If you have been following The Whet Palette for a while, you know I have always kept close tabs on the U.S. Michelin Guide rankings, especially Miami’s path to its own guide for the last ten years. So how do all the restaurants compare throughout the country and abroad? Well, that’s one of the top questions I often receive.
My travels this year brought me to 18 new restaurants and back to 13 tried and true-starred experiences. I learned the real meaning of “worth a detour” when a guide listing took me to a small town of 220 residents in Italy with its very own Michelin-starred restaurant. And one I found remarkable enough to place on this Top Ten list.
To find out which others I loved the most and why,
I evaluated the 31 Michelin-starred restaurants I visited in 2022:
CHICAGO: Alinea ***, Ever **, Oriole **
ITALY: Borgo Santa Ana *, Ca Vittoria *, Da Vittorio ***, Reale ***, Le Calandre ***, Fre *, Guido *, Massimo Camia *, 21.9 *, All’Enoteca *
MIAMI: Ariete *, Boia De *, Stubborn Seed *, Cote *, L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon **, Los Felix *, The Surf Club *
NEW YORK: Atomix **, Jungsik **, Le Coucou *, Rezdora *, Noz 17 *
WASHINGTON, D.C.: Bresca *, Jont **, Fiola *, Imperfecto *, Sushi Nakazawa *, Xiquet *
Despite many naysayers, I discovered that Michelin-starred restaurants in the United States can compete with those in Italy (at least based on the ones I visited this year).
Truth be told, it can be overwhelming to notice every dinner detail while remaining in the moment. Enjoying back-to-back lunches and dinners of the same caliber makes it even more difficult. Often, I can relive the experiences by returning to my photos, videos, and menus. For me, what always makes a dinner impressive is how the overall experience makes me feel once it’s over. Were those bites special enough to stay with me forever? For total transparency, I will admit three restaurants from this list disappointed me: Chicago’s
Alinea (fourth visit), New York’s Rezdora, and Miami’s Los Felix. I found the rest pretty spectacular in their own way, making this exercise incredibly challenging.
The list posted below reflects my favorite Michelin experiences, regardless of price. Without a doubt, the following restaurants captured my full attention and stole my heart. These are the unforgettable ones.
Beyond static to return to Oriole a second time. I first visited before they remodeled and doubled the restaurant size. Already a fan, it didn’t take long to know this dinner would be one to remember. In the U.S., it can be tough to differentiate what is and isn’t a one-star-worthy experience. But once you enter the two and three-starred restaurant categories, there should be NO doubt why the system awarded each with their rank. ORIOLE Chicago is the perfect example. The first greeting, welcome tea in the atrium, and snacks and cocktails at the bar set the tone for the evening. An epic Foie Gras bite (easily my top bite of ’22) in the kitchen while having a front-row look at the impressive behind-the-scenes action won our party over. And we still had not even taken the 12-course journey where every single dish hit the right note! Every. Single. One: Perfectly sized courses with exciting flavors, surprising textures, beautiful execution, and thoughtful plating. The staff moved in unison as a choreographed team. They presented each course with knowledge and confidence, provided excellent wine service, and exchanged napkins and plates plus silverware without commotion. The hospitality provided, even while formal, felt caring, welcoming, and genuine. If there is ever a deserving candidate to break through and be the new three-star in Chicago, Oriole is it.
Worth a trip? Worth a detour? Worth the journey? Yes, yes, yes! The entire chef’s counter experience was close to four hours. Dinner flowed so perfectly that I didn’t even notice the clock. Attention to detail does not begin to explain the complexity and execution of this epic 30-course tasting menu. The last hour alone was reserved for desserts in another room. As if that wasn’t special enough, the ‘ wine pairing offered by the JONT team is unlike any I’ve ever seen. It has been five months, and I am still decompressing from it all. F*ck It‘
Atomix is easily one of my favorite NYC spots. Guests are guided past a tiny bar and down to a basement dining “stage” after a speakeasy arrival. The intimate tasting menu, described as New Korean Cuisine, is offered to 14 guests simultaneously, with only two nightly seatings. The amount of detail per course blows my mind every time. Each dish arrives accompanied by a custom-designed card explaining its inspiration and detailing every ingredient. Nothing is a coincidence. Everything is intentional in the most intense and powerful way. Dinner can easily last over two hours, yet I find there’s never enough time to sit and dwell on every course as I’d like. The highly curated menu offers diners a taste of flavors that might be unfamiliar, but quickly become those you learn to crave. By dinner’s conclusion, the guest is left with a deck of assorted cards to take home as a beautiful keepsake.
