The time has come for the 2012 Michelin stars to be scrutinized.
I suppose I should at least address the topic… though my response may not be what you expect, and I never allow the guide to sway my personal opinion of the restaurants I consider most worthy of my patronage.
I’ll state the most outrageous point I have to make first: it’s Michelin folks (glean from the italics whatever inflection you wish). To guide you concerning the tone of my statement, I invite you to consider that they call themselves “inspectors” which gives them less of the puffy, friendly marshmallow man vibe and more of the invading, swooping force of chaos I have come to expect.
Here they are, in case you haven’t had them flung in your face yet:
3 stars: Alinea
(Absent from last year’s 3 star list: L20 which dropped down two star categories)
2 stars: Charlie Trotter’s, Ria
(Absent from last year’s 2 star list: Avenues)
Okay, deep breath. Annnnnnd go.
Yes, I believe that Chicago is full of amazing restaurants that deserve to be distinguished in some way. Yes, I have a hard time sorting out why certain restaurants are absent completely from this list… I have made the executive decision this morning to not talk about the actual star lists, and focus instead on another problem that I see as the crux of the issue.
As a preliminary hypothesis, could it be that the Bib Gourmand list -which is supposed to represent a list of restaurants that are good deals- is really a place where they put the honorable mentions that they didn’t deem deserving of a star?? Bear with me here for a second: in the Michelin guide the exact explanation of this category is “This symbol indicates our inspector’s favorites for good values. For $40 or less, you can enjoy two courses and a glass of wine or a dessert” I want to first note that perhaps it is possible to sit down at Avec or Maude’s or Purple Pig or Publican and order two courses and wine for under $40, but that’s not the point or even what happens realistically, is it? Places like Maude’s and Purple Pig and co. that specialize in smaller plates that are meant to be shared, inspire and almost dictate that diners will want to order as many as possible to get the full effect of the experience. It is unrealistic to put places, especially ones that are as popular and hyped as these, on a list of “good deals” because I guarantee 90% of the clientele is not worried about their pocketbooks when they’re gorging themselves on small plates.
Now, that is not to say that I believe that the Bib Gourmand recipients are not deserving of being on a list in Michelin, or that I believe that you can’t order frugally at these restaurants, but I would politely point out that this category is rather inadequate, see inappropriate. I suppose I just can’t fathom why The Girl and the Goat, Avec, West Town Tavern and Purple Pig are on the same list as Hopleaf and Ann Sather. Sure, Ann Sather makes a mean cinnabun, but they also throw sloppy piles of eggs on plates and call it breakfast. There is a time and a place for this, of course, but it’s just not even in the same ballpark in terms of type of experience.
And that is why I hypothesize that the Bib Gourmand is functioning as a sort of inadequate, safety net category for restaurants that Michelin thought they should showcase that did not receive stars, for reasons that will always remain unknown to the public. Not to mention, I think they have left some restaurants off this list. Why has it not expanded at all since last year, is 56 restaurants the arbitrary cap of this category?
Take Avec as an example, it made the Bib Gourmand list this year and didn’t make a showing at all in the honorary categories last year which was a shock to many… is Michelin just using the Bib Gourmands to throw certain chefs a bone to keep them off the path of revolt?
Et voilà, j’ai plus rien à dire, foutez moi la paix 😉
Here’s a complete list of 2012 Bib Gourmand restaurants: