Alinea Why all the fuss about Alinea? Because chef/mastermind Grant Achatz serves food the likes of which you’ve never seen. Sit back and enjoy the show, a well-orchestrated ride that plays with textures, temperatures and notions of “normal” cuisine, while somehow remaining grounded in season, flavor and flawless execution. Past menu stunners have included squab with peppercorn custard, sorrel and strawberries; and cocoa-coated watermelon with cubed Kobe beef. But you never know what dish will steal the show when you’re in the audience. 1723 N Halsted St (312-867-0110, alinea-restaurant.com). El: Red to North/Clybourn. Bus: 8, 72. Dinner (Wed–Sun). Average degustation: $210.
Everest For years, Everest has lived up to its name for those looking for lavish, in the process becoming the pinnacle of high-end French dining in the Windy City. Atop the Chicago Stock Exchange, it is still the height of elegance, with views of the rooftops that made the city famous. Chef Jean Joho’s seasonal menu—though often-changing—features carefully executed French specialties such as roasted rack of lamb, foie gras and poached halibut. But the real specialty is the sense of elegance you feel just from having dined at this level. 440 S LaSalle St (312-663-8920, everestrestaurant.com). El: Brown, Orange, Pink, Purple (rush hrs) to LaSalle/Van Buren. Dinner (closed Sun, Mon). Average degustation: $125.
Henri The restaurant from the chef and owners of the Gage is the most striking, most breathtakingly opulent restaurant to open in recent memory, a place where everything, from the huge crystal chandeliers to the formal caviar service, has been polished to perfection. In this sense, it’s a rather old-school restaurant, and the food follows suit: As if to prove he can do more than pub grub, chef Dirk Flanigan cooks dishes like duck consommé with duck-filled agnolotti, smoked steak tartare with potato chips, and a decadent bowl of housemade pappardelle topped with perfectly sweet morsels of lobster. Sometimes the food verges toward heavy, but it won’t, and shouldn’t, stop you from eating. 18 S Michigan Ave (312-578-0763, henrichicago.com). El: Brown, Green, Orange, Pink, Purple (rush hrs) to Madison. Bus: 1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 14, 26, 126, 143, 145, 147, 151. Lunch (Mon–Fri), dinner. Average main course: $28.
L20 Since the departure of Laurent Gras, the French chef around whom this homage to seafood was built, L2O has focused on becoming more approachable and warm. Francis Brennan (the opening chef de cuisine who returned to the helm) creates enticing dishes that evoke entire ecosystems: forest mushrooms with the concentrated taste of the earth; salt cod like a deep cut of the ocean; and miso-cured shimaaji that coats your mouth with umami. With the recent addition of rising star pastry chef Stephanie Prida, the restaurant is evolving once more. 2300 N Lincoln Park West (773-868-0002, l2orestaurant.com). El: Brown, Purple (rush hrs), Red to Fullerton. Bus: 22, 36, 151, 156. Dinner (closed Tue). Four-course degustation: $110; eight-course degustation: $145.
Ria If the signature restaurant at the Elysian hotel had a motto, it might go something like this: If it’s not topped off with truffles or hidden beneath foie gras, what’s the point? It’s an opulent conceit, but it works, from a blissful oyster amuse littered with caviar through perfectly buttery lobster and langoustines. Take a few adventurous turns (braised cocks comb, marrow croutons and crispy pig’s tail), but stick with safe for dessert: A beautiful wheel of Comté cheese, sliced tableside, proves that sometimes real luxuries need not the least bit of adornment. 11 E Walton St (312-880-4400, riarestaurantchicago.com). El: Red to Chicago. Bus: 36, 66, 143, 144, 145, 146, 147, 148, 151. Dinner (Tue–Sat). Average main course: $38.
Spiaggia Want to skip rent this month and have the best Italian fine-dining experience in town? Splurge here. Chef Tony Mantuano marries imported Italian foodstuffs with top-notch American ingredients and a deep understanding of cuisine from the north end of “the boot.” Wood-roasted filet mignon with marrow and herb crust is served with hen of the woods mushrooms, roasted red pearl onions and purple potato puree. Pastas like gnocchi (served with ricotta and black truffle sauce) are made fresh every day. Toss in a two-dozen-choice cheese cave and perfect service, and you’ve got a night that’s worth dodging the landlord. 980 N Michigan Ave (312-280-2750, spiaggiarestaurant.com). El: Red to Clark/Division. Bus: 143, 144, 145, 146, 147, 151. Dinner. Average main course: $36.