Every year, I predict which Chicago restaurants will receive Michelin stars, and how many. And every year, my optimism has exceeded reality (although I was awfully close last year).
Michelin will announce the lucky winners Wednesday afternoon, so here we go.
A lot of potential questions were answered when Michelin released its Bib Gourmand list last week. The Bib Gourmand is a fine honor, recognizing quality, good-value restaurants. But if you’re a Bib recipient, it means you’re not getting any stars.
So I already know that such Bib Gourmand perennials as Avec, Fat Rice, Frontera Grill and Lula Cafe will not be moving to star status. I thought Pacific Standard Time, which opened this spring, was a strong candidate for a star in its first year, but its inclusion on the Bib Gourmand list put that speculation to rest.
Conspicuously absent among the 2019 Bib Gourmand winners (although we’re getting the news now, officially this is the 2019 Michelin Guide) is The Publican. It’s inconceivable to me that Michelin would simply drop the restaurant. I think The Publican is headed for one-star status.
I think we’ll have three or four additional new one-star winners: Bellemore, the highly accomplished West Loop restaurant; S.K.Y., Stephen Gillanders’ Korean-inspired Pilsen spot; Temporis, which I thought should have gotten a star last year; and Mordecai, the Wrigleyville restaurant whose chef, Jared Wentworth, has won Michelin stars for two previous restaurants.
The dark-horse candidate is Free Rein, which opened in the St. Jane Hotel in July. Chef Aaron Lirette has received Michelin recognition in the past, for his work at now-closed, one-star GreenRiver. But given its recent opening, Michelin inspectors might not have had enough time to visit the place.
Of the 19 restaurants that received one star last year, the only ones I see dropping off are GreenRiver and Naha, both of which closed this year. It’s possible that the Michelin Man will see his way clear to promoting Boka, Blackbird, Spiaggia or Topolobampo, all of which merit consideration in that regard.
I keep waiting for Michelin to recognize Momotaro; its omission puzzles me every year. Perhaps Naha’s closing will inspire Michelin to recognize Brindille, Carrie Nahabedian’s “other,” formal-French restaurant. But inasmuch as only one French restaurant in Chicago has ever won so much as a single star (Everest), I’m not holding my breath.
It would be lovely to see George Trois snag a Michelin star, and for Vie, which was once awarded a star, to reclaim that glory. But those restaurants are in Winnetka and Western Springs, respectively, and given the utter lack of suburban Bib Gourmand winners this year, it seems certain that Michelin’s focus remains within the city limits.
I expect some shakeup at the two-star level. Sixteen, which has been a two-star restaurant for five years straight, seems certain to disappear after changing its name to Terrace 16 and simplifying its menu. Michelin very much admires chef Nick Dostal, and it’s possible Terrace 16 will receive one star. But my guess is no.
Acadia has been a two-star restaurant for the last three years, and Oriole has been a two-star restaurant for the last two; I think they’ll both hang on to their stars. I don’t think there’s any way that two-star Smyth would be demoted, but I’m thinking that John Shields and Karen Urie Shields’ splendid restaurant might just make it to the three-star level.
The closing of Grace means that Alinea is the only restaurant holding Michelin’s maximum three-star rating. Alinea has received three stars for eight straight years; I think a ninth-straight three-star rating is a lock.
I boldly predict that Chicago will receive 21 one-star designations (16 returns, 5 newcomers, 1 promotion), three two-star designations and two three-stars. If I’m right, the 26 awarded restaurants would equal the record number set in the 2017 guide. (25 restaurants received stars last year.)
We’ll know how close I came Wednesday.
Three stars Alinea Smyth
Two stars Acadia Oriole Topolobampo
One star Band of Bohemia Bellemore Blackbird Boka Dusek’s Board and Beer EL Ideas Elizabeth Elske Entente Everest Goosefoot Mordecai North Pond Parachute The Publican Roister Schwa Sepia S.K.Y. Spiaggia Temporis