Friday, September 13, 2019

Eating at a Michelin-Starred Restaurant: Worth It?

The first thing I did in Chicago as part of our epic two-week road trip for home leave was go to a Michelin-starred restaurant for the first time! Anyone who knows me knows I am a big foodie, so this type of experience had been on my bucket list for a while. M is not that into fancy meals, so he skipped out and had fast food while my friend S and I enjoyed a girl's night at Smyth.

So why did we pick Smyth? Well, there was something just too perfect about two ladies from Virginia meeting up all the way in Chicago to go to a fancy restaurant that was inspired by Virginia of all places! We figured it was destiny.

We arrived and the decor was very rustic with even an open kitchen. The whole restaurant's vibe was much cozier than I expected. For some reason, I imagined that all very fancy restaurants were Dubai-esque, hyper-modern establishments. I was pleasantly surprised. S and I sat down and immediately ordered lavender drinks. (The only thing better than lavender scents are lavender consumables.) We didn't get the menu (nine courses and a drink) in advance, so we knew we'd be getting whatever the chef had planned. The server confirmed my dietary restrictions (no coffee, tea, or alcohol since I'm Mormon/a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints), which I appreciated. I know they really followed my request with care because they did remove kombucha from one of my later courses. Anyway, the menu was exactly the type of thing I had imagined. Just check it out:

Someone who is not into fancy food definitely would've laughed at some of the items on this menu. There were moments (like when they brought out the cucumber course with just a few very thin slices of cucumber) that I almost chuckled because it was so stereotypically luxurious. Each minuscule course was plated like a work of art and then presented to our table by staff who explained everything with words like "emulsion" that made me feel pretentious for even patronizing the place. But once I got over the spectacle of the experience and dug into the food - it was incredible. I've eaten great food around the world, but Smyth's was some of the best I've ever had.

My favorites included the pickled shima aji (a cold fish dish), but S and I agreed the biggest stars were the mushroom chocolate (pictured above) and the signature dessert egg (pictured below). Somehow, they combined shiitake mushrooms and chocolate so brilliantly that every bite was filled with both flavors and neither contradicted the other in any way. I am a true chocaholic, and that was an epic concoction I wish I could eat every night. The dessert egg was also a technical masterpiece, with a caramelized egg yolk sitting in a frozen yogurt egg white bed. It's been weeks and I'm still thinking about how stunning and scrumptious that food was.

So what's the verdict? Is it worth eating at a typical Michelin-starred restaurant? Honestly, I feel like it is probably not worth it for most. I do think it's worth it if all of the following conditions are met:

  1. all participating are foodies who appreciate haute cuisine,
  2. you value quality over quantity (even if there are a lot of courses, the portions are small),
  3. you're celebrating a special occasion or you're just loaded (because that price tag's no joke),
  4. and you're open-minded and not that picky (because you may be trying some weird stuff... see: mushroom chocolate above).

At the end of the day, I'm glad S and I got to share this really fun and unique experience. It was a delightful way to spend an evening and catch up, and I would absolutely do it again.

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