What a treat to experience Le Calandre in Rubano, Italy! In 2003, chef Massimiliano was the youngest chef to win 3 Michelin stars. Our party dined in the beautiful private room. The room anchors their main restaurant and also a second, more casual concept. A window within the space was used to communicate directly with the kitchen. No detail went unnoticed. Every plate. Every cup. Every bowl. Every detail designed and obsessed over. We tried the Clasico menu featuring a lineup of signature dishes. The Cuttlefish Cappucino, Smoked Tagliolini, Scorched Bone Marrow with Sea Urchin, and Caviar Bruschetta bite all resulted in a flawless dinner worthy of its long-standing three Michelin stars!
Love seems to be Fiola’s secret ingredient. Guests don’t get the molecular tricks and overly dramatic presentation there. They do, however, get updated classic Italian dishes that touch the heart. Dinner kicks off with a fun tribute to traditional dishes from the southern region of Italy in the form of four perfect bites. A Risotto Cacio E Limone to rival them all and a grandma-inspired Charcoal-Grilled Colorado Lamb shine off the tasting menu. Dinner concludes with a four-part dessert chapter I never wanted to end. Fiola’s team devotes itself to providing warm and genuine hospitality to its guests. The type of rare service that is not performative, but rather felt. And I was glowing.
I’ve seen “attention to detail” play out at many Michelin-starred restaurants (and mentioned in almost every spot on this list), but this was next-level meticulousness. Dinner was a game of chess where Ever always remained many steps ahead and ultimately won me over. Checkmate! The experimental and forward-thinking food (hello, frozen holy hamachi) hit every right note. There was always a surprise ingredient or element that wasn’t the norm but made sense. Sometimes restaurants go to great lengths to shock and be different. But too often, they forget the meal has to also taste great. Not here. This was the complete package. Service was on the formal side, but still welcoming and inviting. Just when I thought I needed more wine or water or napkin or ….. it was replaced and poured before I could even finish my complete thought. Were they listening to our conversation? How did they know? I look forward to seeing Ever evolve further and reach that ultimate three-star goal. Chicago, it’s time for new star power. Next to Oriole, they certainly have my vote. 7.
Ca Vittoria Italy *
I didn’t understand the extent of Ca Vittoria’s hidden gem location until the last five minutes of the drive as we entered the town. Was it a movie set? Did anyone live there? My footsteps bounced off the walls loudly as if I was the only person around. A bit eery and mysterious at first, but joyous once I stepped inside the space. Located in Tigliole (the heart of the Colline Alfieri, between Langhe Roero and Monferrato), the eighteenth-century building is home to the restaurant and a boutique 10-room hotel. Chef Massimiliano and his wife personally tend to Ca Vittoria using multigenerational family recipes as the main inspiration. It’s important to note this is the only restaurant on this list where lunch was the meal, yet it stands firmly next to the rest of the dinners. Every course intrigued and excited our palates, not just because it was presented beautifully. I could not get enough. The Raw Fassona, Guinea Fowl Ravioli, and delicate Tagliolini with Isigny Butter were an absolute dream to taste. “We aren’t typically open during this time of the year, but since you requested this reservation, we opened for you.” Say what? If that doesn’t explain the type of hospitality there, I don’t know what will. Sadly, a family emergency sent our group on a quick exit at the end of this lunch, and cut the last moment short. I am now left dreaming of a return visit, complete with a stay at the hotel.
Funny story: I first visited after a wine-tasting event at nearby Terroir, where the pours were constant and generous. I fell in love with Jungsik immediately. But for a couple of years, I wondered if what I remembered was accurate, given my “overly served” state during that dinner. Imagine my glee once I finally confirmed it was even more special than I ever thought possible. The opening bites alone could make for an exciting dinner, but every course that followed built a harmonious crescendo that never stopped peaking. The gorgeous dining room, chic vibe, and attentive hospitality impressed me again. As if that visit was not enough, a local collaborative dinner by the Jungsik team with Cote Miami months later gave me a chance to once again indulge in some of those killer courses right at home. Score! 9.
Fre Italy *
I will resist the urge to write a novel dedicated to their bread, but know it takes center stage from beginning to end. FRE’S daring tasting menu took me on an adventurous tour of the senses, showed off great technique, and also a touch of the unexpected throughout. The Saddle of Venison Galantine, accented with a hazelnut sauce and caramelized quince, and the Wild Boar and Eel Ravioli in a beautiful cabbage broth, impressed me the most. 10.
All’Enoteca Italy *
What is it with these Italian gems and their bread game? Pure bliss. All’Enoteca is what happens when dinner is of Michelin caliber, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously despite its expected pedigreed menu and flavors. A palette of muted warm greys and stark whites and seven tables became the backdrop to a lively dinner progression where the diners and dishes took on the leading roles. Chef Palluda kept a close eye on every detail from the kitchen to the dining room and simultaneously welcomed back regulars and charmed newcomers: a pro at work. The sweets cart at the end swept me off my feet, but the citrus and vanilla souffle solidified my allegiance. I’ve never had a better one.
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