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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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[courtesy Next]

If you didn't get to eat the opening menu at Next, you can at least attempt to cook it.

The 126-page digital cookbook, which details every course of the 1906 Paris menu at Grant Achatz's ever-evolving restaurant (which has since served Thai food and is now in "Childhood" mode), will be released on iTunes Tuesday. It includes exacting recipes, down to the gram and tenth of an ounce, for every morsel served in the Escoffier-inspired menu, more than 200 photographs and a video of that famous pressed duck course (see below).

"Paris: 1906" costs $4.99 and is available for the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. Next co-owner Nick Kokonas says it already is ranked second among iBooks' best-selling cookbooks as a pre-order.

Production on the Thai menu iBook is nearly complete, and the Childhood iBook is in the works, he says.


The esteemed Michelin restaurant guide on Wednesday tapped 56 Chicago restaurants as offering the best bang for the buck.

Restaurants with the "Bib Gourmand" distinction -- which according to Michelin offer two courses and a glass of wine or dessert for $40 or less -- include the popular Avec and Belly Shack, from chefs Koren Grieveson and Bill Kim; Smak-Tak, a Northwest Side Polish restaurant known for its generous servings of stick-to-the-ribs food, and the Andersonville gastropub Hopleaf.

Michelin inspectors have been eating their way around Chicago for the past year. The first Michelin Chicago guide was released last year.

On Nov. 15, the tire company will release its list of the crème de la crème of Chicago's dining scene -- restaurants who have earned Michelin stars.

For the full list of this year's Bib Gourmand picks, click here.

Last call at Avenues Sept. 3

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5-28 Lachat duffy 1.jpg

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]

Here's a $40 deal for tonight: A four-course dinner at Browntrout, 4111 N. Lincoln, and conversation with Spence Farm's Marty and Kris Travis and Jennifer Olvera, author of the Food Lovers' Guide to Chicago and Sun-Times contributor.

This is a good group. The Travises are warm and chatty, as most farmers tend to be ("We always joke that the problem with farmers is they talk too much," Rob Gardner, editor of the Local Beet website, once told me). And they are a familiar topic for Olvera, who has written about their famous ramp digs in the spring and about their son Will making a name for himself with the maple syrup he taps on the property. Marty's recipe for cornbread using, naturally, his own whole-wheat flour, remains one of my favorites.

The evening begins with a 6:30 p.m. reception, followed by dinner at 7 p.m. (Add $30 for wine pairings; copies of Food Lovers' are included in the dinner price.) Oh and, those ramps are on the menu, in pickled and vinaigrette form. Call (773) 472-4111.

For more upcoming farm dinners, check out our September calendar. And add this one to the list: 7 p.m. Sept. 22 at Blue Sky Bakery, 3720 N. Lincoln, just down the road from Browntrout. Three courses, featuring the meats of Mint Creek Farm, for $30.

IMG_6885.jpg [These can be yours for under $50. | Courtesy Big Star]

Want a piece of uber-hip taco/tequila bar Big Star? Or maybe just a fork?

The restaurant, along with its brethren Avec, Blackbird, Publican and Violet Hour, is collecting all their unused dishes, cutlery, glassware, appliances, furniture and more for a sidewalk sale. The goods, ranging from $1 to $50, will be for sale from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday at Big Star, 1531 N. Damen. We're told most items will be under $10.

Proceeds from the sale will go toward repair of the beautiful Garfield Park Conservatory, which suffered major hail damage after a fierce July storm.


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.

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.


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The Pump Room will stay the Pump Room, in name at least.

Hotelier Ian Schrager, who is renovating the famed restaurant and the Ambassador East hotel at 1301 N. State, invited Chicagoans two weeks ago to vote on whether to keep the Pump Room name or change it to Gold Coast Kitchen.

The result: "It was a landslide," Schrager says -- 95 percent of the nearly 20,000 votes in favor of "Pump Room" (though that figure dipped a bit in the last few days).

Schrager bought the flagging property last year and is in the midst of a total overhaul of the hotel -- to be called Public -- and the restaurant, which opened in 1938 and in its heyday was a celebrity stomping ground, the place to see and be seen.

"All we wanted to do was what the people of Chicago wanted, so we figured we'd ask them," he says.
NWC1.jpg

Schrager, who pioneered the "boutique hotel" concept, is sensitive of his role as an outsider -- a New Yorker, at that -- coming in to shake up the hospitality scene. Hence, the naming campaign.

"I think it's a little bit of a treacherous balancing act that we're doing," he says. "We're trying to balance the heritage but also do something innovative and responsive to the era we're in now."

Schrager still wants the Pump Room to be a place to see and be seen. But the reinvented restaurant will take a farm-to-table approach and will serve three squares a day, as well as a late-night menu.

The food will be "reasonably priced"; hotel room rates will start at $135.

Schrager has put New York chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten in charge of the restaurant. The chef heading up the kitchen day to day, though, will be Bradford Phillips, an Indiana native whose resume includes Blackbird, NoMI, Tru and, most recently, LM Restaurant, a French bistro in Lincoln Square.

The hotel and restaurant will open its doors in September, Schrager says.


Amid the hubbub at his attention-getting, concept-changing restaurant, chef Grant Achatz will focus his energy Tuesday in a different direction: cancer research.

Achatz will cook a 13-course dinner tomorrow at Alinea for 50 people, at $2,500 a head, to benefit head and neck cancer research at the University of Chicago.

The U. of C. is familiar territory for Achatz, who was treated there for tongue cancer, an experience he wrote about in his memoir published earlier this year, Life, On the Line. achatz-FOO-0302-21.JPG

This is the third year of his fundraising dinner, an idea he pitched to the U. of C. When Achatz was seeking opinions on how to treat his cancer, the medical team there was the only one that told him they wouldn't have to cut out his tongue.

"Ater treatment, obviously it became very important to me to support medical institutions that think outside of the box," Achatz says. "In talking with doctors, ironically, a lot of this forward-thinking movement in medicine is severely underfunded because the medical institution as a whole is very old-school."

Alinea is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. "I was like, 'Look, we can have my staff donate their time,' " he says.

Attendees pretty much get the run of the place. "We make it fun, and the food's pretty good," Achatz deadpans. "So on top of the ticket price, a lot of times, they'll write an additional check."

The event has netted about half a million bucks.

About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

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

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