Saturday, November 13, 2010
Michelin Stars in Chicago
We Chicagoans know we live in a great foodie city. The number of wonderful restaurants in this town is overwhelming- there is no need to eat at the same place twice in any 10 year period (unless you have an emotional attachment to places like I do to Piece and Dave's Italian Kitchen!). Sometimes, however, I don't think Chicago gets the credit it deserves for its culinary delights. So I was happy to hear that the Michelin Guide is coming to Chicago to award its coveted 'stars' to the best places in Chicago.
The Michelin Guide has been around since the 1900s. It started as a car and road trip guide in France, recommending restaurants and accommodations to motorists. (And yes, Michelin as in Michelin tires since the more you drive, the more you need new tires!) It has developed into "the most recognized rating system in the culinary world for all of Western Europe" (source: Wikepedia).
Unlike the Zagat guide that relies on restaurant patrons for reviews, the Michelin guide employs anonymous, professionally trained experts to review restaurants. Restaurants that have stars are actually visited multiple times a year to ensure they continue to earn Michelin's praise. Obtaining stars can make a chef's career, losing them can be embarrassing and potentially very bad for business. At least in the 22 European countries that have Michelin guides. However, when the guide first came to the US (NYC, 2006) there was much disagreement among local critics and diners about the choices, leading some writers to consider the list a "flop".
Whether it ends up exciting, aggravating, or neutral, the first every Chicago Michelin stars will be announced on 11/17/10. I choose to be excited. I'm anticipating Moto, Alinea, Blackbird, Graham Elliot, Charlie Trotter's, L20, just to name a few. I hope Piccolo Sogno makes the list as well.
This week, Michelin released the Chicago "Bib Gourmand" list which highlights restaurants that are "picks for good value" and "offer a two-course meal and a glass of wine for $40 or less". Kind of an ambiguous description, but most foodies love lists they can eat their way through (or at least discuss the merits of), and I'm sure this will be no exception. The list is called "Bib" because bibedndum is the company's nickname for the Michelin Man. Adam told me that Michelin announces the Bib Gourmand restaurants by drawing a chalk Michelin Man on the sidewalk in front of the winners.
Click here for the list w/ links to the opentable reservations page for the places that use opentable.com.
My thoughts on the Bib Gourmand list? All it claims to be is a list of good places that you can eat at for under $40. I don't have any quibbles with the list using that exact definition. But there is huge variation in quality of restaurants on this list. It doesn't seem fair to list excellent higher end places with excellent ingredients, creative chefs and well-attended-to ambiance like Publican and Nightwood, with places like the Purple Pig. I can see why Paul Kahan (executive chef/co-owner of Publican) would be irritated.
I have a lot of eating to do because I've only been to 9 places on this list! But here are my (brief) comments on the ones I've been to:
Girl & the Goat is worth a visit. Small plates, and interesting options (including, of course, goat). Be adventurous with your ordering. Cute, fun, would go with a small group or two couples. The buzz in Chicago is that "ooh, you can't get in there, it's too popular". B.S. Go at 5 pm and you can walk right in! (Don't be afraid of the early bird special, people!) See my full review here.
Maybe I experienced a different Paramount Room than every one else or maybe the place changed, but the one time I went there I was not all that impressed. I remember dark, unhealthy, and not worth the caloric splurge.
Ahh, Hopleaf. Back before Adam and I got more creative and started trying (many, many) more places, Hopleaf was a staple for us. It's a beer bar in the front, but mid to high range dining in the back. I would recommend going in the winter for two reasons. 1) the ambiance is dark wood, fireplaces, etc--> best when you are snuggled up in a sweater looking at the snow from the warm inside and 2) the food is HEAVY. The stew is incredible, but let's face it stew is heavy. So go for a ski, work up an appetite, (shower), and come to Hopleaf!
UrbanBelly appears from the outside to be a hole-in-the-wall place in a strip mall. It is literally next to a laundromat and half of the parking spots say "Laundromat parking ONLY" in bright yellow paint (um...tacky). But the brief menu is full of delicious noodle and rice dishes. The place was listed on Travel & Leisure's "50 Best New Restaurants in 2009". The ambiance is....okay. I'm just not into low, communal picnic tables. But great for lunch! And it's byob so can be a really cheap dinner date if you are NOT looking for romance!
La Petite Folie is a culinary haven in the restaurant desert that is Hyde Park. High end, but not pretentious. Worth a visit if you are in Hyde Park. However, there are so many amazing places in Chicago, I can't say it's worth the drive if the drive is inconvenient (i.e. you don't have a car).
Nightwood is a high-end restaurant in Pilson. It is tasty, w/ the usual high-end menu features. The ambiance is good as long as you don't sit by the front window. Request to not sit by the front window! The views of a run down street don't make for romantic dining.
De Cero is an excellent taqueria on Randolph. If you like tacos, it is worth a stop. Kinda loud, kinda cramped, but that's fine if you are just stopping in a for a taco and a margarita. I remember the service being slloooww, but maybe that has improved.
The Purple Pig is a small plates, heavy on the pork, heavy on the fried fatty foods place, just off the Mag Mile. Outdoor eating area is nice enough (though a loud, busy street just below), inside is cute but loud. Good, cheap, wine list. But if you want good pork, spend the extra money and have a wonderful experience at Publican instead of going to the Purple Pig. How it made Bon Appetit's 2010 List of 10 Best New Restaurants in America, I'll never understand. See my full review here.
The Publican is worth a visit. Pork heavy but also good seafood, cheese and other tasties. Excellent beer list. Great ambiance. I only went for appetizers and drinks thus far, but the rest of the menu looked great and I've heard nothing but great things from people who have been there multiple times (for example, my husband).
That's it for now! Stay tuned for the highlights Michelin star list on 11/17/10. And go start eating (after your long run, of course)!