The Backburner: A Dining Column

Amber Gibson

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Last time, I introduced a few of my favorite affordable spots to grab a bite in the Gold Coast, near Feinberg’s Ward building. But special occasions call for a whole ‘nother set of restaurants. If you’re out for a romantic night on the town or trying to impress a date or client (do students even have clients?), these spots are your best bet:

Cafe Spiaggia (980 N. Michigan Ave.) is Spiaggia’s more casual little sister restaurant and either is your best bet for Italian in the Gold Coast. While big sis Spiaggia is President Obama’s favorite date night spot with the first lady when he’s in town, little sis doesn’t do too bad. Here you’ll be eating much of the same food, prepared in the same kitchens by the same chefs as at Spiaggia, but at a fraction of the price. It’s formal enough for a nice date, but there’s no dress code – so guys, no need to don a jacket. Save the jacket and Spiaggia for when you propose. The wild boar ragu gnocchi are a favorite, particularly during the winter, and I love their house-cured sardines to start. I’ve been here countless times and never had a bad meal. And if you watch Bravo’s Top Chef, starting Nov. 1, Cafe Spiaggia’s Chef Sarah Grueneberg will be competing on the show.

NoMI (800 N. Michigan Ave.) may be a hotel restaurant, located on the seventh floor of the Park Hyatt, but it also earned a Michelin star last November. Since then, new chef Ryan LaRoche has transformed the restaurant from upscale French cuisine to more simply prepared American fare with a focus on local, seasonal ingredients. Classics like Maine lobster and roasted veal chop with Savoy cabbage shine alongside a surprisingly impressive sushi bar. Plus, the view overlooking the historic Water Tower and the Magnificent Mile? Priceless.

MarketHouse (611 N. Fairbanks Ct.) is another hotel restaurant, but Chef Scott Walton has full control of the kitchen and a rooftop garden, so you’ll forget it’s adjacent to the DoubleTree. The grilled whole rainbow trout, pot pie, pork shank and sweet corn risotto are worth trying. Save room for butterscotch bread pudding for dessert. I once saw Chef Scott demonstrate this dish, and while the amount of cream, butter, sugar and brioche in this is shocking, it is worth every calorie.

In a couple of weeks, I’ll show you a place to splurge and a steal if you’re looking to have a quaint and leisurely afternoon tea.

– Amber Gibson