The 2013 Michelin Guide, published last week, awarded stars to 19 Chicago restaurants, and bestowed Bib Gourmands (signifying good restaurants that offer good value) to 19 more. And congratulations to each and every one. But recognizing 38 restaurants means not recognizing a whole bunch more.
Where is North Pond? Where is Sprout? Where is Les Nomades? Well, I could go on, but here is a list of some very good places the Michelin Man passed up.
Allium ✭✭✭ 120 E. Delaware Place, 312-799-4900. Fine dining is on the wane among Chicago's top hotels, but that's not to say that good dining is hard to find. When the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago shuttered Seasons dining room in favor of this new creation (named for the vegetable family that includes onions, leeks and garlic), it gave executive chef Kevin Hickey license to create a dining room with a genuine Chicago sense of place, and to apply his considerable craftsmanship to such simple-sounding dishes as steak tartare (rendered with bison meat), onion tarte tatin and a hot dog whose every component (poppyseed brioche bun excepted) is made in house. Open: Breakfast, lunch, dinner Monday-Sunday. Prices: Entrees $14-$32. Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Strongly recommended. Noise: Conversation-friendly. Other: Wheelchair accessible; discounted valet parking available.
Autre Monde ✭✭✭ 6727 W. Roosevelt Road, Berwyn; 708-775-8122. After a fire knocked Autre Monde out of business for most of the summer, this cozy Mediterranean spot, created by four restaurant veterans with ties to Spiaggia, is returned as Berwyn's fine-dining standard bearer. To the nation-hopping menu by chefs Dan Pancake and Beth Partridge, add an offbeat but well-curated wine list, some nifty cocktails and unaffectedly knowledgeable service. Open: Dinner Tuesday-Saturday. Entree prices: $12-$25. Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Strongly recommended. Noise: Conversation-challenged. Other: Wheelchair accessible.
Bar Toma ✭✭✭ 110 E. Pearson St., 312-266-3110. Tony Mantuano has Italian fine dining locked down with his four-star Spiaggia and Terzo Piano, the minimalist dining space inside the Art Institute, but in Bar Toma, inside the old Bistro 110 space, he's bringing casual affordability to Near North. Pizzas are the big menu draws (particularly the surreal, inflated bomba), but the robust plates populating the bar menu are the really impressive dishes, and the gelati (14 flavors daily) are not to be missed. Cathy Mantuano's value-driven, all-Italian wine list justifies a visit by itself. Open: Breakfast, lunch, dinner Monday-Sunday. Prices: Small plates $6-$17, pizzas $14-$19. Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Recommended weekends. Noise: Conversation-challenged. Other: Wheelchair accessible; valet parking.
BellyQ ✭✭ 1400 W. Randolph St., 312-563-1010. Bill Kim describes his Asian barbecue restaurant, the followup to his earlier Urban Belly and Belly Shack (both BYOs), as his "all grown up" concept. Certainly it's a bigger, more refined effort, with Kim's never-boring food bolstered by an impressive collection of cocktails, craft beers and kegged wines. The menu progresses from tiny bites such as Thai-style chicken nuggets, to complex salads, soul-nurturing hot pots and tea-smoked duck; grilled items you can cook yourself, provided you snag one of the infrared-cooktop tables (very much in demand), or if not, let the kitchen do it. Open: Dinner Monday-Sunday. Prices: Large plates $13-$23. Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Strongly recommended. Noise: Conversation-challenged. Other: Wheelchair accessible; valet parking.
Courtright's ✭✭✭✭ 8989 Archer Ave., Willow Springs; 708-839-8000. A stellar, sophisticated restaurant that radiates country charm, thanks to its tucked-away, forest preserve location, and an Arts & Crafts-style dining room whose picture windows overlook manicured gardens and the untrammeled nature beyond. To that add chef Jerome Bacle (ex-Le Bec Fin), a one-time pastry chef who still likes using fruits and nuts in even his most savory dishes. Uber-attentive service and an outstanding wine selection push the operation into the realm of the spectacular. And with a la carte and prix-fixe options offered every night, Courtright's is one of the most price-flexible experiences (especially at this star level) around. Open: Dinner Tuesday-Sunday. Entree prices: $28-$38, five-course tasting menu $75.Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Strongly recommended weekends. Noise: Hushed. Other: Wheelchair accessible, parking lot.
Frog 'N Snail ✭✭ 3124 N. Broadway, 773-661-9166. Dale Levitski, best known for his haute-cuisine turns at Trio Atelier and Sprout (he still cooks at the latter), went downscale for his latest restaurant, a low-key neighborhood bistro on a south-of-Belmont stretch of Broadway. Some choices, such as the signature frog-and-snails starter and scallops in a sort of deconstructed corn chowder, are bold, but Levitski can turn on the comfort-food charm when he wants to, as he does with curry-braised lamb with minted gnocchi. Open: Dinner Tuesday-Sunday, lunch Tuesday-Friday, brunch Saturday-Sunday. Prices: Entrees $14-$27. Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Recommended. Noise: Conversation-friendly. Other: Wheelchair accessible.
Hearty ✭✭✭ 3819 N. Broadway, 773-868-9866. Best known for their former Food Network show as the "Hearty Boys," partners Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh are "neighborhood guys" (their term) at heart, happiest running their cozy 55-seater on the north edge of Lakeview. Smith, the chef half of the equation, deftly pulls off contemporary riffs on comfort-food icons (rabbit hot dogs, tuna-noodle casserole), while McDonagh takes a similar approach to the ambitious cocktail list. Open: Dinner Wednesday–Sunday, brunch Sunday. Entree prices: $12-$24. Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Strongly recommended. Noise: Conversation-friendly. Other: Wheelchair accessible.
Inovasi ✭✭✭ 28 E. Center Ave., Lake Bluff; 847-295-1000. The name is Indonesian for "innovation," and that's pretty much what John des Rosiers delivers in this North Shore gem. Asian, Latin and Mediterranean influences abound in his melting-pot-American menu, where you'll find surprises like walleye sashimi and poached grass carp (plucked from a downstate lake) with chimichurri sauce. The interior decor includes echoes of the building's origins as a 1920s school, very much in character for a forward-looking concept that honors its roots. Open: Dinner Monday–Saturday, lunch Monday-Friday. Entree prices: $12-$22. Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Strongly recommended. Noise: Conversation-friendly. Other: Wheelchair accessible.
Nellcote ✭✭ 833 W. Randolph St., 312-432-0500. 2012 has seen a boomlet of restaurants I call nitropubs — notable for very good food, ambitious beverages and deafening, beat-driven atmosphere — and this Market District concept might be the best of the bunch. Taking its name from the seaside villa once rented by the Rolling Stones (where they recorded "Exile on Main Street"), Nellcote tries to replicate that time's sense of luxury, creativity and salacity, and by and large succeeds. Give most of the credit to chef Jared Van Camp (who also tends to Old Town Social), who's milling his own flour for the Neapolitan-inspired pizzas and cliche-free pastas. Open: Dinner Monday-Sunday, brunch Saturday-Sunday. Prices: Small plates $3-$15. Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Strongly recommended. Noise: Conversation-challenged. Other: Wheelchair accessible; valet parking.
NoMI Kitchen ✭✭✭ 800 N. Michigan Ave., 312-239-4030. Things are a little less formal these days at the Park Hyatt's superb dining room, and a little less expensive as well since NoMI became NoMI Kitchen. It's fair to say that NoMI remains a rather pricey night out, but the vibe is more relaxed and the menu more approachable, though executive chef Ryan LaRoche still makes room for tartines topped with avocado and sea urchin. Meg Galus' simple-sounding but sensational desserts are highlighted by her ever-changing tart creations. And the views, whether through windows overlooking Chicago's historic Water Tower, or on the outdoor aerie known as NoMI Garden, are always thrilling. Open: Breakfast, lunch, dinner Monday-Sunday. Prices: Entrees $26-$39. Reservations: Strongly recommended. Noise: Conversation-friendly. Other: Wheelchair accessible; discounted valet parking available.
