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David Lissner
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10 great last-minute options for New Year’s Eve in Chicago

New Year’s Eve is one of those difficult dining nights.

Everybody’s jamming in, and restaurants try to turn the tables as fast as possible to pack ’em all in. Many places don’t offer their regular menus, but only an abbreviated list of pricey set menus; places that don’t ordinarily require reservations may want them, and lots of places want pre-paid bookings to guarantee your spot. Meanwhile, almost every restaurant in town is doing something, so you’re presented with a bewildering list of options.

Never fear. Your intrepid Dining Chicago reporter has sorted through hundreds of Chicagoland New Year’s Eve events to give you this curated list of possibilities for ringing in 2013. All these places still had openings when we checked, but call soon for reservations.

  1. Browntrout in North Center offers two five-course tasting menus with wine pairings, and a family-style three-course option. Option 1 includes walleye consommé with root vegetable parisenné, matsutake mushroom, and Meyer lemon olive oil; foie gras torchon with pickled cranberry, anise salad, toasted brioche, banyuls vinaigrette and licorice gastrique; ricotta gnocchi with carrot and onion soubise, house-made coppa, Bordeaux spinach, balsamic syrup, nicoise olives, and emmentaler swiss; rosemary-crusted Mint Creek prime rib and Florida white shrimp with potato and root vegetable pave, wild mushrooms, horseradish cremeux, fine herb salad, pinot noir beef jus and fallen dark chocolate souffle with raspberry coulis, $90 plus $50. A vegetarian version includes dishes such as pumpkin risotto with galeux d’eysines puree, brown butter, parmesan, sherry vinegar, spiced pistachio, fried kale and savory, $69 plus $61 for wine pairings. Both menus available from 2 to 10 p.m. An early evening family menu, served from 2 to 5:30 p.m., centers on Gunthrop Farms fried chicken with soft polenta and seasonal vegetables, Mint Creek prime rib or spaghetti marinara, $50 or adults; kids 16 and under pay $1 to $16, based on their age.

  2. Spend the whole night at Grace in the West Loop, starting with a Champagne reception at 7:30 p.m. through a midnight Champagne toast. The evening is $325 per person, including wine pairings and a menu of osetra caviar with Meyer lemon, kumquat jam and chive; kampachi with
golden trout roe, pomelo and Thai basil; chilled scallop with
hibiscus tea and five licorice-flavored herbs; poached chestnut and perigord truffle with roasted almond milk and red sorrel; grilled wagyu beef with matsutake, salsify and mashua leaf; veal cheek with red wine-braised endive, black grape and black mint; cranberry 
crispy rye, toasted meringue, pine ice and sage; poached quince with elderflower, tamarind juice and bronze fennel; and bitter chocolate with
raw chestnut, persimmon and lemon mint.

  3. Reservations are recommended but walk-ins are welcome at Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse in River North, Rosemont and Lombard. Prices range from $80 to $150 for a prix fixe, or the regular menu will also be served. The restaurants will be specially decorated and dinner comes with party favors and a champagne toast at midnight. Prix fixe options include live Maine lobster with rock shrimp stuffing, caviar beurre blanc and confit of saffron fingerling potatoes; tagliata di manzo, an 18-ounce, prime dry-aged rib eye with rosemary, lemon, arugula and honey-roasted vegetables; pistachio-crusted Colorado lamb chops with brandy-tarragon baby carrots, parsnip mash and chanterelle veal reduction and more. They’ll also be celebrating dockside at Harry Caray’s Tavern on Navy Pier before and after the fireworks shows at 7 p.m. and midnight.

  4. Nia Mediterranean Restaurant in the West Loop will be partying with an eight-course dinner, open bar, party favors and a champagne toast at midnight. DJ Hans spins house, hip hop and other dance music. Packages start at $100 per person.

  5. The Barrelhouse Flat in Lincoln Park offers early diners a three-course prix fixe for $45. Reserve a table between 6 and 7 p.m. and get choices such as smoked pear salad, choucroute garni and sweet-potato doughnuts.

  6. Szechwan Kingdom in Northbrook serves up a New Year’s Eve buffet of dim sum, stir-fried lobster, Peking duck, snow crab and more than 30 other items, beginning at 4 p.m., $29.95, or $12.95 for kids aged 6 to 10. Reservations recommended.

  7. May St. Cafe in Pilsen creates a contemporary Latin New Years Eve, featuring a five-course menu for $65, or
    $75 with Champagne. Menu choices include sopes de Michoacan con crab; creme of chayote and corn bisque chowder with grilled shrimp; grilled lobster tail with chipotle and lime garlic butter; Allen Brothers prime beef rib eye hand rubbed in q blend of five peppercorns with a malbec reduction and Maple Leaf duck breast with tomatillo and plum sauce. Dining time is limited to 2 hours per seating; reservations required.

  8. Dragon Ranch and Rockit Bar and Grill in River North and Rockit Burger Bar in Wrigleyville offer open bar and dinner buffet packages with a DJ and dancing, passed appetizers and a champagne toast at midnight.

  9. Glen Prairie in Glen Ellyn offers a three-course prix fixe for $55, with seatings from 5 to 11 p.m. Choices include such options as sherried shrimp bisque, blue-cheese-stuffed filet of beef and chocolate and hazelnut crepes.

  10. Uncommon Ground in Edgewater features a multi-course menu with such choices as seared sea scallops with brussels sprouts, chick peas, olives and chorizo; spinach and arugula salad; roasted sunchoke soup; Rushing Waters trout; Q7 Ranch New York strip; root vegetable cassoulet; and Gunthorp Farms roasted chicken, $55 plus $15 to $20 for beer, cocktail or wine pairings. The 9:30 p.m. seating, featuring music and a Champagne toast, is an additional $20. Reservations required.