Best 1 star in Chicago
Hi guys--I am new to this board but I have searched and read many great insightful posts here. I really appreciate this place!
By reading the posts I think there isn't as much disagreements about the 2 and 3 stars as the "best in Chicago" but since we have so many 1 stars things get fuzzier.
By reading the posts here my impression (could be wrong so please correct me) is that out of those 1 stars below,
L2O, Tru are considered better, somethign like a 1+. And I also hear people's positive comments about Everest and Schwa.
So the loaded question is, what is your opinion if we want to pick 5 best 1 stars from the list and maybe call them 1.5*? Your input is very valuable to me since I have limited time in Chicago and I don't have the time and money to survey them all. Thanks a lot !
Longman & Eagle
I haven't been to Courtright's, Moto, and Naha. But I've been to the rest on the list.
L2O and Schwa are the clear front runners for me, although I've only been to L2O when Gras was in the kitchen. So maybe that has changed. Besides these two, the other better ones on the 1-star list are: Blackbird, Everest, and Graham Elliot.
I am judging based on food only.
It sort of depends on what you like. My list would be very different from the previous one. I assume that I have a different palate and preferences. I tend to like the inventive over the commonplace. Service is important to me. So is consistency.
My top would be
I also really like Graham Elliot, Blackbird and Longman & Eagle, but they are VERY different from each other.
I have had great food, but terrible service at Everest. Moto is, IMO, vastly overrated. Schwa can (and has) cancelled service with no notice and while the food was very interesting, some of it was just odd.
Hope that's helpful
Agree very much on Blackbird, Graham Elliott and Longman & Eagle -- all very good, and hugely different from one another. I like each, but would put my top 5 ahead of them.
Longman & Eagle, in particular, is great if you're looking for a more casual, high-energy vibe. Loud atmosphere; no reservations; but great food. Chicago has a number of great restaurants that fit this description but for whatever reason didn't receive a Michelin star. Avec, Girl & the Goat, and Publican all come to mind.
Definitely depends what you're looking for.
There are others who disagree, but I think L2o, straight up, does not belong on the list. It's fantastic, and I was shocked that it took the plunge from 3 stars to 1 star.
With that said, the other four restaurants rounding out my list would be Naha, Schwa, Topo, and Tru.
There's a fundamental issue that hasn't been addressed, and that's the difference between a one-star restaurant and a 2 (or 3) star restaurant. Typically, compared with a one-star restaurant, a restaurant garnering two (or three) stars features higher prices ($200 or more per person including moderate alcohol and tax/tip, vs $70-120), lengthy tasting menus, formal attire, and more waitstaff with higher levels of service. I assume you're asking about the one-star restaurants because you do not want the features of restaurants with 2 or 3 stars, such as their higher prices etc. However, some of the one-star places - specifically Everest, L2O, Seasons, Spiaggia, TRU, and in some ways Schwa - could have just as easily gotten more stars, and are more expensive than the rest of the list. If you want the best food on the list of one stars, you'll want to concentrate on these six places, but if you want a place that's less expensive than the rest, you'll want to avoid these six.
I've eaten at most of the ones on the list. Again, I really don't think it's fair to compare those six more expensive places with the rest, due to the difference in price. But of the expensive places, my top picks are Everest, Spiaggia, and TRU. Of the less expensive places, my top picks are Vie, Boka, and Blackbird. I also think there are other places which did not receive stars that are as good as those which did; examples include North Pond, Michael, and Oceanique.
Next has two unique characteristics that affect how it's viewed and recommended. You may already be aware of them, but I need to mention them because it affects how Next is viewed.
1. The restaurant changes menus and concepts every three months. So what it's like for one menu may be totally irrelevant for another one.
2. The restaurant sells tickets for reservations in advance, and because there is high demand and a limited supply, you basically have to be very lucky to get them. You have to be logged on to their Facebook page at the exact instant they release tickets, which is not known in advance and they get snapped up within minutes. So you can waste hours on your internet browser with the hopes of landing tickets. (Paying a huge premium for tickets for sale on craigslist may be another option, with its own downsides.)
Because of #2 above, I would not include Next in a recommendation of places to eat in Chicago. Not because there's anything wrong with the restaurant, but because of how difficult it is to get tickets. I wouldn't want anyone to think they could just call up and make a reservation like you can for other restaurants that accept reservations, or just show up and wait like you can for restaurants that don't. Hope that makes sense.
