6 Must-Try Unique Dining Experiences in Chicago

By Sarah Freeman  |  March 6, 2013

Sometimes an insatiable craving for nitrogen hits, and since chances are you don’t have a tank stored in the pantry, it's necessary to call in the mad scientists of the food world. We’re talking about test-tube food, the stuff pioneered at Alinea that has since spread around Chicago. The good news: although many of these meals can be pricey, they don't all need to break the bank. Read on to find out about six of the strangest culinary adventures in Chicago.

  • Moto/iNG

    Why it’s cool: Believe it or not, this is indeed a photo of an actual course at Moto. Called “Smell the glove,” it appears at the end of the prix fixe menu. Vanilla-scented smoke and leather aromas enhance the flavors of caramel and chocolate in the form of a plated chocolate glove. This is just the tip of the iceberg for chef Homaro Cantu's molecular gastronomic restaurant. Often described as a culinary playground, his sister restaurants specialize in the bizarre. Next door at iNG, go on a flavor trip with miracle berries. This exotic fruit tricks the taste buds into transforming bitter flavors into sweet ones.

    What it costs: $50-$140

    Where it is: 945 W. Fulton Mkt.; 312-491-0058 / 951 W. Fulton Mkt.; 855-834-6464

  • Baume & Brix

    Why it's cool: When two Moto alums team up to open their own River North joint, they take some tricks of the trade they learned in the quirky kitchen with them. The menu is organized into four sections: explore (starters), summit (entrees), conquer (weird stuff) and divide (shared plates). Discover dishes such as 'grilled cheese,' with 
Brun-uusto cheese, quince and rooibos ice cream and ‘frostee & fries’ (potato ice cream, milk chocolate and banana). If money is no object, set the chefs’ creativity free by dining at the chef’s table.

    What it costs: À la carte

    Where is it: 351 W. Hubbard St.; 312-321-0351

  • Next

    Why it’s cool: This needs no explanation, but in case you have been living under a rock, chefs Grant Achatz and Dave Beran have something pretty nifty going on in their experimental restaurant. The menu changes every four months, and each explores a new theme, from childhood to El Bulli, through a multicourse meal. Currently they are deep in the hunt, a Midwestern game-meat menu we had the pleasure of enjoying a few weeks ago. No camo required, but the poultry-heavy meal was more than just a walk in the woods - it was a culinary experience complete with pressed squab and imitation snow.

    What it costs: $95-$130 without pairings

    Where it is: 953 W. Fulton Mkt.; 312-226-0858

  • “So You Think You’re A Foodie”

    Why it’s cool: Few people have the patience to refresh their internet browser for two hours in the hope of bypassing the most annoying online ticketing system in the history of upscale dining. Do things the old-fashioned way and enjoy a multicourse feast of meat by simply picking up the telephone and making a reservation at the new monthly dinner series at Frontier. Each month features a different whole-animal feast prepared by chef Brian Jupiter, and diners only find out what will be served when they sit down at the table.

    What it costs: $65 without pairings

    Where it is: 1072 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-772-4322

  • L2O

    Why it’s cool: The catch of the day from Lake Michigan is hardly as appetizing as one from the ocean. However, this upscale seafood spot solved this problem by installing a 200-gallon saltwater fish tank and stocking it with some Brittany blue lobster and abalone. The tank is divided in two so the creatures can thrive in water of varying salinity. One side mimics the conditions of the British Channel, while the other has similar living conditions to the Pacific Ocean. The catch? It's only served as part of the prix fixe or tasting menu.

    What it costs: $140-$210 per person without pairings

    Where it is: 2300 North Lincoln Park W.; 773-868-0002

  • Go 4 Food

    Why it’s cool: Unlike it’s upscale alternative, this Chinatown eatery houses its live seafood right in the dining room. Order the chili fusion crab and watch them pluck one right out of the tank. It is prepared with curry powder and fried in a wok before it is served whole. Then it’s time to dig in, and don’t worry about getting the white tablecloth dirty because there is no white tablecloth. This is finger food that requires the diner to get messy while tearing off legs and picking out tender meat.

    What it costs: $25

    Where it is: 212 W. 23rd St.; 312-386-7278