I’ve dined at Alinea, Boka, Everest, Topolobampo, Bouchon and Peter Luger. There’s probably a couple others who were Michelin star restaurants at some point but lost them and aren’t listed at the site.
I’m not a foodie and to be honest I don’t seek these places out, but when I travel I often splurge one night and these tend to always be reviewed as “can’t miss” affairs. I live in Chicago, but I’m not “in the know” on this stuff so when looking for special occasion places these are the ones that show up when I search. A real foodie would probably call me basic for choosing these places instead of the the super secret edgy stuff that’s out there.
Topolobampo is probably one of my favorite restaurants in the world. If I wanted to show off to an out of towner, this would probably be where I’d take them. It’s great, it’s interesting and not super traditional but it’s by no means “experimental”, which makes it accessible.
Alinea shows up as “the best restaurant in the world” on a ton of lists and I lived like 300 feet from it, so I had to try it. Went with a couple chef friends as well. Ridiculously expensive but honestly probably not a bad value when you factor in all the obvious effort put into every single detail. It’s entirely experimental so each dish is unique in every way, including the plating, presentation and preparation. It’s like dining inside a cartoon/science experiment. As far as the food…I was not thrilled by it. Everything was a foam, puree, gel or vapor and it was all one bite, literally for 22 courses. At the end, I was desperate for something hearty to chew on which never came. I think I got a burrito as a midnight snack that night. There was also a bunch of food I didn’t like, I’m picky and hate truffles, so the organ meats and black truffle everything was not ideal.
Bouchon was amazing and not nearly as fussy as the French Laundry probably is. It was french country food and I think about anyone would have been happy there.
Peter Luger was overrated. Steakhouses in Chicago destroy this place. They get by on reputation and history alone.
Everest is super stuffy…and I hate french food. But if you dig classical fine french dining you would probably love it.
Boka is fantastic. It’s like Alinea dialed back about 80% which is great. It’s sort of an American version of Topolobampo. Interesting and feels like an occasion, but not scary and you can get a tasting menu which runs the gamut.
Anyways. In the grand scheme of things these are just restaurants that each try really hard to be unique. For the most part they succeed. If you really get off on trying new things, you’ll probably be thrilled. If you’re a traditionalist like me and like to stay in your comfort zone, you’ll probably be intimidated by some of the food and unsatisfied. In almost all the cases you’ll walk out with at least a story to tell, which is kind of half the point I think.