As for how I would compare it to the one-star high-end restaurants (Everest, L2O, Seasons, Spiaggia, TRU, Schwa), I have only eaten at Next for its current ("childhood") menu, so my comments apply to that experience. The price was comparable to those other places (I paid over $400 for two dinners including tax/tip, one with $63 for standard wine pairings and the other overpriced with $38 for non-alcoholic pairings). I thought the food and its presentation was extremely creative and loads of fun, but I didn't think it was amazingly delicious. If you want creativity/fun along with amazingly delicious food, go to Alinea. If you care more about the food being amazingly delicious than creative/fun, go to one of the other six places.
If you're interested in why Next didn't receive any stars from Michelin, I've read quotes from tweets by Kevin Pang of the Tribune as follows: "Just spoke to Michelin Inspector. RE: Next: "We need to see consistency. To get stars, we have to go a number of visit..." and "With the concept changing on an ongoing basis, it was problematic. We went as many times as we could get in."
Thanks so much for your insightful and deep comments. Appreciated.
I heard that the guy/company that owns alinea also owns next. Is it true? So it seems Next is their lab--for food ideas, social media experiments and other things.. things they want to try out without risking the Alinea brand, which makes sense.
I agree with you that the tickets thing turns people off as the "hype" went way too far. I consider myself a guy who can appreciate arts in a museme setting, not an all-hyped-up-on-drug-concert-goer. I share the concept that "young and energetic" don't synergize well with "art"
Also it seems--again your expert opinion is appreciated here---that Alinea is a superset of next. Basically Alinea is a lot more mature and proven, yet has the same creativity and taste elements as Next has. So if you dine at Alinea a few time, you could skip Next without missing much. Would it be a fair statement to make?
I believe that Next is owned by the same two individuals - Chef Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas - as Alinea. However, I don't think it's in any way a "lab" for Alinea, but rather, it's its own place, a restaurant with changing concepts over time. I know Achatz continues to change things up at Alinea, but there doesn't seem to be any relationship with dishes he has tried out at Next.
As for whether you could "skip" Next, I think it really depends on the menus and what you're looking for. If you're simply looking for delicious food, Alinea can easily satisfy. But if you've always wanted to eat at El Bulli, or wanted to eat food from 1906 Paris, then those specific menus would be things you wouldn't want to miss at Next.
Incidentally, I don't think the concept of tickets in advance was inherently bad or offensive. What bothers me about it is that, as implemented, it seems like a tremendous time-waster. What they should have done is to say, tickets will be offered at such-and-such time(s), and when they go up, it's first come first served. Don't make people keep clicking on their Facebook page all day long. $.02
Facebook has a feature where you can subscribe via SMS (text) to any updates posted by a user. When Next released more childhood tickets a couple of days ago, I was on the site within 30 seconds and had a large array of choices to choose from for quite a while. Simple and effective. Eventually word got out more widely seemingly about 30 min later and the site got slammed. I strongly encourage anyone looking for tickets to use the SMS alert feature. You have to set up your phone in FB I believe but it is well worth it.
They also have a lottery system of sorts for same day tickets regularly. Not really great for out of towners but worth it for locals who could make it the same day.
Finally, they regularly bring in customers at the Aviary for a seating. I don't know the methods they use but people have reported success with that strategy.
Another feature worth noting if you can score tickets is the tiered pricing system. The tickets they just released included $35/pp seatings. While it may fit in line with the above places on a weekend from 7-9pm, you could easily be $30-50/pp under that mark at other times.
Fill your prime spots on friday/saturday with the places above and go to next for a lot less on other days; I think it compares quite favorably to places in the weekday price range.
FYI Next just released some important details on their Facebook page about Season Tickets (and will soon be putting a FAQ on their website). For 2012 they will have three menus (El Bulli, Sicily and Kyoto) and El Bulli will start the second week of February and run nearly four months. Season tickets will go on sale some time in January.
Having recently had the privilege of dining in both Next and Alinea I would not say one can "skip" Next if you eat in Alinea. While the two venues have some resemblance, they are completely different experiences. Next is definitely not a lab for Alinea, but does take some ideas from Alinea (as well as from The Aviary). They are both amazing and memorable experiences.
Personally, I don't put that much stock in their ratings. Alinea I get. Trotters at two with L2O, Everest, Spiaggia, Tru at one I question. That said, of your list I think the best in that bunch are L2O and Tru. I personally have had issues with Everest and Spiaggia is really, really expensive but they are both consistent and I think good choices. Next up, I like Blackbird, Bocka, Graham Elliot and Naha.
I haven't been to Seaons, Takashi or Topo recently enough to really give an educated opintion. I didn't love Sepia last year.