Best in Chicago. Best in North America. Closing in on best in the world.
Grant Achatz is rapidly running out of titles to secure.
Alinea was named the No. 6 restaurant in the world by London-based Restaurant magazine in its annual ranking of the top 50 restaurants in the world Wednesday, adding a little more luster to an already shining profile. Alinea ranked No. 7 last year.
"It’s an amazing honor to be the No. 1 restaurant in North America for the second year in a row,” said Nick Kokonas, Achatz’s business partner and close friend. “Among the top 10 or 15, I don’t know who the No. 2 or 7 or 10 is. They’re in the same ballpark, and it’s a huge honor to be among all of those and Thomas (Keller’s) Per Se (at No. 10).”
Noma, located in Copenhagen, held down the No. 1 slot for a second straight year.
It is not the first time a U.S. restaurant has ranked so highly on the list. Keller, Achatz’s mentor and former employer, saw his Napa-based French Laundry rank No. 1 in both 2003 and 2004. But given the growing buzz that the list has created since its inception in 2002, an already difficult reservation at Alinea might have just become impossible to get.
For Achatz and the restaurant, it’s yet another achievement in a calendar year that has included the well-received release of a memoir and a coveted three-star rating in Michelin’s inaugural guide to Chicago dining — not to mention the fanfare surrounding his newly opened Next restaurant and Aviary bar.
Any list like Restaurant magazine’s, no matter how esteemed the judges, remains subjective. Is Alinea really no better than The Fat Duck, Heston Blumenthal's place outside of London? Or Ferran Adria's El Bulli on the Costa Brava in Spain? The answer likely depends on the diner and how many hairs they would like to split.
But the list’s power to drive food tourism is undeniable.
When Copenhagen's Noma was named to the top slot last year, it received 100,000 reservation requests in the next two days. Last year, when Alinea moved up to No. 7, the ensuing crush crashed its website's servers and locked up its phones.
“It took us by surprise last year. I was wholly unprepared for the level of interest internationally that it generated,” said Kokonas.
He added that there is a trickle-down effect that benefits the Chicago dining scene’s profile.
“All of a sudden, people in the rest of the world see it’s in Chicago and not New York (at the top of the North American list) and they look at Chicago differently. We have a huge impact on tourism. Forty to 50 percent of our diners are from out of town every day.
“People come to Alinea then stay and go to Publican and then Al’s Italian Beef. They go to Blackbird and Hot Doug’s.”
"I’m excited to see if we can get Next on the list next year," Kokonas said.
Other North American restaurants on the list included Per Se (New York, No. 10), Daniel (New York, No. 11), Le Bernardin (New York, No. 18), Eleven Madison Park (New York, No. 24), Biko (Mexico City, No. 31), Momofuku Ssam (New York, No. 40) and Pujol (Mexico City, No. 47).
The Restaurant magazine list is a compilation of opinions from more than 800 critics, chefs and diners split into 27 regions around the world. The results will be published in the May issue of Restaurant and online at worlds50best.com.
Kokonas said he likes the list, despite its subjectivity, because of its breadth. “It’s interesting because it’s the only world list besides the Michelin guide, and they don’t go everywhere in the world,” he said.
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