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And the three Michelin stars go to ... Alinea.

Grant Achatz's Lincoln Park restaurant was the lone recipient of the travel guide's highest honor, the tire company announced Tuesday.

Charlie Trotter's and Ria in the Elysian Hotel were awarded two Michelin stars.

L2O, which earned three stars last year along with Alinea in the inaugural Chicago Michelin guide -- just as its chef, Laurent Gras, abruptly left the restaurant -- was downgraded to one star. Seventeen other Chicago area restaurants also earned one star.

Off the list entirely were Crofton on Wells and three swanky hotel restaurants -- Avenues, NoMI and Sixteen. Avenues in the Peninsula Hotel, earned two stars last year; chef Curtis Duffy left the restaurant in September to open his own restaurant, and Avenues is now closed as it regroups. Sixteen in the Trump International Hotel and Tower also saw its chef, Frank Brunacci, leave; he now runs an Australian truffle importing business with his wife. NoMI in the Park Hyatt underwent a makeover earlier this year, reopening as the slightly more casual NoMI Kitchen. Crofton on Wells, NoMI and Sixteen all earned one star last year.

New to the guide this year are moto, the taste bud-bending West Loop restaurant from chef Homaro Cantu, and Courtright's, a 16-year-old Willow Springs restaurant. Both earned one star.

"It's an incredible honor," said Bill Courtright, who runs Courtight's with his wife, Rebecca. "We built this restaurant out there in the middle of nowhere and built it because we loved the Michelin restaurants we visited in Europe. We thought you didn't necessarily have to be in the heart of the city, and if you paid attention to detail and did things right, you could make it happen anywere."

Courtright's was one of only two suburban restaurants to make the starry cut. The other is Vie in Western Springs.

The Michelin Guide got its start in 1900 as a hotel and restaurant guide for visitors to the World's Fair in Paris.

Three Michelin stars denote restaurants with "exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey." Two stars represents "excellent cuisine, worth a detour." One star: "a very good restaurant in its category."

In addition, there is a "Bib Gourmand" designation denoting good food and good value. Fifty-six area restaurants made that list.

Inclusion in the guide, whether with stars, a Bib Gourmand or simply as a listing, is viewed as an honor -- and a motivator. "We want two [stars]," Courtright said.

The guide goes on sale Nov. 16 for $18.99.

The full list after the jump.

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[Magnolia Bakery's inviting interior. | Courtesy Magnolia Bakery]

Three glucose level-raising items in one:

The famous Magnolia Bakery opens at 10 a.m. Saturday in Block 37 on State Street. The New York bakery (now a chain) is oddly late to the party in Chicago, considering it, for better or worse, was the one who turned the cupcake into the tender, unstoppable beast it is. Crumbs, another New Yorker, was up and running in January and is expanding faster than Matt Damon a la 'The Informant' -- five Chicago stores by the end of the year; Sprinkles, from Los Angeles, opened here last summer. And then there's all those cupcake trucks. Just so you know: Magnolia sells more than just cupcakes. Remember muffins? And brownies? Ever heard of banana pudding? It will sell those, too.

Table Fifty-Two, Art Smith's civilized Southern eatery at 52 W. Elm, will be operating a walk-up sweet stand. Saturday mornings in October. Pastry chef CeCe Campise will offer just two sweets from 8 to 11 a.m. on the restaurant's front porch: jam-filled doughnuts ($3) and hummingbird cupcakes ($4). Coffee will be a buck. (Oh, by the way, Magnolia also does a hummingbird cupcake.) Let's hear it for the walk-up -- not to be confused with the pop-up.

Digressing from cupcakes, the Sweet Spot Macarons truck, which got our attention a few weeks back, is holding its launch party from 8 to 10 p.m. Oct. 6 at the Burlington Bar, 3425 W. Fullerton. A nice, quirky touch: $1 PBRs with the purchase of a macaron ($1.50 a piece, or 3-pack for $4.50). "What doesn't go well with $1 PBR?" said owner Galit Greenfield, rather rhetorically, in an e-mail. Due to Yom Kippur that weekend, Greenfield says she will officially hit the streets on Oct. 10.

