Michelin Awards L20 $198 Meal 2nd Star, Snubs Achatz Next

L2O, a Chicago seafood restaurant that’s more expensive than New York’s Le Bernardin, has earned a second Michelin star, the “Guide Rouge” announced today.

The upgrade is a victory for Richard Melman, the Chicago restaurateur who has struggled to repeat the early Michelin success of L2O, the crown jewel of his “Lettuce Entertain You” family of restaurants.

Matthew Kirkley is the third chef at L2O in as many years: Laurent Gras famously quit the restaurant after it was awarded three stars in 2010; Francis Brennan replaced him, but left shortly before Michelin awarded the Lincoln Park establishment one star in 2011. L2O charges $198 for a longer chef’s tasting and $138 for a shorter menu.

L2O under Kirkley is “distinctly different,” said the editor-in-chief of the North American Michelin Guides, who doesn’t give out her name to maintain her anonymity. “It’s not like he’s trying to just improve upon what was done in the past year or the year before that. He’s doing his own signature cuisine.”

The avant-garde Alinea, owned by chef Grant Achatz and ex-derivatives trader Nick Kokonas, remained the city’s only three-star establishment, while the duo’s Next was denied a star for the second year in a row.

The Chicago Tribune’s Phil Vettel has awarded Next his highest rating of four stars in all but one review. The Fulton Market spot overhauls its menu every three to four months; it’s currently serving long Kyoto-style kaiseki meals.

Four Times

“For Michelin, it’s something that doesn’t work for a variety of reasons within our criteria,” said the guide’s editor. “How can you truly determine the level of consistency given that they’re doing this complete conceptual overhaul? It’s almost a different restaurant four times a year.”

Graham Elliot won a second star for his eponymous flagship; the River North restaurant serves innovative New American menus for $75, $110 and $160.

New entrants to the one-star category included Acadia, Goosefoot, Mexique and Sixteen.

“I wholeheartedly hope and expect that there will be one if not two more three-star restaurants in Chicago very soon,” said the guide’s editor.

Three stars mean exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey; two stars are for excellent cooking, worth a detour; one star denotes a very good restaurant in its category.

Michelin & Cie., based in Clermont Ferrand, France, and the world’s second-biggest tire maker after Bridgestone Corp., produced its first guide in August 1900. It was distributed free (until 1920) and intended for chauffeurs.

The “Michelin Guide Chicago 2013” goes on sale tomorrow for $18.99.

The Chicago Michelin Guide 2013 starred restaurants are:

Three Stars:

Two Stars:
Graham Elliot

One Star:
Longman & Eagle

Muse highlights include Jeremy Gerard on theater and Greg Evans on television.

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