10 Tasting Menus Worth Spending Your Tax Refund On

What’s better than ordering your favorite dish at an amazing restaurant? Sampling all the best plates it has to offer! For one set price you can enjoy the whole spread: salads, entrées, desserts — the works! And, with a tax refund hitting your bank account any day now, there's never been a better time to go for the gusto. Ahead, our favorite Chicago tasting menus! And, yes, loose waistbands are recommended.
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The classic French fare of this upscale haunt is showcased through Chef Christopher Gawronski’s inventive and seasonal tasting menu ($95). With an option to pair with imported French wines (ooh la la!) selected by sommelier Jason Wagner ($55), Henri’s tasting gives you your fill of exotic dishes like foie gras, bison, and squab. (What’s a squab, you say? A young domestic pigeon, in this case prepared with boudoin noir, pearl barley, and brussels sprouts.) Having worked in the kitchens of several Michelin-starred restaurants, it’s a pretty safe bet that Gawronski — and Henri — won’t disappoint.

Henri, 18 South Michigan Avenue (between Madison and Monroe streets); 312-578-0763.

Photo: Courtesy of Henri
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mk The Restaurant

While its website modestly hails itself as a “mom and pop” establishment at its core, make no mistake: This is fine dining at its best. (Seriously. Obama eats here!) Executive chef Eric Williams and pastry chef Stephanie Mazzone salute the changing of the seasons with mk The Restaurant’s early spring tasting menu. This delight for the senses is offered as a six-course meal, both with or without wine pairings ($86/$131). Think spring white asparagus puree, poached Alaskan halibut, pan-seared veal sweetbread, roasted lamb loin, aged Gouda, and warm banana cake. Famished yet? Good. You’ll need your appetite.

mk The Restaurant, 868 North Franklin Street (between Chestnut and Locust streets); 312-482-9179.

Photo Courtesy of mk The Restaurant
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Multi-course meals, or Kaiseki dinners, have long been a tradition in countries like Japan. Top Chef Masters alum Takashi Yagihashi is bringing his cultural influence to Wicker Park this spring with his restaurant’s seven ($73) and 11-course ($100) Kaiseki meals. Served every Sunday night, the menu consists of a wonderful assortment of sea creatures — oysters and sea urchins and prawns, oh my! — plus, savory items like pork belly and pickled noodles to boot. The meals are separate from chef Takashi’s regular omakese (tasting menu), which is a six-course offering with wine pairings.

Takashi, 1952 North Damen Avenue (at Armitage Avenue); 773-772-6170.

Photo: Courtesy of Takashi
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Roka Akor

Seafood lovers will gravitate toward Roka Akor’s spring tasting menu: Laden with items such as Ora King salmon sashimi and nigiri, sake steamed mussels, and red snapper, it’s a ocean-eater’s dream. Available both as a prix-fixe menu ($85) and à la carte, this tasting menu doesn’t leave out the landlubbers, either: roboto grilled lamb is also highlighted, as is ume foie gras. We’d expect nothing less from this chameleon of eateries — steak, seafood, and sushi are all prepared in abundance in Robotayaki “open charcoal” style, ensuring no diner is left behind.

Roka Akor, 456 North Clark Street (at Illinois Street); 312-477-7652.

Photo: Courtesy of Roka Akor
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$198 of your hard-earned cash will get you 11 of chef Matthew Kirkley’s delectable courses, here at L20. Known for incorporating intricate fish and shellfish into its dishes, the restaurant’s tasting menu is no exception. Highlights include Maine lobster with foie gras torchon, turnip, and Clementine vinaigrette, crispy bass with escargot, pearl onions, and chartreuse butter, and turbot with grilled squid, guanciale chips, and scallion — yum! Elegant attire is suggested, so it’s also the perfect excuse to bust out that LBD you’ve been saving for something special.

L20, 2300 North Lincoln Park West (between Fullerton and Belden Avenues); 773-868-0002.

Photo: Courtesy of L20
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Mercat a la Planxa

Spend Sunday nights amongst friends this spring at Mercat a la Planxa with the restaurant’s new Suckling Pig Sunday Supper Series. Highlighting its specialty of (what else?) cochinillo asado (whole roasted pig), Chef de Cuisine Cory Morris has created a four-course tasting menu, available exclusively on Sunday nights from 4 to 10pm. A steal at just $45 (a whole pig with sides is typically closer to $440 here), it’s the perfect excuse to go hog-wild — pun intended! The dinner price also includes a rotating monthly craft beer pairing, kicking things off in April with Milwaukee’s Tyreana Brewing Company.

Mercat a la Planxa, 638 South Michigan Avenue (between Balbo Avenue and Harrison Street); 312-765-0524.

Photo: Courtesy of Mercat a la Planxa
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North Pond

With an impressive list of accolades (ahem, the James Beard Foundation, Best Chef, Great Lakes Region, anyone?) and a jaw-dropping backdrop for your meal, North Pond is an obvious choice when it comes to dining in general, let alone tasting. The seasonal tasting menu ($90 for food, $45 for wine) truly has it all. Foie gras? Check. Lobster? Check. Sea scallops? Check. Venison? Strip-seared filet? Chocolate? Check, check, check. One thing’s for sure: You won’t be going home hungry!

North Pond, 2610 North Cannon Drive (between Fullerton Avenue and Lake Shore Drive West); 773-477-5845.

Photo: Courtesy of North Pond
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Prepare to have your mind blown: moto’s tasting menu is unlike any you’re likely to have encountered. Using “high-tech equipment and interesting techniques,” Chef and inventor Homaro Cantu is paving the way for the food of the future at this Michelin-starred restaurant. With the tasting menu changing nightly, you never know what might be served up, but we’re willing to put our $175 down any day of the week — this is molecular gastronomy at its best!

moto, 945 West Fulton Street (between Morgan and Sangamont streets); 312-491-0058.

Photo: Courtesy of moto
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Offering up what is perhaps the mother of all tasting menus, Alinea has practically made an art out of food sampling. The brain child of Grant Achatz, the restaurant made a huge splash in 2004 with its molecular mini-meals. With reservations being booked months in advance, it’s safe to say its charm has yet to wear off. An 18-course meal here ($210-265) might run the gamut from wooly pig with fennel, orange, and squid, to black truffle, to “balloon” — a dish that is described simply as helium and green apple. At Alinea, food will begin to do things you never even knew it could do — like become other food, for instance (scallop acting like agedashi tofu, we’re looking at you). This is more than a meal. It’s an experience.

Alinea, 1723 North Halsted Street (between Willow Street and Concord Place); 312-867-0110.

Photo: Courtesy of Christian Seel
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Storefront Company

Take a seat at Storefront Company’s “Kitchen Counter,” the restaurant’s 15-person Chef’s Table and bar. From there, you’ll be in a prime position to enjoy Storefront’s “Chef’s Tasting” menu: a six-course ($69 food/$36 beverage) rotating selection of Chef/Partner Bryan Moscatello’s favorites. Each week, the counter allows diners a sneak peek into the preparation of its tastings with special “prep” stations positioned along the bar. Favoring unexpected offerings such as heart and tongue, Moscatello views his counter as a test ground for foodies, and you, his guinea pigs.

Storefront Company, 1941 West North Avenue (between Milwaukee and Damen avenues); 773-661-2609.

Photo: Courtesy of Storefront Company