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The next season of Bravo's "Top Chef" is thick with Chicago talent. Six of the 29 competing chefs -- Heather Terhune (right) of Sable Kitchen & Bar, Spiaggia's Sarah Grueneberg, Chuy Valencia of Chilam Balam, moto's Richie Farina and Chris Jones and Beverly Kim of Aria -- call the Windy City home.

The Nov. 2 premiere will dovetail nicely, as it always does, with the finale of "Top Chef: Just Desserts," on which the Bristol's Amanda Rockman has thus far been rocking things out.

Stephanie Izard, she of that restaurant you may have heard of called Girl and the Goat, still claims the title of the only female "Top Chef" winner (and the only one from Chicago, if you don't count Rick Bayless, who won the first "Top Chef Masters" and is adding "thespian" to his resume.) Whether Izard will have company in these other hometown chefs remains to be seen, but they've all got the chops. Set your TiVo.

[Heather Terhune knows something, and she's not telling. | photo by Al Podgorski~Sun-Times]

Last call at Avenues Sept. 3

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Saturday is the last day of Avenues in the Peninsula, in its current incarnation.

Chef Curtis Duffy, who led the restaurant to two Michelin stars last year, announced in August he was leaving to open his own restaurant in the city. Sept. 3 will be his final dinner service, after which the hotel will close the restaurant to figure out "a concept change and re-branding process," a press release issued Friday said -- though the space will be made available for private events, and for a series of wine dinners hosted by wine director Michael Muser (which sounds like fun; Muser's a character whose title belies his general puckishness). The search for Duffy's replacement is under way.


[Duffy back in the day. | photo by Jean Lachat~Sun-Times]

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[photo by John J. Kim~Sun-Times]

Another day, another "Top Chef' season premiere.

The second installment of "Top Chef: Just Desserts" premieres at 9 tonight. Representing Chicago is Amanda Rockman, who's responsible for all things
sweet and tart at the Bristol. With the show and a a second restaurant in the works, the momentum is behind Rockman.

You'll see other familiar faces this season, including the 'Kings of Pastry' themselves, Jacquy Pfeiffer and Sebastien Canonne, founders of Chicago's French Pastry School. Pfeiffer and Canonne judged a key episode this season; Pfeiffer also says the caliber of this field of contestants is higher than the last, which had its share of highly entertaining drama.

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Amanda Rockman, pastry chef at the Bristol, 2152 N. Damen, talks up the tart in today's Food pages, and shares a recipe for a lovely buttermilk tart with fresh cherries and a mascarpone cream one might be inclined to bathe in rather than dollop artfully on top.

Make this tart, because Rockman's spot-on suggestions yield such rewards for very little effort. I'm always on the lookout for a good crust - this one's a winner (and a reminder of why the food processor rocks).

And make this tart so you can say you did it before Rockman gets all famous. On Aug. 24, she'll make her TV debut on Bravo's "Top Chef Just Desserts," the only Chicago chef-testant in the field of 14. (The first season had Chicago's Malika Ameen bowing out under pressure.)

[photo by John J. Kim~Sun-Times]

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[photo by Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times]

For his cookbook debut, Homaro Cantu could easily have gone the shiny, coffee-table paperweight route.

Instead, Cantu, the Cheshire cat-like chef and owner of moto and iNG on West Fulton, is working on a diet book. A miracle berry diet book.

The little-known African berry temporarily re-sets your taste buds to taste sweet in even the most sour, bitter things. Cantu has been experimenting with it at moto and iNG, offering at the latter a kitchen table miracle berry menu. By the fall, he says, he's going to transition iNG to a miracle berry menu-only restaurant.

His obsession with the fruit goes back about six years, when a customer asked Cantu if he could somehow help her friend, who was in chemotherapy, taste again. What he came up with: a miracle berry-infused paper strip that allowed her to taste food as it should taste.

He still makes those strips -- about 500 "doses" weekly -- and sends them to chemo patients gratis. At home, the berry is part of his two young daughters' diets. "Every day after school, they ask for miracle berry and a lemon," Cantu says. Once while gardening, curious about how grass tastes with miracle berry, he and one of his girls tried it. Her response: "It tastes like basil."

