Chicago is indisputably one of the country’s culinary capitals, but Michelin’s famously anonymous inspectors aren’t necessarily as excited about the Midwest dining scene as local and national critics. The Red Guide admitted just two restaurants, Elske and Entente, to the single-starred ranks, while a pair of closures dropped the city’s overall star count by one to 25. San Francisco, by contrast, hosts 54 starred restaurants, while New York has 77.
No new restaurants were elevated to three stars, Michelin’s highest ranking, of which there are two in Chicago: Grant Achatz’s experimental Alinea and Curtis Duffy’s modern Grace.
Smyth, John and Karen Urie Shields’ tasting menu spot in West Loop, was the only restaurant elevate to the two star-club. The (unsurprising) promotion puts Karen alongside Atelier Crenn’s Dominique Crenn (SF), Acquerello’s Suzette Gresham (SF), and Aquavit’s Emma Bengstsson (NYC) as one of four women in the U.S. to hold two stars as a head chef or co-chef.
No female chefs in the U.S. hold three stars.
Smyth’s ascension to two stars is no surprise to most as the husband-and-wife team’s efforts at Smyth continues to cement West Loop’s reputation, also home to Grace, Au Cheval, The Aviary, and the newly starred Elske, as one of the hottest culinary neighborhoods in America. Smyth’s graduation also helps fill the void left by 42 Grams and Tru, a pair of two-starred restaurants that closed in 2017.
Longman & Eagle also fell from star status as Michelin demoted the Logan Square restaurant to Bib Gourmand status last week. That list is more value focused. Inspectors found the restaurant had consistency issues. Nineteen Chicago restaurants earned one-star status. They include Schwa, where Entente chef Brian Fisher worked for four years with his mentor, Schwa’s Michael Carlson. After wiping tears of joy, Fisher talked about validation and the camaraderie with Carlson: “I did right by him, and that’s very important to me.”
One star means "high quality cooking, worth a stop;” two stars indicates “excellent cooking, worth a detour;” three stars signifies “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey.” There are just over one hundred restaurants worldwide with three stars.
Here are a few observations about this year’s Chicago guide, followed by the full list of star recipients:
- Sarah Grueneberg’s Monteverde, named one of America’s best new restaurants by Eater’s Bill Addison (and GQ), was left off the starred selections for a second straight year. She’s also this year’s Beard Award winner for “Best Chef: Great Lakes.”
- Here’s what Michelin Guide Director Michael Ellis had to say on Monteverde and Grueneberg: “She’s doing italian food. It’s good...There are not that many Italian starred restaurants in the U.S. We compare them to restaurants that do have stars in San Francisco, or Washington, or New York. Certainly our inspectors like it, but we didn’t find enough starred-level food this year.”
- Five of Chicago’s 25 Michelin stars belong to restaurants run by female head chefs; women at three of those venue co-run the restaurants with their male chef-partners or husbands.
- Inspectors were impressed by Entente’s creative comfort-classics, Ellis said. The experiences Entente’s kitchen staff gained at other restaurants shows in their food and service: “Again, it shows how Chicago really has its own signature in terms of dining. I think you find things in Chicago that you can’t find anywhere else.”
- While Rick Bayless’ Topolobampo continues to hold onto its single star, the influential chef’s Randolph Street restaurant, Leña Brava, failed to garner a Bib Gourmand or a star. “If and when we find a star there that will be an exciting discovery,” Ellis said.
- When asked about what Chicago could do to compete at the level of the country’s two most Michelin-starred cities, Ellis responded thusly: “New York and San Francisco are very different cities than Chicago, at least from our criteria. San Francisco also has the product advantage…and you also have a very strong Asian influence for historic and cultural reasons. Chicago is moving upwards. The local chefs are really coming up with good new concepts. I think there are new stars in Chicago every year. Things are definitely getting better.”
- Here’s Ellis, on the Tao of Michelin: “We don’t pretend to have the truth, we have a point of view...we try to express that point of view as obectively as possible, and as homogoneously as possible, whether it’s Tokyo, Chicago, Rio de Janiero, or Paris. Our inspectors all have same/similar backgrounds. They’re all 100 percent Michelin employees. They’re anonymous. They pay their bills. They’re food experts.“
- Many predicted Smyth’s rise to two-star status. Inspectors were blown away, and Ellis said he’s never seen a concept like this before: “They’re doing some of the best cuisine I’ve had in a long time anywhere.”
- Ellis made note that like Smyth, Elske is run by a husband-and-wife team. This is apparently pleasing to Michelin: “They’re another couple — interestingly enough — it’s always great to see a couple working together.”
- The restaurant inside Trump Tower — Sixteen — also retained its two stars despite a chef change.
Michelin’s Chicago 2018 Starred Selections: