Grant Achatz, unquestionably Chicago’s most famous chef, is now the city’s most heralded Michelin chef too. The Red Guide’s anonymous inspectors announced today that Alinea, the avant-garde spot that Achatz runs with Nick Kokonas, has retained its top honor of three stars, a development that was expected, but not necessarily a sure thing, following the restaurant’s gut renovation and menu overhaul.
The inspectors also doled out a star to Roister, West Loop’s open-flame, open-kitchen grill restaurant that Achatz opened in April. That gives the chef four Michelin stars, more than anyone else in Chicago.
The guide's inspectors award worthy venues with either one star ("a very good restaurant in its category"), two stars ("excellent cuisine, worth a detour"), or three stars ("exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey").
Michelin elevated two Chicago restaurants to the two star category. Oriole, Cara and Noah Sandoval’s seafood-centric tasting menu spot in the West Loop, was a rare debut spot to go straight to two stars, while Tru, which has held a star ever since the guide came to Chicago in 2010, saw itself promoted as well.
The four new members of the one star club in this year’s guide were: the culinary brewpub Band of Bohemia, Danny Meyer’s Streeterville cocktail bar and restaurant GreenRiver, Karen Urie and John Shields’ new Smyth in the West Loop, and the aforementioned Roister.
There were no new three star accolades; Curtis Duffy’s Grace, the subject of Kevin Pang’s James Beard award nominated Netflix documentary, remains alongside Alinea as the only other member of that category in Chicago. Approximately 120 restaurants worldwide, many of them in Japan and France, hold three stars.
Following are a few observations about this year’s list:
- Three Stars for Alinea Was Not a Sure Thing: Here’s what Michelin guide director Michael Ellis told Eater about inspecting the restaurant after its massive overhaul. "We didn’t really feel that it would be appropriate to take a star away. We had a long and hard discussion with a number of different inspectors, and with people who knew Alinea in its old form. The consensus was that is was not justified to take them down a notch...We didn’t feel it had been weakened or deconstructed to a point where we couldn’t justify not giving three stars."
- The Price of Three Stars: Alinea, at its highest expression, isn’t just one of Chicago’s most expensive restaurants, it’s one of the country’s priciest places to eat, period. A meal in Alinea’s exclusive gallery runs $295-$345, which means after optional wine pairings, tax, and a service charge, dinner will run $682 to $749 per person. To be fair, the venue also offers a shorter and more affordable salon menu at $175-$225. Ellis, during an interview, said the three stars were for the entire restaurant, not just the gallery.
- The Price of Zero Stars: Next, Achatz’s geographically promiscuous time machine of a restaurant that entirely changes its concept, format, and pricing every four months – remains without a star for yet another year. The current French Laundry menu, which runs at least $255, or, after wine pairings, tax, and service, $500 per person, might be, at this point in time, the city’s most expensive restaurant without a Michelin star. Chicago Tribune critic Phil Vettel, by contrast, awards four stars for nearly every one of its iterations. Most tables for two are booked up for the remainder of the year.
- Here’s Michael Ellis on Next: "The thing is you can have a two-star meal at Next and you can have a zero-star meal. We just don’t know what they’re going to cook ‘next.’ That’s the whole problem we’ve always had. They have an amazing concept, it is unique, it’s extremely hard to pull off, I think it’s fantastic, but we cannot send our readers, based upon our philosophy, into a restaurant where we have absolutely no idea what they will be cooking next. They did Chinese takeout one year [editor’s note: it was Modern Chinese] they did French bistro one year, they might do Singapore street food....When we send our readers to a restaurant, we have to be sure that they will be getting food that is on the level we have attributed. If we were to change that it would really be a violation of our philosophy."
- Fat Rice, Snubbed Again: Last week we learned that Adrienne Lo and Abraham Conlon’s nationally-acclaimed Fat Rice was the recipient of a Bib Gourmand, which means it would not receive a star in 2017. Fat Rice is a rare high-profile spot to highlight the cuisine of Macao which blends Portuguese and Chinese influences.
- How About a Gastropub? Band of Bohemia, an ambitious brewery and restaurant in Ravenswood, is a somewhat unexpected choice, but it also speaks to Michelin’s fondness for gastropubs; both the Spotted Pig and Breslin in New York are longstanding star recipients. Bohemia also ranks among the guide’s more affordable starred selections; it serves $9 fried chicken sandwiches, $18 foie schnitzel plates, and $2 lamb fat oatmeal cookies.
- How About a Star for Mr. Shake Shack? GreenRiver, the rooftop cocktail bar and restaurant by Danny Meyer’s Union Square Events and the team behind NYC’s acclaimed bar The Dead Rabbit, was also an unexpected choice, as it’s best known for its drinks. GreenRiver is Meyer’s first and only Chicago restaurant.
- The Total Star Count: Chicago now has 26 Michelin stars, less than New York’s 75 and the San Francisco Bay Area’s 54, but more than Washington DC’s 12. Currently, San Francisco and New York are tied at six for the U.S. city with the most three Michelin-starred spots. That tally, however, might change as the red guide releases its updated NYC stars later this month.
Here is the full list of starred selections:
Band of Bohemia
Longman & Eagle