Developing recipes for the book has been a bitch. There's a reason why cookies have sugar -- to add sweetness, but also texture, aroma and color. It took Cantu's team six weeks to figure out a sugarless cookie.

Cantu's ice cream recipe has 800 fewer calories than the average recipe, "and it's good enough to have at Ing or moto," he says.

The 150 or so recipes in the book are mostly sweet, and all require that you eat the berry (in tablet form) beforehand; its effects last for 30 to 45 minuts. Cantu says those who buy the book will get a discount on the berry tablets.

His plans for miracle berry are bigger than his backyard, and his diet book (due out next spring). The fruit and the tablets are expensive, but if he can get the prices down -- which he believes he can if the inhalable form he's developing comes to market -- Cantu says this could be the "silver bullet for obesity."

With miracle fruit in the mix, soda is merely soda water and lemon juice. Who needs sugar in it, or anything? "Why try and fight the big soda companies when we can just empower the end user to make it themselves?" Cantu wonders.



The Chicago edition of BlackboardEats, which serves up restaurant and retail food deals exclusive to its subscribers, launches today. The site already operates in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco.

How does it work? Much like other sites. Sign up as a suscriber, then watch your inbox each week for deals and passcodes. You have 24 hours to retrieve a passcode; the deal -- typically 30 percent off -- is valid for between 30 to 60 days.

Generally, restaurant deals are posted on Tuesdays and Thursdays and products on Wednesdays, but the Chicago edition is starting slowly, with one deal a week on Thursdays.

The first deal is a doozy -- a $60, five-course, "flavor-tripping" prix fixe at Ing, 951 W. Fulton, courtesy of miracle fruit-crazy chef Homaro Cantu. The meal comes with two drinks, though you could argue it's four -- with your taste buds under the influence of miracle berry, the drinks themselves will change flavors as you tipple.

At the helm of BlackboardEats Chicago is writer and chef (and Sun-Times contributor) Louisa Chu, who likens the site to the recently launched Gilt Taste and Open Sky, both of which rely on well-known voices (Ruth Reichl, Tom Colicchio) to recommend restaurants and products. (Other Chicago writers pitching in editorially for Blackboard Eats include David Hammond and Lisa Shames, also Sun-Times contributors.)

The deals won't all be high-end, says Chu. There is one in the works, for example, with Calumet Fisheries on the Southeast Side.

Ultimately, says Chu, the goal of Blackboard Eats Chicago is to get us off our butts.

"So many of us talk about the great restaurants and chefs we really love and yet, the last time we've been there was five years ago," she says.

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[photo by Scott Stewart~Sun-Times]

Food trucks and the people behind the wheels get some love in Wednesday's Food pages. The cover story is on successful picnic fare, and who better than these mobile maestros to tell us what sorts of foods travel well.

Gaztro-Wagon's Matt Maroni (above), perhaps the most enterprising of them all, shares a recipe for smoked pork shoulder, while Joaquin Soler gives up a version of the Thai-ish brisket he sells on his Brown Bag Lunch Truck.

For those looking at the print version of Soler's recipe, there is an error. The recipe calls for 2 cups brown sugar, but the correct amount should be 1/4 cup.

We also felt it prudent to include with the story a current list of trucks up and running, what they're serving and where you can find them. One more revision to the story: Food Truck Tuesdays, on the northwest corner of North and Halsted, has been extended to run through August.

Next restaurant's first shift -- from Paris 1906 to Tour of Thailand -- is on pace as promised. Chef Grant Achatz dangled the first carrot with a tweet Tuesday promising "Tickets on sale soon" and a link to the menu, and followed up with a bunch of photos from a menu run-through.

This morning, the restaurant announced: "Tickets will likely go on sale for Friday through Sunday tomorrow afternoon. We will follow with the rest of the season shortly thereafter."

So how to get tickets to the arguably the hottest dinner ticket in town? Sign up, if you haven't already, as a new user at nextrestaurant.com, then stretch out your wrist in preparation for the constant mouse-clicking about to ensue.

The restaurant says it has tweaked its software to hopefully make the ticket buying experience a bit more seamless than last time. Still, stretch those wrists.


About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.

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