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I spent the weekend in Chicago, which is apparently the new frontier of American cuisine. I mean, they filmed the last season of Top Chef there. So, it must be true.
Actually, my main source on that first sentence is Alan Richman, food writer for GQ. Two years ago, he wrote a story about three of the country’s top young chefs, and the promise they held for American cuisine.
“If we’re going to be a great dining society, as we were on and off in the late twentieth century, we are going to require great chefs,” he spouted. “Their food will have to be plentiful, colorful, imaginative, entertaining, and focused—clearly reﬂecting what we represent.”
Guess where they all lived?
Since reading that piece, I’ve thought about Chicago…very little. It’s too cold there! From October to early May, you’d have to pay me to visit. But whenever the city crossed my mind, it was frequently because of some food-related topic. First, there was Top Chef. Then, there was this compelling New Yorker story about chef Grant Achatz, who lost his sense of taste after suffering from tongue cancer. Then, there was a list of restaurant meal options my friend sent me before my visit.
But, even before I’d tasted some of Chicago’s “plentiful, colorful, imaginative, entertaining, and focused” food, I had already pre-judged the city on one trend I noticed: silly restaurant names.
- Topolobampo: Or “Just “Topolo” – that’s what people-in-the-know call it,” according to the Web site. Anyway, “Topolo” is owned by renowned chef Rick Bayless, who is known for his Mexican cuisine. He also owns Frontera Grill, Topolobampo’s sister restaurant. “If Frontera rocks and claps, Topolo slinks. She is the quiet, sleek, classy sister. And she invites you into an elegant Mexican fantasy world and to dress up a notch for its incomparable, authentic, regional flavors.”
- Alinea: Achatz’s restaurant named “for the backward “P” symbol that proofreaders put at the beginning of a new paragraph,” according to the New Yorker article.
- Avec: The name means “with” in French. The restaurant, pictured above, looks like the world’s chicest log cabin. (I confess: I ate there. Chic log cabins don’t necessarily make bad eating environments. It was quite yummy, and the bill came to under $40 per person, quite a feat. )
D.C.’s dining scene may have some catch-up work to do on food. But, as far as restaurant names go, Chicago has earned no bragging rights.