Amid ongoing backlash at the decades-old dining-guide-cum-tire-magnate for becoming increasingly passé, Chicago’s third helping of Michelin stars is set to arrive next week. The Bib Gourmand winners were announced today, and the Michelin guide itself goes on sale to the public on November 13. Restaurants are traditionally notified by phone on November 12. Since predicting the winners and talking smack about the actual winners is a bit of a sport among food circles, we pulled out our tarot cards and looked for clues as to how the stars might align this year. Actually, we just went over to @MichelinGuideCH, an inadvertently hilarious record of the inspectors’ dining adventures around town.
While the critics operate under the chippy catch-phrase “famously anonymous,” their Twitter account offers a bizarre and unnecessarily personal glimpse into the lives of Chicago’s guides. There are more mentions of bathrooms and Blackhawks (we counted eight) than chatter about last year’s two- and three-star restaurants combined. Want to know what might swing you a star? Well, they’re a fan of the 1960's Japanese television series Ultraman, get a kick of watching the elderly struggle to read menus in the dark and seem to find a perverse pleasure in the possibility of eating beloved wintertime seer Punxsutawney Phil. And if you can figure out how to express "implied simplicity” with food, they like that, too.
Four of last year’s 36 Bib Gourmand restaurants have closed (Maison, Urban Union, Xni-Pec de Yucatan and West Town Tavern), showing that accolades from the guide do not guarantee survival. Chef departures from other restaurants will probably expose changes as well—we chalked Graham Elliot’s two-star win last year up to the work of chef Andrew Brochu, who left before the award was garnered. With adjustments and turnovers at places like Boka, some star recipients could be headed for an upset.
2013 has been a remarkable year for Chicago restaurant openings, giving the guide plenty to work with when it comes to new additions. The restaurant most notably tailored to Michelin’s sensibilities, Curtis Duffy’s Grace, was gunning for three stars before they’d even settled on the window treatments. Trenchermen, Bavette’s (the inspector likes picklebacks) and Brindille ("elegant in every way"), among others, have drawn significant critical acclaim both regionally and nationally, and weren't on the Bib Gourmand list (though Brindille's price point wouldn't make it a contender in that category).
Opening late in 2012, Elizabeth, the first outside the Alinea group to use Next’s ticketing system, is a strong contender as well (the inspector thinks Iliana Regan has a "nymph aura"). Other new spots that seemed promising, like Tanta (where the inspector said the food isn't as strong as the chef's PR) and Oon ("Eversman needs to step it up"), didn’t go over well with the inspector.
Next remains the Michelin Guide’s perpetual elephant-in-the-room, without even a mention over the past two years. We find it hard to believe that getting tickets is a problem—anyone who can recognize Paul Kahan walking down Randolph Street can probably navigate Next’s reservation system. Awarding 2014 stars to restaurants like Elizabeth and Sixteen (chef Thomas Lents will "knock your socks off"), where menus undergo similar seasonal overhauls, while still failing to acknowledge Next, would be a flat-out snub.
And so, here is our list of predictions for the 2014 Michelin Guide Chicago. Of course, these aren’t all the restaurants we would single out for acclaim—you’ll have to wait for next spring’s Eat Out Awards for the real deserving winners from 2013.
Alinea (The sole three-star winner last year)
Next (If this doesn't make the list again, we can't take Michelin seriously.)
Graham Elliot (Brochu left, so we expect them to drop to one star.)
L2O (It got two last year but Michelin didn't mention it this year.)