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Michelin Guide Sat Nov 20 2010

Reflections on the Michelin Guide Chicago: Omissions & Geographical Oddities

Now that the Michelin Guide Chicago has made it into people's hands, probably one of the biggest surprises to those familiar with Chicago's dining scene is what's not in it. Hot Doug's, one of the city's most celebrated restaurants, is not in the book as a full listing -- it's relegated to a mention as a "Chicago Classic" in the introduction for the "Lakeview & Wrigleyville" section. Among other prominent absentees are Morton's, Katsu and Spoon Thai. While everyone will be disappointed to see one of their favorites overlooked (my beloved Tanoshii also didn't get a mention), these are restaurants that regularly appear on lists of the best in their genre -- in Hot Doug's case, even transcending genre -- and their absence is glaring.

Regarding the omission of Hot Doug's, Michelin Director Jean-Luc Naret said, "Well, hot dog stands are really stands. We only really do restaurants where you can sit down and enjoy food." So clearly, neither he nor the guide's inspectors have ever been to Hot Doug's, where you can quite easily sit and savor your meal. Considering the outcry from readers and journalists alike, you can bet it will be in the next edition.

daley_naret.jpgDespite ignoring hot dog stands as a genre, Naret went out of his way to compliment Chicago on the variety of dining options available. "We try to represent what Chicago is all about, but it's not easy because it is really the only city in the US where we find such a diversity. A diversity in terms of not just types of cuisine like you find in other cities in the US, but really diversity in terms of the scale. You have the very avant-garde and creative chef -- like Grant [Achatz] and some of the others -- and on the other side of the scale, you have really basic foods such as pizza, steakhouse, hot dogs. The diversity, I think, is very unique to Chicago."

Strange geography always seems to plague travel guides, and the Michelin Guide Chicago is no exception. The "North & Northwest Suburbs" region includes the West Side from North Avenue up, plus the city north of Devon Avenue -- yet reaches no further into the suburbs than Rosemont and Park Ridge to the northwest and Skokie and Evanston to the North. The "South, Southwest & Western Suburbs" begins at I-55 (sorry Hyde Park, you're not in the city anymore) and stretches west all the way out to Lombard and Downers Grove (though not Naperville), but only as far south as Bridgeview -- the far South Side below 87th isn't even included. We're left to wonder how many of Michelin's anonymous inspectors live in the western suburbs -- it's the only area where the guide gets farther than one town beyond the city limits. Nothing against LaGrange, but how two restaurants in LaGrange merit mention but none from the North Shore do is mystifying.

Naret didn't have a very satisfactory answer. "We try to focus on all of Chicago, and from there, focus on, 'OK, where's the limits of Chicago,' and really, there is no limit," he said. "We were very happy to find restaurants all across the limits, some of which happened to be in the suburbs. For first selections in the first year of a new city, we concentrate mostly on the city and the neighborhoods around it."

Meanwhile, within the city, Albany Park's Semiramis, Noon-O-Kabab and Arun's show up in "Humboldt Park/Logan Square," and Devon Avenue favorites that should be in the "Andersonville, Edgewater & Uptown" section according to Michelin's own map (a dubious placement in and of itself) end up in "North & Northwest Suburbs" instead. Chicagoans are used to seeing tourist-oriented guides make a mess of neighborhood boundaries, but these are some of the more arbitrary groupings I've seen. Imagine the confusion ahead for some poor traveler telling a cab driver to take him to that great Logan Square restaurant, Arun's.

"The more we are here, the wider the selection the restaurants will be," Naret said. "More restaurants will be included, including in the suburbs, because the level of the restaurants that actually didn't make this year's selection will start to concentrate on getting better next year. That's what we've seen in every single country and every single city we've been in. We see the level of gastronomy will rise."

That may be the case with some of the city's high-end restaurants, but it's rather presumptuous to think that Chicago's restaurant community at large will step up its game simply because the French are watching. Below the top tier, a restaurant's Yelp rating is probably a far more immediate concern. If anything, it's Michelin who will need to rise to the challenge of covering Chicago's diverse dining scene more completely and effectively.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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