A potluck kind of year
One last look back at 2012's Chicago dining scene
Dining highlights: Chicago contestants dominated last season's "Top Chef": Chris Jones, from left, Sarah Grueneberg, Richie Farina, Heather Terhune (background), Beverly Kim (foreground), Chuy Valencia. Grueneberg finished in second place among the 16 finalists. (Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune)
Charlie Trotter's wasn't the only restaurant to call it a career in 2012. We also said reluctant farewells to BLT American Brasserie, Bonsoiree, Crofton on Wells, Custom House Tavern, Duchamp, Erwin, Il Mulino, Le Titi de Paris, Moderno, one sixtyblue, Pane Caldo, Sushi Wabi and Zealous, among too many others.
On the plus side, some terrific new places debuted this year: Au Cheval, Balena, Bavette's Bar & Boeuf, Baume & Brix, BellyQ, Carriage House, Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House, Elizabeth, Frog N Snail, g.e.b., La Sirena Clandestina, Nellcote, RPM Italian, Tavernita and The Trenchermen. In just under the 2012 wire: The Boarding House, Bub City, Grace, Found, Little Goat and Little Market Brasserie. And let's include late-2011 arrivals Acadia, Bar Toma, Goosefoot and Slurping Turtle. That's a hell of a rookie class.
Awards and honors
Restaurant Magazine's "World's 50 Best Restaurants" included Alinea at No. 7; Elite Traveler magazine had Alinea at No. 1 on its list. Michelin Guide affirmed Alinea's three-star (top) rating, and elevated Graham Elliot and L2O to two-star status. Bon Appetit magazine included Balena and Yusho in its list of the country's best new restaurants. Food & Wine's 2012 best new chefs list included Danny Grant, of now-shuttered Ria. AAA awarded its top rating of five diamonds to Alinea, Arun's, Everest, Tru and — one last time — Charlie Trotter's.
A lot of 2012's new restaurants were high-end operations, among them Baume & Brix, Del Frisco's, Elizabeth, Goosefoot and Grace. L2O made a significant investment in its operation, creating special water tanks to ensure the freshest possible seafood for its customers. And though The Peninsula, Four Seasons and Waldorf Astoria hotels cut back on luxury dining, Trump Hotel went the opposite direction, recruiting top talent to elevate the experience at Sixteen. And rumors persist that a certain unnamed chef is planning to purchase Charlie Trotter's. I can probably get him a good deal on some tables.