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Chicago’s 2019 Michelin Stars Are Not Very Dramatic

Just one new restaurant joins the Michelin ranks this year.

A creation by Temporis, which received one star.   PHOTO: JEFF MARINI

Today, Michelin shared its annual list of restaurants to receive stars. So, how did Chicago’s dining scene do?

Honestly, almost nothing changed. This past year saw a number of closures of local Michelin-starred restaurants, so we naturally lost those stars. Grace, one of only two three-star spots in town, shuttered in late December 2017. Sixteen, which had two stars, closed in the spring and became Terrace 16, which didn’t make it onto Michelin’s 2019 list. GreenRiver and Naha also closed, dropping off the list of one-star restaurants.

What about additions? Well, there’s a total of one new recipient: Temporis, the small tasting menu spot in West Town, received a single star. The 20-seat restaurant, run by Sam Plotnick and Donald Young, opened in early 2017, and has been impressing visitors ever since — including anonymous Michelin inspectors.

“The meals came back consistently impressive across the board because the restaurant is displaying a great use of technique,” says Michelin’s chief inspector for North America. “There’s a personality that’s really distinct in the menu.”

That Temporis is this year’s sole recipient might surprise you, especially considering all the food media speculation about potential winners (perhaps Bellemore! George Trois! Giant! Bar Biscay! S.K.Y.!). The chief inspector did mention a few of these spots when I asked them what else was on Michelin’s radar, noting that Bellemore, Mordecai, and S.K.Y. were “places we found really interesting.”

So why didn’t they make the cut? What inspectors really look for, it seems, is consistency. “When we go and an inspector has an experience, it’s key that the next inspector has the same experience,” says the chief inspector.

Personally, I remain convinced that Michelin undervalues Chicago dining. Numerically speaking, Chicago is far behind basically everyone in the Michelin game. With 22 starred restaurants, we have nowhere near the number that New York or San Francisco has (respectively, 72 and 55). The guide also seems to favor Europe, which isn’t surprising since it originated as a French guide, but does appear to lead to some unfair results. Heck, the entire nations of Belgium and Luxembourg (which are grouped into one guide) have 144 Michelin-starred restaurants, despite having vaguely comparable populations to Chicago. Maybe their chefs are just 654 percent better than ours? But that still seems wrong, given the many publications that have recently lauded Chicago’s restaurant scene as the best in the nation.

Another interesting tidbit that factors into Chicago’s number of stars is how Michelin defines the city’s boundaries for its purposes. When Michelin first created a dedicated guide to the city in 2010, it included suburban restaurants (Vie, for example, had a star). Today, not one suburban restaurant has one. I asked the inspector about the boundaries Michelin sets, and was surprised by the answer. Firstly, the suburbs are now off limits (“for this year,” a Michelin representative says, when reached by email). ​Secondly, the entire city isn’t even under consideration. The spokesperson laid out the guide’s current boundaries: “North to Andersonville, Edgewater & Uptown, West to Humboldt Park & Logan Square/Pilsen & Bridgeport, South to Hyde Park.”

Boundaries notwithstanding, perhaps our best restaurants just fall somewhere between the quality of those that deserve Bib Gourmands — the awards for more “affordable” dining spots — and those that deserve stars. Chicago’s most amazing spots tend to be pretty expensive, and perhaps they are not formal enough or super perfection-obsessed to make it onto the star list. But that’s also why we love dining at places like Giant, m.f.k., Bar Biscay, and El Che Bar. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely they’ll ever make the list.

Congratulations to all the winners (you can see a full list of starred restaurants here). Now it’s time to start speculating about the next year’s stars.

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