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What's a Michelin Star Worth? For EL Ideas, It Meant Validation, Not Crowds

By Stephanie Lulay | November 10, 2014 6:29pm
 EL Ideas chef Phillip Foss hopes his Douglas Park restaurant will receive a coveted two-star Michelin rating this year. He'll get the news on Tuesday.
EL Ideas chef Phillip Foss hopes his Douglas Park restaurant will receive a coveted two-star Michelin rating this year. He'll get the news on Tuesday.
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DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay

DOUGLAS PARK — On Monday morning, Chef Phillip Foss was sitting at a table in his dining room, pondering the most nerve-wracking call he will answer all year.

Foss' EL Ideas, located at 2419 W. 14th St., is a 28-seat micro-restaurant in Douglas Park that offers contemporary, cutting-edge prix fixe meals for $145 per person. Last year, the 3½-year-old restaurant received a highly coveted one-star rating in the 2014 Chicago Michelin Guide for the first time. Twenty-four other city restaurants earned at least one Michelin star, including Alinea —  the only Chicago restaurant to receive three stars — and Grace, Graham Elliot, L2O and Sixteen, which each earned two stars.

This year's rankings come out Tuesday afternoon, although the news could start trickling out early Tuesday. 

Foss covets a second star this year. On Monday, as he was awaiting a call to find out his ranking this year, he reflected on the impact the one-star rating and listing in the 2014 Chicago Michelin Guide had on EL Ideas.

"As opposed to being this place that was just considered underground and under the radar, I think now we may have arrived in a lot of people's eyes," he said. "It's validated us to a degree."

Still, while the rating itself has brought in some new clientele to the out-of-the-way spot, the business boost has fallen short of Foss' expectations, he said. But in the restaurant industry, it's hard to say exactly what affects business, he said — be it polar vortex, the economy, or a rave review from a new customer.

"Overall, there's a climate of trepidation [in Chicago]. Even though it appears that the economy has rebounded nicely, gas prices have been going down, and I've spoken with other restaurateurs as well, and there seems to be less people going out in general," Foss said. "So it's hard to know what's a part of what."

All in all, EL Ideas is making more money, but that's because after three years in business, the team has become more efficient at creating the same ambiance on a tighter bottom line, Foss said.

Foss said he didn't know when the reviewers returned to his restaurant over the last year and whether his restaurant was on its ''A game'' that night and whether he'll get that call.

It's a "tortuous process," he said. 

"Look, nothing's definite," Foss said. "I'm looking to get two stars. If we get one star? Eh, fine. I'm not going to be as exalted as last year. But, if we lose it, I'd be pretty devastated."

Foss compares the whole system to a man who becomes attracted to a woman.

"Maybe a one star is she recognizes you and she gives you her phone number," the chef said. "Two stars is she's ripping off her clothes for you."

Conversely, "taking a star away is she's sleeping with your best friend and you don't even want to show your face in public."

The full list of Chicago restaurants that garnered a star rating will be released at 3 p.m. Tuesday, according to Michelin Guide spokesman Tony Fouladpour. Michelin released its "Bib Gourmand" list of midpriced restaurants last week.

Star, stars or no star, EL Ideas is "not about perfection ... It's about the pursuit of it," Foss said.

"It's not going to change what we're doing, but we do put a lot, a lot of weight in it," the chef said. "Getting accolades is like heroin. When you don't get it, you're not good. You're not happy."

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