My response to the Chicago Michelin Guide is…

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…a big shrug.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m very thrilled for the chefs and restaurants who received recognition and acclamation today, when the list of the Michelin starred restaurants in our fair city was released.  There were a lot of well-deserved mentions in my book – Alinea’s 3 stars (expected), Avenues’ 2 stars (thrilling) and Sepia and Takashi’s 1 stars (wonderfully unexpected).  I am very excited for the reinvigorated opportunities for the city to draw in more dining tourists (not that we don’t stumble over enough on Michigan Avenue, really).  I’m happy for my friends in the restaurant PR industry who’ll have lots of new marketing collateral to spin.  However, as I’ve been tweeting over the past several months, as a passionate, frequent Chicago restaurant diner, I really couldn’t give a hoot about the Michelin Guide.  I personally don’t feel the need for what I consider an outmoded evaluation model (something developed in the early 1900s to help French motorists out with their dining selections as they promenaded up and down the French countryside during the early, novel days of automobile travel) to validate what I think are Chicago’s best restaurants.  I already know that Alinea and Avenues are top dogs in this city’s competitive dining scene.  I know, because I’ve been to these restaurants several times and have gone home with some of the best culinary memories I’ve ever had and expect to have.  But I also know that the Publican, The Bristol, Urban Belly, and The Purple Pig (all given Bib Gourmand mentions, some sort of a second-tier recognition for restaurants that provide best value for great food, or something like that) and the surprisingly snubbed Avec (whose chef Koren Grieveson just won a James Beard award earlier this year) can give many of those restaurants deemed worthy of stars a bullet-sweating run for their money.  I also fervently believe that our city’s culinary razzle-dazzle owes a lot to the variety and diversity of ethnic restaurants that seduce our diners at every street corner.  If the Michelin Guide is truly a benchmark for the best restaurants in Chicago, then where are the mentions for Tac Quick or La Cebollita or La Pasadita or Sun Wah?  Oh, or maybe that hazy criteria developed for last-century travelers’ palettes couldn’t recognize the brilliance and energy and cojones of food that don’t have the least bit hint of anything French in them (and as James Beard award-winning food writer Josh Ozersky points out in an invaluable Time magazine piece:  what the hell is this criteria anyway?  They’re so vague, Jean-Luc Naret’s anonymous inspectors probably couldn’t qualify as Olympic diving competition judges).  Personally, as a 21st century Chicago food-conscious person whose palette spans continents and imaginations, the Michelin Guide is quite irrelevant.

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