyone to come ask me if I'd like another drink. The list was ok, stronger on reds than whites though and in the heat I really wanted white. Personally I think a place that bills itself as a wine bar should offer more more and more interesting selections than a list of five of which two were a Honig sauvignon blanc and a Sterling chardonnay. I would not go back.
3) Cape Cod Room. Great spot for a solo diner. I came in late (after Cru) and had the terrific bookbinder's soup (is this a Chicago dish? I'd thought it was Philadelphia. And am I confused in having expected turtle instead of what was purported to be red snapper but had a chewier consistency than any red snapper I know?). I loved the presentation with the tiny vase of sherry alongside.
4)Someone on this board recommended Coq d'Or as a 'grown up' place for a drink. It was full of overexcited twenty- and thirty- something conventioneers from Houston when I went in, and a couple men smoking cigars. But perhaps this was an aberration; I'm sure a hotel bar sees a lot of odd birds.
5)At Cafe Spiaggia I had salmon with a side of morels (good salmon, generous serving of morels) and a fabulous veal/foie gras rollatini carpaccio. The most imaginative and inspired dish on the menu, and the best of my trip.
6) Hugo's was crowded and loud and smoky and ultimately unpleasant, no fault of the bartender. Somehow the menu left me cold but I was hungry so ordered the bouillabaise which came with two large croutons slathered with pink mayonnaise (it was not aioli, despite their claim). The broth was like a weak tomato broth without salt or garlic or flavor, and certainly had not been made with fish bones or shells. I should have known better.
7) The Tasting Room was a great treat. I wouldn't have gone had I known it was a $10 cab ride but am glad I did. It really does have the feeling of a tasting room rather than a bar, a knowledgeable staff and a terrific list. They also have food (cheeses and such) of which I did not partake but I did place two orders (one dollar each) for their fabulous roasted hazelnuts and almonds.
I look forward to returning to Chicago next month!