Alinea, Ria, Charlie Trotter's among Michelin-starred restaurants in 2012 Chicago guide
Ria's Danny Grant, Alinea's Grant Achatz and Charlie Trotter's eponymous restaurant are among 21 restaurants awarded Michelin stars in the 2012 Michelin Guide Chicago. Tribune photos by Heather Charles, Zbigniew Bzdak and Alex Garcia.
That’s the message being conveyed in the 2012 Michelin Guide Chicago, whose star ratings were announced Tuesday afternoon. Only Alinea, which also earned three stars in the 2011 guide, received Michelin’s top rating this year.
This 2012 list of starred restaurants is clearly, and likely deliberately, conservative. Last year, Michelin’s inaugural Chicago guide gave star ratings to 23 restaurants; this year, the number has been reduced to 21. If the idea was to reinforce the notion that Michelin stars are difficult to attain, well, point made.
Disappointingly, this year’s list does little more than affirm Michelin’s 2011 ratings. Apart from changes related to closings or chef departures, the year-apart star ratings are numbingly similar. Those who hoped that Michelin’s second Guide would recognize more areas of excellence among Chicago’s restaurants will find this list anticlimactic.
The complete Chicago Guide includes 432 area restaurants, a considerable increase from the 342 restaurants listed in the 2011 Guide. But the addition of 90 restaurants made barely a dent in the list of starred establishments.
At the three-star level there is only Alinea. The two-star recipients are Charlie Trotter’s, one of Chicago’s finest restaurants for nearly 25 years, and Ria, the youthful but spectacular dining room in The Elysian hotel. Both are repeat winners.
"That's beautiful news," said Ria chef Danny Grant, who took over for Jason McLeod in January. "I'm ecstatic. I was definitely worried about (losing a star) being that it's a transitional period for the restaurant. When a chef leaves, you typically lose a star. For us to retain it, I knew we had to be doing far better food than a year ago."
Missing from the top tiers are L2O and Avenues, albeit for defensible reasons. L2O, a three-star recipient last year, dropped to one star, likely due to the loss of founding chef Laurent Gras (who actually departed more than a year ago). Avenues, which received two stars last year, closed after the departure of chef Curtis Duffy in September.
As in 2011, this year’s Michelin list includes 18 one-star restaurants, with only a few changes. Dropped from the list are Sixteen, its chef situation unresolved after the loss of opening chef Frank Brunacci; NoMI, the Park Hyatt dining room that reconcepted into the more-casual NoMI Kitchen late last year; and Crofton on Wells, which inexplicably was denied the star it earned a year ago.
New to the one-star list are the demoted L2O, and Moto, Homaro Cantu’s experimental fine-dining restaurant.
"Last year it was really difficult for me because we weren't even on the list. That was really hard to take," Cantu said. "I'm happy that they've finally recognized us."
The happiest faces likely can be found at Courtright’s, the Willow Springs restaurant that joins Vie, in Western Springs, as the only suburban dining rooms with a Michelin star.
(Note to suburban Michelin hopefuls: Move to a town with “Springs” in its name.)
“We are so excited; we got a Michelin star!” said Courtright’s owner Rebecca Courtright. "Jerome (Bacle, the chef) has tears in his eyes. Tomorrow is his birthday; I can't think of a better present. It's a day for champagne, to be sure."
Second-guessers (this writer among them) are more likely to question the snubs than the winners. The writing was already on the wall for Avec, Frontera Grill, Girl & the Goat, GT Fish & Oyster, Perennial Virant, the Publican and The Purple Pig, all of which received Bib Gourmand designations (“Inspectors’ favorites for good value”) a week ago.
But Michelin ignored a number of exceptional restaurants. Next, the sequel restaurant to Alinea and the most sought-after table in town, was passed up (perhaps the Michelin inspectors couldn’t manage a reservation). MK, Michael Kornick’s excellent contemporary-American restaurant, was omitted, as were Arun’s, Le Titi de Paris and Sprout.
In snubbing Les Nomades, the Michelin inspectors were right for the wrong reason. Les Nomades chef Chris Nugent left the restaurant last week, but word of his departure didn’t emerge until well after the Michelin Guide went to press. Perhaps because of such omissions and downgrades, some repeat winners viewed the news with a measure of relief.
"I really believe that to get a Michelin star is sometimes lucky, sometimes unlucky," said Takashi Yagihashi. "But to maintain a star, this is unbelievable for me.”
"I'm relieved and excited,” said Carrie Nahabedian of Naha. "Having traveled all over the world, when you get to (Copenhagen’s) Noma and realize they’re a two-star restaurant, I'm really happy being a one-star.”