Phil Vettel has only dished out six other four-star ratings in the past ten years at the Chicago Tribune (Alinea, Avenues, Les Nomades, Spiaggia, Everest, and L20), and now he’s added Courtright’s to the list. The puzzled look on your face is justified. Courtright’s is a fifteen year old restaurant in Willow Springs. It’s so suburban that he sees a deer during service in the garden, and the owners call it the “8 o’clock deer” because it shows up so often on time. But it’s the food that gets him: “Oh, there are other charming country restaurants in the area, but none with this level of culinary mastery, and none that so fully embraces and celebrates its surroundings.” This isn’t the first time Vettel has crowned a venerable, some would say tired, restaurant with four stars. But he seems to have justified the four-star label better this time.
Last time he gave a restaurant four-stars it was Les Nomades, another institution which had been open for a long time. We spent four paragraphs trying to figure out what justified the four stars. Three stars, maybe. Though he talked about the food, it didn’t seem like he made the case that the restaurant was any better than, say, NoMI, which had gotten three stars. How was it on the level of Alinea?
This time Vettel seems to have an answer, and that’s “place.” “When critics speak of a restaurant with a sense of place, this is what we mean. When you’re at Courtright’s, you know exactly where you are.” He bring up the “8’Clock deer,” but also talks about the food which has a solid French background.
Another truly important factor for Vettel seems to the “mind-boggling price flexibility.” A three-course menu is “merely $55,” while the five-course chef tasting-menu is “$75.” This is, indeed, quite below the tasting menus at places like Alinea and L2O.
But the biggest thing seems to be the base of French cooking.
Chef Jerome Bacle, who took the kitchen reins almost two years ago, came to the area by way of Le Bec Fin, Georges Perrier’s legendary Philadelphia restaurant, and indeed his menu looks very much like the Le Bec Fin menu with the French accent removed, or at least muted. Le Bec Fin is a very classic restaurant — traditional would be too strong a word — and that’s a good fit at Courtright’s, where science-lab innovation and optical-illusion presentations are unlikely to find a following.
Not that we completely agree with all these points. Specifically, it feels like Vettel just has a soft spot for these “classic” restaurants, as he calls them. Though that’s not quite true, since he obviously loved Everest and Avenues enough to give them four stars, too. Basically, we’re having a hard time arguing with this pick, because like a lot of Chicagoland, we didn’t even know that this restaurant existed until now. So how can you argue about a restaurant you’ve never been to or heard about before? He makes our job so hard!
Courtright’s: A four-star experience, deer [Chicago Tribune]