Chicago’s $195 Alinea, L20 Win Three Michelin Stars

Jean-Luc Naret
Michelin Guides Director Jean-Luc Naret. Photographer: Graham Barclay/Bloomberg

Alinea, the avant-garde restaurant whose chef once lost his sense of taste in a battle with tongue cancer, is one of two Chicago restaurants to receive the highest rating in Michelin’s debut red guide for the city, released today.

Michelin said it moved the announcement forward by a day after the Yelp website reported the results for all 23 of the honored venues, including the single-starred Spiaggia, the high-end Italian spot on the city’s Magnificent Mile, the shopping district along Michigan Avenue.

Chef Grant Achatz, 36, won three stars at Alinea for dishes such as “hot potato, cold potato” soup. Diners pull a pin holding the truffle-topped hot potato into cold soup before downing it like a whiskey shot. The restaurant charges $195 for a 21-course tasting menu.

Restaurant L20 also received Michelin’s top honor, but chef Laurent Gras has left the pricey eatery whose website lists set menus ranging from $110 to $245.

A reservationist at L20 said today that Gras was taking a “leave of absence.” Jean-Luc Naret, director of the guide, said he spoke with Gras this morning and doesn’t think the chef’s “mind is set yet” on whether to return.

The two-decade-old Charlie Trotter’s, where tasting menus cost $135-$225, won two stars; Naret called Trotter one of the country’s “great chefs.” Ria and Avenues were also awarded two stars.

President’s Choice

Rick Bayless, a favorite of President Barack Obama, received a single star for his Mexican-themed Topolobampo, the sister venue to his Frontera Grill. Bayless’s cooking was showcased this spring during Obama’s state dinner with Mexican President Felipe Calderon in Washington

Schwa, whose $110 nine-course menu might include apple pie soup with cheddar or tiger fish with marshmallow, also received a star for reimagined dishes crafted by its self-proclaimed crew of “culinary artists.”

Chicago is a hotbed of sorts for gustatory avant-gardism. The progressive TRU, like Schwa, received a star, while Moto, whose chef has been known to employ lasers and print edible menus, did not.

Restaurants that win the three-star ranking may see a 25 percent bump in business, said Naret in a separate interview before the results were released. Chefs and executives say that will ripple into an economic boost for the city, where unemployment still sits at more than 10 percent.

Chicago joins New York and San Francisco as the only cities in North America to have a 2011 restaurant guide from Paris- based Michelin & Cie., the world’s second-biggest tire maker. It produced the first Red Guide at the turn of the 20th century to encourage travel by car.

Three stars means “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey”; two, “excellent cooking, worth a detour”; one, “very good cooking in its category.”

The Chicago restaurants awarded stars are:

Three Michelin stars:

Two Michelin stars:
Charlie Trotter’s

One Michelin star:
Crofton on Wells
Graham Elliot
Longman & Eagle
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