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Michelin Guide Returns to Chicago After a Pandemic Hiatus

Three Michelin-starred restaurants have closed since the pandemic began

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Will Smyth receive a third star this year?
Marc Much/Eater Chicago
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

After a year-long hiatus triggered by the pandemic, Michelin announced that the tire guide will release updated ratings later this month in Chicago, New York, and Washington, D.C. The guide will release its Chicago Bib Gourmands — which recognize outstanding value — on April 27. Michelin will announce its coveted stars ranking two days later on April 29.

The latter date means it will be 578 days since Michelin updated its Chicago star list, a ranking that features 25 restaurants. The guide concedes that pandemic safety measures have forced it to adapt, telling the Tribune that inspectors came up with rankings based on meals before the pandemic and subsequent summer visits. Michelin has returned to other cities, but with some surprises. In London, inspectors awarded a star to Behind, a restaurant that had been open for a mere 20 days.

The world of fine dining has transformed since 2020. The type of fine-dining restaurants that Michelin routinely celebrates have shifted toward carryout, much to the chagrin of many elite chefs who never thought about how intricate tasting menus would translate for at-home consumption. Michelin hasn’t indicated how these pivots will affect inspectors.

Three of Chicago’s Michelin-starred restaurants — Band of Bohemia, Blackbird, and Everest — permanently closed. The future of two other Michelin-starred restaurants remains unclear. After offering takeout for a stint, Entente has remained closed since the summer. Co-owner Ty Fujimura says he and his partner are still pondering the restaurant’s future. In South Loop, Acadia remains closed as a defamation lawsuit against chef and owner Ryan McCaskey continues. McCaskey, the subject of a collection of allegations brought forward by his former employees, has maintained he will eventually reopen Acadia, which has been closed since June 2020.

Still, other starred restaurants like Oriole and Elske have remained closed for long periods in a state of hibernation. Elske announced it will reopen on April 22. Oriole is going through a remodel and hasn’t announced a reopening date. Chef Noah Sandoval turned his focus to dough last year in opening Pizza Friendly Pizza, a carryout-focused pizzeria affiliated with legendary concert venue and bar Empty Bottle. Sandoval’s story, going from fine dining to casual fare, is a good example of how the industry has shifted.

Once indoor dining returned, customers discovered a new world of mask wearing, plexiglass dividers, QR-coded menus, and fancy ventilation systems. Many chefs pared down their offerings to reduce costs and make things simpler for staff. Chef Curtis Duffy opened Ever last year as an ambitious follow up to Grace, which held three stars before it closed in 2018. The chef, who sports a tattoo of a star on his arm, was determined to create an experience that would impress Michelin inspectors.

Beyond Ever as a possible new addition, there is buzz surrounding the Dining Room at Moody Tongue brewing. Band of Bohemia, the world’s first Michelin-starred brewpub, closed over the summer after a flurry of allegations. It could make sense to add another brewpub as a replacement.

Still, many restaurant owners buried under an avalanche of responsibilities — the government has put them in the position of keeping customers safe — openly wondered about the relevance of accolades like stars and other awards. For instance, Otto Phan — the acclaimed sushi chef behind Kyoten in Logan Square — was once obsessed with the “validation” restaurants often receive from earning a star. But the challenges of keeping a business open during a pandemic have shifted his priorities: “You really, really have to refocus,” Phan says, adding that he’s learned to concentrate more on the customer experience.

This year, Michelin is pushing customers toward a new smartphone app on iOS integrating reservations with OpenTable and Resy — leaving out Chicago-based Tock, a heavy hitter in the fine dining world and co-founded by Nick Kokonas of the Alinea Group. The company’s flagship restaurant in Lincoln Park is the only Chicagon venue with a full three stars from Michelin.

  • Michelin Guide to honor Chicago restaurants after pandemic-prompted delay. But what will that look like after a year with little dining? [Tribune]
  • Michelin Is Awarding D.C. Stars Based on Pandemic-Era Dining Next Week [Eater D.C.]
  • The Responsibility of Saving Restaurants Should Never Have Been Ours [Eater]

Pizza Friendly Pizza

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Empty Bottle

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Band of Bohemia

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