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At 7:22 this morning a press release hit the mailboxes of Chicago's food writing herd, and it collectively galloped to its keyboards to paste in the list of 46 restaurants anointed with "Bib Gourmand" designations for the upcoming Michelin Guide Chicago. (The Trib was awarded the scoop.)
These aren't the prestigious star designations that will be bestowed next week but instead are defined as "Inspectors’ Favorites for Good Value" that "offer two courses and a glass of wine or dessert for $40 or less (tax and gratuity not included), and are often of most value to a city’s residents, who regularly dine in neighborhood restaurants." But Michelin's well-orchestrated announcement—preceded by chalk stenciling of its chubby rubber mascot all over the city's sidewalks—is only the beginning of a week's worth of hype and hand-wringing.
It has predictably resulted in a surfeit of Jean-Luc Naret interviews (two is one too many) and eruptions in the Twittersphere about the popular obvious choices (Girl & the Goat, the Publican), a few deserving surprises (Smak-Tak), and some serious WTF? (Twin Anchors? Ann Sather?). Same thing happens anytime anyone publishes a list in a city with more than 6,000 restaurants.
Of course, whether we like the selections or not, that's just what Michelin wants. Its objective is to sell guidebooks, and if Chicago isn't completely besotted by its pat on the back by the French, then neither will be the hordes of wide-eyed tourists they hope will buy the thing.
Like anyone else with more than a passing interest in restaurants, I'm curious about next week's release of the full guide. It will mean a great deal to some deserving restaurants and the local restaurant economy in general—at least for a little while. But just remember this guide wasn't compiled for you, Chicago, and as such you should resist the temptation to place too much importance on its pronouncements.
Let's all take a deep breath.