In the last few days, the Michelin Guide has made headlines, but not for its just-released Chicago Michelin stars.
A lawsuit filed by Marc Veyrat, chef of La Maison de Bois in France’s Haut-Savoie region in the French Alps, claims the restaurant wrongfully lost a third Michelin star and that the inspector who visited his restaurant incorrectly identified cheddar cheese in a soufflé. Of course, the cheese was French, says the chef.
But this controversy does call into stark relief how important Michelin stars can be to a restaurant’s bottom line and to the prestige it visits upon a city. Take Chicago, where little has changed since last year. There’s still just one three-star restaurant, Alinea, and three two-star restaurants. Once the country’s most avant-garde food destinations, Chicago seems stuck, while Southern California booms and smaller markets such as Philadelphia have become burgeoning and thrilling culinary scenes.
But all is not lost for the Windy City, which sees movement at the lower end of greatness. There are five new one-star spots — and they’re all located in one neighborhood: the West Loop, a former meatpacking district that’s now home to such companies as Google, McDonald’s (corporate world headquarters), LinkedIn, and Dyson. “It just so happens that the West Loop was a nexus this year. Hopefully, next year we’ll see other areas represented,” says the chief inspector of Michelin’s U.S. Team, who spoke to Bloomberg on condition of anonymity.
The biggest Michelin news was that Next restaurant, the nine-year-old dining room that reinvents itself three times a year, was finally awarded one star. Like Alinea, it’s run by chef Grant Achatz and Tock reservation founder Nick Kokonas. The total number of Chicago starred places for 2020 is 25, up from 22 in 2018.
Besides sharing the same ‘hood, the other four new one-stars all represent some form of Asian cooking.
“It’s been an interesting evolution,” notes the Michelin inspector, especially in the representation of Japanese cuisine. That includes Kikko, an innovative omakase restaurant hidden inside a cocktail bar, with dishes such as ora king sashimi and Japanese milk bread with fermented honey ice cream, and truffles. The team includes chef Noah Sandoval, who also runs the two-star Oriole. (If there’s a key to success besides Japanese cooking and a West Loop home, it’s that winners beget winners.)
For the guide’s value-dining selections — the Bib Gourmands — 54 restaurants were recognized, with 14 new entries. Two are located in the five-month-old Hoxton hotel: Cabra, which is helmed by Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard and highlights Peruvian plates, and the Mediterranean Cira, from Chris Pandel. At the same time, some notable places lost Bib Gourmand status, including Dove’s Luncheonette, from renowned chef Paul Kahan, and Au Cheval, whose knife-impaled burger has a monstrous fan base. “Unfortunately, our inspectors didn’t experience the quality level indicative of a Bib Gourmand at Au Cheval for Chicago 2020; however, we will return and continue to monitor the evolution of the kitchen,” says the inspector.
Bib Gourmands are loosely defined as “quality restaurants that have menu items that offer two courses and a glass of wine or dessert for $40 or less,” although the inspector notes that the guide gives “leeway” and that a better description is “around $40.” Which is helpful, because the cheapest wood-grilled meat taco at Frontera Grill, a mainstay on the Bib Gourmand list, is $20. The total number this year is down from 58 new spots in 2018.
Here is the full list of Chicago’s Michelin-starred restaurants and Bib Gourmands, plus the neighborhoods in which to find them. An asterisk (*) denotes a new entry.
Alinea, Lincoln Park and Old Town
Acadia, Chinatown and South Oriole, West LoopSmyth, West Loop
Band of Bohemia, Andersonville, Edgewater, Uptown
Blackbird, West Loop
Boka, Lincoln Park, Old Town
EL Ideas, Pilsen, University Village, Bridgeport
Elizabeth, Andersonville, Edgewater, Uptown
Elske, West Loop
Entente, Lakeview and Wrigleyville
Goosefoot, Andersonville, Edgewater, Uptown
* Kikkō, West Loop
* Mako, West Loop
* Next, West Loop
North Pond, Lincoln Park, Old Town
* Omakase Yume, West Loop
Parachute, Humboldt Park, Logan Square
Schwa, Bucktown, Wicker ParkSepia, West Loop
Spiaggia, Gold Coast
Temporis, Bucktown and Wicker Park
Topolobampo, River North
* Yūgen, West Loop
* Avlí Taverna
* Birrieria Zaragoza
* Cabra Cevicheria
* County Barbecue
Dos Urban Cantina
The Duck Inn
* EttaFat Rice
* Flat & Point
* Ghin Khao
Girl & The Goat
GT Fish & Oyster
* Ina Mae Tavern
* La Josie
Longman & Eagle
* Nella Pizza e Pasta
Pacific Standard Time
Pleasant House Pub
The Purple Pig
San Soo Gab San
Sol de Mexico
Table, Donkey and Stick
True Food Kitchen
Untitled Supper Club
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