2013 Michelin Star Handicapping
As we are less than three months away from Michelin unveiling Chicago's 2013 Michelin awards, I thought it might be fun to make some predictions and have a thread to discuss what people expect to occur. Here is my two cents:
Newly Starred Venues:
1) Next: Grant Achatz' other restaurant I feel was unfairly snubbed last year be Michelin. Hopefully by now the inspectors have figured out how to procure tickets. While Next's complete transition every four months into a new restaurant poses challenges for Michelin, now that they have been around enough they have proven that the quality is consistently outstanding from menu-to-menu as is the service. Just as many more traditional fine dining venues change menus with the seasons, Next should not be punished for making drastic changes to the cuisine offered so long as they consistently deliver at such a high level. While I Feel they deserve Two Stars, I predict they will be awarded One Star.
2) El Ideas: This venue has the potential to be overlooked by Michelin due to it's tiny size (16 to 20 guests most evenings), out of the way location and cutting edge concept. However there is so much buzz about El that it will be hard for Michelin to ignore them. I have been lucky enough to diner here three times in the past year and each experience has been amazing both in terms of the food quality and the overall experience and there is great service to boot (Front of House manager Bill Talbot is one of the best in the business) and the chefs are all extremely visible and engaging. Eating here is like dinner and a show in one! My prediction: One Star.
3) Goosefoot: Chris Nugent was snubbed while at Les Nomades, but Goosefoot (not quite a year old yet) is already far better tghan Les Nomades in terms of food, service and ambiance. Chef Nugent has put together an awesome team, is often very visible taking time to mingle with guests along with his wife Nina (the general manager) and the food as Goosefoot is some of the best in the city. About the only flaw is that the menu has not changed much since the opening; in 2013 I would like to see a bit more variety - but this is a small beef when the food is so darn good. Prediction: One Star this year with the potential to earn a Second Star down the road.
4) North Pond: North Pond also was snubbed last year; beautiful setting, exquisite food and now a huge James Beard award for Chef Sherman. While service sometimes can lag below the food and ambiance here, I think that Michelin will be awarding North Pond One Star this go round.
5) Sixteen: Sixteen lost their star last year after losing it's executive chef, but now they have added a ton of high end talent. Front of house manager Will Douillet, new executive chef Thomas Lents and pastry chef Patrick Fahy have the potential to make Sixteen one of the city's best restaurants. While they are still in transition and not yet in their prime I predict they will earn back One Star this year and definitely have potential for becoming a multi-star establishment by 2014.
6) Girl & The Goat: Wildly popular, many feel GATG was snubbed when it was awarded Bib Gourmand status in lieu of a Michelin Star last year. I think this was a mistake and hopefully Michelin award GATG One Star this time.
Chicago will lose it's two remaining Two Star venues due to Ria and Charlie Trotters shuttering. As such I think there is a good chance that a couple of current One Star venues will be elevated to a Second Star. Here are the venues I feel have the best chance: Tru, Blackbird, Boka and L2O.
It is possible that no One Star venue will lose it's star this year (other than Seasons which shuttered), though the following I feel are at some risk:
1) Takashi: I have made it to 14 of Chicago's starred restaurants this past year, and Takashi IMHO was the weakest. I may however have been here on an off night, but this place just does not receive much buzz compared to most other Michelin starred venues.
2) Schwa: Due to the craziness and some inconsistencies that occur there, though no doubt the food is Michelin star quality.
3) Bonsoiree: The first Michelin star restaurant I ever dined at and I celebrated my 40th here. The reason I feel the Michelin star may be at risk here is becuase Chef/Owner Shin Thompson is turning the reigns over to a new team; while Chef Beverly Kim is extremely talented and they now have a first rate sommelier (Rachel Lowe), it seems as though they are converting into a totally new restaurant and they may not be open long enough for Michelin to adequately judge them. If they do lose their star I expect this to be temporary as from what I am seeing they are going to be as good as ever, and may even be stepping things up a notch. Bonsoiree is currently briefly closed as they transition in the new team and make some renovations, but is set to reopen next week and the menu and pictures they have been sharing on Facebook look amazing. I can't wait to try Bonsoiree 2.0!
Close but no Cigar:
1) MK: Many feel MK was snubbed the past two years. While I agree (and feel they deserve One Star) it just does not seem that anything is new there from last year, so I predict they will be snubbed again.
2) Sprout: I feel that Sprout is very close and they have added a nice tasting menu since last year, but I think they are still growing and may be one more year away from earning a coveted star. Though I would not be surprised if they were awarded One Star this year.