Pelago ✭ ✭ ✭ 201 E. Delaware Place, 312-280-0700. The renovated Raffaello Hotel is home to this refined Italian dining room, an understated, white-on-white canvas for chef/owner Mauro Mafrici, who made a name for himself in New York before relocating to the Midwest. His craft is evident in the handmade pastas, which include lesser-known varieties as well as perhaps the finest ravioli in the city. Dessert options are augmented by a fine selection of imported cheeses. Open: Dinner and lunch Monday-Sunday. Entree prices: $17-$34. Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Strongly recommended. Noise: Conversation-friendly. Other: Wheelchair accessible; discounted valet parking.
Perennial Virant ✭✭✭ 1800 N. Lincoln Ave., 312-981-7070. City fans of Paul Virant's outstanding suburban restaurant, Vie, can save on gas now that the chef has established Perennial Virant in Lincoln Park. The decor (completely redone from the former Perennial look) echoes Virant's love for home preserves with light fixtures made from vintage Mason jars and shelving loaded with pickled fruits and vegetables, all of which are destined for the kitchen at some point. Open: Dinner Monday-Sunday, brunch Saturday-Sunday. Entree prices: $17-$25. Credit cards: A, M, V. Reservations: Strongly recommended. Noise: Conversation-challenged. Other: Wheelchair accessible; valet parking.
Quince ✭ ✭ ✭ 1625 Hinman Ave., Evanston; 847-570-8400. Andy Motto has done good work at the now-shuttered Le Lan and briefly at Old Town Brasserie, but he seems to have come into his own at this Evanston address, formerly home to Trio and Cafe Provencal. Motto's French-informed cooking favors nuance and complexity over lapel-grabbing power flavors, a good fit for the restaurant's understated good looks and the unfailingly correct but unobtrusive service. Open: Dinner Monday-Sunday. Entree prices: $23-$35. Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Strongly recommended. Noise: Conversation-friendly. Other: Valet parking.
Tallgrass ✭✭✭ 1006 S. State St., Lockport, 815-838-5566. Since 1981, fine-dining fans have been traveling to this restored Victorian house in the historic canal town of Lockport, and chef/partner Bob Burcenski and sommelier/partner J. Thomas Alves have always made it worth the trip. The silent cart that wheels dishes into the dining room, the silver-domed entrees themselves and the wholly unenforced "jackets requested" policy all speak to a quieter, more formal time, but the food itself is as fresh and relevant as anything you'll find in Chicago. Open: Dinner Wednesday-Sunday. Prices: Three-course dinner $48, four-course $58, five-course $68, seven-course $88. Credit cards: A, M, V. Reservations: Required. Noise: Hushed.
Trenchermen ✭✭✭ 2039 W. North Ave., 773-661-1540. This collaboration of chef/brothers Michael and Patrick Sheerin was a long time developing, but the final product is so entertaining the wait seems to have been eminently worthwhile. Begin with a steampunk-inspired dining room, which manages to retain elements of the building's bathhouse origins, and finish with a modern kitchen that gleefully turns influences inside out (an eggless avgolemono paired with cured-egg bottarga), combines aged duck with arancini and umeboshi and places tomato-molasses jam underneath cornmeal-dusted doughnuts. Open: Dinner Monday-Sunday, brunch Sunday. Prices: Dishes $8-$24. Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Strongly recommended. Noise: Conversation-challenged. Other: Wheelchair accessible; valet parking.
Yusho ✭✭✭ 2853 N. Kedzie Ave., 773-904-8558. If one thinks of Japanese food as an exercise in subtlety, Yusho will be a rude, which is to say exhilarating, awakening. Charlie Trotter's veteran Matthias Merges has chosen the road less traveled — specifically, a quiet stretch of Kedzie Avenue — for this small-plates, inexpensive restaurant that takes its inspiration from yakitori (grilled and skewered) dishes and Japanese street food. Dishes here boast powerful flavors, and even a short trip through the menu is apt to be a thrill ride. Open: Dinner Monday-Sunday. Prices: Small plates $3-$18. Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V. Reservations: Strongly recommended. Noise: Conversation-challenged. Other: Wheelchair accessible; street parking.
Phil Vettel recommends
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Pelago Ristorante (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune)