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Three-Star Michelin Rating Honors Grace Team, Made GM 'Cry Like a Baby'

By Stephanie Lulay | November 12, 2014 5:21am
 Curtis Duffy (left), chef/owner of Grace, and Michael Muser (right), general manager and partner, planned to celebrate their three-star Michelin rating in the restaurant's basement Tuesday night.
Curtis Duffy (left), chef/owner of Grace, and Michael Muser (right), general manager and partner, planned to celebrate their three-star Michelin rating in the restaurant's basement Tuesday night.
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Grace Restaurant

WEST LOOP — When Grace Chef Curtis Duffy got the Michelin call, his business partner and general manager Michael Muser started "crying like a baby."

On Tuesday, Grace, 652 W. Randolph St., joined Alinea as the city's only three-star rated restaurants, the Michelin Guide's highest honor. Grace is located in the West Loop, a hot spot for the city's most influential and inventive eateries, including Alinea chef Grant Achatz's other restaurant, Next, and The Aviary, a bar.

Muser said he and Duffy were alone in the Grace gallery — the front lounge area of the restaurant — when Duffy's cell phone rang at about 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.

The pleasant and energetic Michelin rep asked Duffy what he was doing and said she had some great news.

"Curtis was just elated. Our entire team was waiting back in the kitchen," Muser said. "We shared a quick hug and I said, 'Let's go tell the kids.'"

Less than an hour after receiving the news, Muser said it was those "kids" — Grace's team of chefs and other key staff members — that made the rare three-star rating possible.

"Everything is really them. Just to give that to them meant more than anything," Muser said. "It's unbelievable."

Less than 30 minutes after the news was officially announced, Muser said receiving the three-star Michelin nod was "an absolutely indescribable feeling." Grace now ranks among the best of the best in the culinary world — only 12 restaurants in the United States and 115 in the world have three stars.

The team was expecting two stars, a repeat rating that the new restaurant earned 11 months after opening. In 2012, Duffy earned two Michelin stars as chef de cuisine at the now defunct Avenues restaurant.

"If we were betting guys, we would have bet on two stars. Two stars is an honor," Muser said.

Answering call after call, Muser said he was at a loss for words Tuesday.

"You say words like we're honored and stuff, [but] we're more than honored. We're absolutely humbled," he said.

Despite the life-changing news, Grace's staff didn't have much time to celebrate the win. Grace may now be a three-star Michelin restaurant, but the team still had to serve dinner Tuesday night.

But Muser said he and Duffy planned to break Grace's strict no-weeknight-drinking rule for a Tuesday night celebration with staff and friends in the restaurant's big basement. The team usually "only parties on Saturday night," as the restaurant is closed Sunday and Monday.

The three-star award isn't just a big win for the restaurant, it's a great day for the city and West Loop neighborhood, too, Muser said. Grace fought every day "to be on [Alinea's] level," Muser said.

"Grant [Achatz] and [Aviary owner] Nick [Kokonas] and the Alinea/Next/Aviary team — we look up to those guys more than I think they know," Muser said.

Muser won't be able to directly talk to the famously anonymous Michelin reviewers who gave Grace the ultimate rating, but he hopes they get this message.

"If I could talk to them I'd say thank you. This is an honor that will uphold with every breath in our bodies," he said.

One star Near West Side Michelin ratings

Four Near West Side restaurants earned one-star ratings, including:

Blackbird, serving elegant and imaginative Midwestern fare at 619 W. Randolph on the Near West Side;

• A "humbled and proud" Chef Phillip Foss retains a one-star rating at EL Ideas, 2419 W. 14th St. in Douglas Park;

• Top Chef Texas alum Richie Farina is "honored to be in great company" at Moto Restaurant, 945 W. Fulton Market in the West Loop;

• Chef Andrew Zimmerman's Sepia Chicago holds onto a one-star rating for a fifth consecutive year at 123 N. Jefferson St. in the West Loop.

L2O in Lincoln Park, Sixteen in River North and 42 Grams in Uptown all held on to two-star ratings this year.

Overall, 24 Chicago restaurants received a Michelin star rating, compared to 25 spots last year. Check out the full list of 2015 winners here.

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