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America’s Finest Dining: The Midwest

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Taking the Plunge

Alinea, Chicago

Grant Achatz does not serve comfort food. On the contrary, he sometimes wants diners to fear his cuisine. The 32-year-old chef considers dinner a theatrical experience, and so he wants to stir you as well as feed you. He does this by presenting such oddities as a clear horizontal tube filled with alternating layers of yogurt and apricots. You are meant to lift the tube and tilt the contents into your mouth—no fork, no spoon, and no dignified recourse if the flavors are not to your liking. Regardless of how experienced a diner you might be, at least one dish in the series of plates that Achatz dubs “the tour” will elicit a sensation akin to being a small child in water wings staring down at a swimming pool from the edge of the highest diving board. But if you muster enough courage to dive in, Alinea will reward you. – Sheila Gibson Stoodley




American Triumph

The American Restaurant, Kansas City, Missouri

This 33-year-old restaurant has a history of attracting superlative chefs to its kitchens: Bradley Ogden and the team of Michael Smith and Debbie Gold cooked here before they established exceptional restaurants of their own. The American Restaurant’s current chef, Celina Tio, maintains the standards that her predecessors set. Her contemporary American menu includes a version of shepherd’s pie made with silky potato mousseline and topped with lobster tail and claw meat. – Lauren Chapin




Second City King

Charlie Trotter’s, Chicago

Charlie Trotter is renowned for creating elaborately prepared dishes: His nightly multicourse vegetable menu could include a pyramid of brussels sprouts covering Italian chickpeas and shaved black truffles, all surrounded by parsnips and streaks of mâche puree. Trotter applies the same deliberation to the design of his restaurant as he does to his food. The space’s series of small, minimally decorated dining rooms keeps the focus where it belongs: on the plate. – Anthony Head




Quest Fulfilled

The Lark, West Bloomfield, Michigan

Proprietors Jim and Mary Lark welcome you to their intimate restaurant in the tony Detroit suburb of West Bloomfield as if you were an old friend. The couple prefer to limit the number of diners at any one time to fewer than 40, which gives them ample time to visit with all their guests. The small seatings also allow chef John Somerville to be truly hands-on in the kitchen. Meals begin with the presentation of an hors d’oeuvres trolley, from which you can choose any or all of the six appetizers, and draw toward a conclusion with the arrival of the dessert trolley, the entire contents of which also can be sampled. While the restaurant is renowned for its Lamb Genghis Khan, such regional dishes as perch with morel mushrooms and prawns also are menu highlights. Jim, a master sommelier of vins de France, lists 100 wines on the menu, but he has more than 1,000 additional selections available. – Debra Ryono



Midwestern Star

L’Etoile, Madison, Wisconsin

When Odessa Piper opened L’Etoile (French for “the star”) in 1976, south-central Wisconsin had a wealth of family farms and small producers, and she employed their bounty to great effect. In 2005, Piper sold L’Etoile to the brother-and-sister team of Tory and Traci Miller. Anytime a restaurant of L’Etoile’s caliber changes hands, it risks having its quality slip by a notch or three. But because Tory had been its chef de cuisine for two and a half years at the time, the transition was seamless. – Anthony Head




Solid as a Rocky

Summit at the Broadmoor, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Dining in the Rocky Mountains reached new heights last year, when Summit debuted at the Broadmoor resort in Colorado Springs. Despite a hiccup that could have doomed it—the original chef departed shortly after the restaurant opened—Summit persevered under executive chef Bertrand Bouquin. His American brasserie–style menu features Colorado sweet corn soup, mussels in white wine sauce, and raw oysters (fortunately, not the Rocky Mountain variety). Designer Adam Tihany created the vaguely automotive-themed interior, which includes air filter–shaped chandeliers and a 14-foot-tall revolving wine tower that stores 1,400 bottles. To prevent Summit from clashing with the Broadmoor’s early-20th-century structures, the resort set the restaurant across the street from the hotel and behind a curved wood and stone facade—partially hidden, but certainly worth finding. – Bruce Wallin





A Perfect Pairing

Tru, Chicago

Executive chef Rick Tramonto and executive pastry chef Gale Gand form one of the strongest kitchen teams in Chicago, and perhaps the country. Tramonto offers a menu that he calls “collections,” because of the playful manner in which he plates the dishes. He might perch langoustines on the edge of a bone china platform that he sets over a sterling silver bowl of sweet-and-sour sauce. Or he might present a tall cappuccino mug with a beautiful handle resembling an angel’s wing—a detail that hints at the heavenly flavor of the frothy artichoke soup the cup holds. Gand’s desserts, which include an espresso cake with chocolate almond ice cream, white chocolate cinnamon ganache, and café dolce, are so tempting that Tru offers dessert-only hours each evening. – Anthony Head



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