3) Acadia: I feel that Acadia needs one more year to grow and mature, but should reach One Star level by next year. Myself and some friends have had some subpar experiences at Acadia whereas other friends have been amazed by this venue. It seems as though both the quality of the cuisine and service is a bit too inconsistent at this point, but I feel that by next year they should be able to work things out. They are definitely headed in the right direction and have star potential.
4) iNG: Chef Homaro Cantu's sister restaurant to Moto. More casual and far less expensive than Moto, this is one of my wife and mine favorite venues and it has been fun to see it evolve. The menu changes here every six to eight weeks and often revolves around a theme. Extremely fun and creative food - you kind of feel as though you are dining in a science laboratory. Miracle Berries are utilized to change the flavor of some of the courses (both the food and the included beverage pairings) through temporary causing sour foods to taste sweet. iNG has improved so much during the past year and while I would love to see them earn a star, my guess is that Michelin is not quite ready to award this to them. If they continue improving (which they are more than capable of doing so), perhaps next year will bring iNG a starry night.
1) Grace: Curtis Duffy's highly anticipated venue will likely open to late this year to receive Michelin consideration this time through, but should have multi-star potential next time through if it lives up to the potential.
2) Elizabeth: This will be another small and unique venue that may fly under the radar at first, by Iliana Regan's new restaurant (likely opening this September) has the potential to be amazing. She is uber talented and creative (she formerly ran the One Sister Underground Dining series) and this will be another place that combines dinner and a show into one and that will have a very approachable and interactive chef. Also adding to the experience here is most of the food will either be grown, hunted, fished, or foraged by Chef Regan herself. Hopefully Michelin takes notice of this restaurant as I believe there is One Star potential here for next year.
Here are a few venues I have dined at in the past few months that I feel deserve Bib Gourmand recognition:
1) Socca - Chef Roger Herring's fusion of French and Italian cooking. Nice ambiance, great servers, friendly bartenders, awesome menu that is constantly changing as Chef find's fresh ingredients, and a highly visible Chef who mingles with the patrons. All sorts of fun events such as Wednesday night Market Dinners, lobster boils, steakhouse night, Farm Dinners etc. Nice brunch available too and outstanding pizettes. One of my favorite venues.
2) Balena - Boka Group's new modern Italian venue.
3) Sola - Chef Carol Wallack's Hawaiian venue. Another place with great food, nice ambiance and friendly staff. Great brunches here too.
4) Home Bistro: Small BYOB modern American venue in Lakeview featuring lots of nose-to-tail dishes. Great food and extremely reasonable prices.
5) Hearty: Another Lakeview joint featuring New American cuisine.
6) Peasantry: Alex Brunacci's (owner of Frank n' Dawgs) new joint in Lincoln Park. Wildly creative food, fun ambiance, great microbeer selection and friendly staff (including Alex' wife Ellen who serves as the general manager).
7) Ripasso: Chef Theo Gilbert's Italian venue in Bucktown. Friendly, family vibe and high end Italian cuisine at very affordable pricing. Great cocktails too and fun events and classes.
Here's my prediction:
Certain New Entry:
1. EL ideas (* or **)
2. Goosefoot (*)
3. Sixteen (*)
Possible New Entry:
1. Les Nomades (*)
2. Tallgrass (*)
3. Acadia (*)
Unlikely but Not Impossible New Entry
1. Inovasi (*)
2. Yusho (*)
3. Next (*)
4. Trencherman (*)
5. North Pond (*)
6. Premise (*)
Off the List:
1. Charlie Trotter’s
1. L2O (**)
If the reviewers can't procure tickets to Next, and don't feel like jumping through hoops to get them, then Next shouldn't be on the list at all. It doesn't matter where it belongs, or that it belongs, they have no obligation to award it anything from a bib to *** if it's an impossible meal to obtain.
While I agree they have no obligation to award Next anything, I do think that Michelin has a duty to make a concerted effort to score reservations to a restaurant that is a serious contender. Many high end restaurants are popular and require work to secure a reservation. If they did put legitimate effort into trying to have some meals at Next and were unsuccessful, that is understandable - but if they decided they just did not want to deal with the ticket system, IMHO that would not be wise.
Girl and the Goat is the most interesting to me, because I think that the restaurant is still basking in the glow of the Top Chef win for Stephanie Izard. I've been maybe 5 times in total and I have never been wowed. The service is subpar and the food is very hit or miss. Disappointing wine list too. For a similar style of food in the same neighborhood, I think Avec is a better option.
Speaking of Top Chef, I like Takashi a lot. The food is very consistent, although it doesn't "wow". I wonder if the buzz of the show will sway Michelin voters. He's doing well so far.