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At SugarToad and Miramar, diners invited to let their stomachs take the lead

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The sky -- or at least, your stomach -- is the limit at two Chicago area restaurants.

SugarToad in Naperville's Hotel Arista has launched what it calls the Toad-All Experience -- a $100 unlimited tasting menu crafted by chef Geoff Rhyne in which you, dear diner, get to decide when enough's enough. It's offered Monday through Thursday.

Feel like 15 courses? 15 courses it is (the record to date, as it happens.) Feeling more Alinea-ish? Aim higher -- though Rhyne, who will visit your table every other course to gauge your fullness, says most diners start to wind it down after 8 courses.

"It's literally so spontaneous," Rhyne says. "I don't put a time limit on it. I rolled out fresh pasta for ravioli for just one table once." Last week, bone marrow, squab mousse and corned beef heart made it on one table's menu.

In a similar vein, Miramar Bistro in Highwood, which for the past year has been under the able hands of chef Roland Liccioni, is offering a degustation Sundays through Thursdays that's also basically up to you.

You tell the kitchen how many courses you want, what you like and don't like to eat, any allergies and, what would seem to be the delicate part, your budget. (Expect a four-course meal to run you about 60 bucks, says general manager Philip Shanks -- and don't expect to be able to get the same meal for $30).

Liccioni thrives on this kind of culinary freedom, having done similar cook-at-will degustations at his previous restaurants Les Nomades, Le Francais and Le Lan, Shanks says.

"He has legions of followers that swear by him. We have one gentleman who comes in from southern Indiana about once a month," Shanks says. Indeed, the gentleman was just in last weekend for a five-course menu that included black sea bass, duck breast and that hunk of foie gras you see pictured below.

Foie Gras.jpeg

It is recommended to call ahead to both SugarToad and Miramar if you have allergies or specific requests, say, an obsession with lobster. After that, you're in the chef's hands. All you have to do is sit back, enjoy -- and know when to say when.

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Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.

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