From the ridiculous to the sublime? Why I don't get Michelin star restaurants...
I've said a lot about Big 'Murrican Food. What about the small, really small world of Michelin Star restaurants?
I'm hoping this article spawns some discussion that might help me understand one of the great mysteries of life that I just cannot fathom.
Within my typical Sphere of Existence, I can drive 43 miles for a Tikka Masala, 49 miles for a decent bowl of Pho, or 750 feet for a Pork Tenderloin sandwich pounded out wider than a LP record. I can also without much difficulty make my way to about 20 restaurants (in Chicago) that have earned a Michelin Star in 2019. Three of those, Acadia, Oriole, and Smyth earned 2 Stars, and Alinea has 3 Stars. Therefore, not everyone with a blue American passport wants Baconator cheeseburgers or baby back ribs that have been smoked, glazed in brown sugar, deep fried and finally sauced.
Well, that's misleading in itself, since fewer than half of us have bothered even now to actually obtain a passport. This provides a nice, convenient boundary from which I can (and do) make many sweeping generalizations. But even among us that do in fact hold one, there are subsets of us who would sign up for a Michelin Star dining experience. And, there are those of us like myself that never have, and unless a truly unforeseen compelling motivator crops up, never will.
I love food. I love bold tastes. I love writing about food; talking about food. Food takes up far more of my hard drive than it should. I also appreciate care, cleanliness, variety and freshness. But, and there's no way I can possibly attach a single label to any of this without looking like more of an unsophisticated ass than I already am, I just don't GET any of this.
In order of least to most personally infuriating:
Acadia - 2 Stars - Contemporary
"Michelin-starred Acadia is an airy, upscale restaurant serving seasonal New American dishes inspired by coastal Maine."
I am going to be kindest to Acadia because: it is named after one of the most beautiful areas of America; some of their dishes actually contain recognizable portions of the mammal, bird, or fish it is based on; and it is possible, although unlikely, to get out of there under $100 per person, if you aren't drinking.
Still, its Contemporary cuisine basis results in much of the 'modern art on a plate' dishes that characterizes these acclaimed establishments. Dishes built with tweezers and scalpels instead of knives and tongs. My wife simply calls it "foofy food". I'm just overwhelmed by the desire to scoop it all at once with a soup spoon and wolf it down.
Smyth - 2 Stars - Rustic Chic
"Listen closely and you might hear John say, “Omaha!” as a reference to quarterback Peyton Manning and code to his chefs that he’s changing a dish."
Every city has an area populated by insufferable Trust Fund babies 'slumming it' for a couple of years before displaying their vulgar inherited wealth in a zipcode with exclusive private schools. In Chicago this is the 'West Loop', and the next two places are crown jewels of this bastion of the tragically under-stimulated.
The owners cite their 'five inspiring years' in deeply Appalachian Smyth County in Virginia, where they 'found their voice'. I mean, I've been there. It's very rustic, smoky and fragrant, and I do admit taking away inspiration during my time there. Me, I wanted to figure out how long I could sit on a porch in a rocking chair without having to change my drawers. Them? They wanted to see how many tiny edible flowers they could drop onto a sliver of raw pig fat and then charge people $200 for it.
Oriole - 2 Stars - New American Tasting
"Never bending to industry trends, the dishes and service at Oriole give guests a thought-provoking and interactive experience..."
The pretension of the whole industry. I guess that's my broad brush. You'd expect this kind of commentary from somebody from a rural farm community. I can honestly say, though, that while I fear change, I also find it necessary to understand WHY everything is what it is and what it is becoming. I honestly would like to know a good reason why someone would choose to go here. I honestly would like to know how the whole Michelin rating system works, and who is it working for?
Is it the concept that, if you had a stack of hundred dollar bills on a desktop, and you knew there was many, many more where that came from, that you could light each one on fire, one by one, just to smell the flames?
Alinea - 3 Stars - New American; Molecular Gastromony
"Alinea is not a restaurant....in the conventional sense of the word."
In 2019, this was the 7th Best Restaurant......in the Worrrrrrld! Assuming there is such a panel that is qualified to provide this ranking, good heavens, what criteria are they applying here? Is it that the tiny yellow flake in the dessert above...um, I think that's a dessert? I assume the glossy beige dab is some sort of ice-cream-adjacent food resting atop a postage stamp sized Stroopwaffel thing. It might be a salad, though. How would you know? How do they know?
Our author is having an identity crisis today. Could you help him through it?