On paper, the over-two-year buildup for Grace was well worth it for Chicago diners. After earning two Michelin stars at Avenues, Chef Curtis Duffy and wine director/GM Michael Muser set even loftier goals for Grace. Those goals started to become reality when Zagat named Grace one of the 10 hottest restaurants in the world less than a month after opening. Grace went on to become a James Beard finalist, was named the dining “best of the best” by Robb Report, sous chef Mitch Lienhard became an Eater Young Gun, they picked up a AAA Five Diamond Rating, were awarded two Michelin stars off the bat, scored three Eater awards (including national chef of the year), and picked up six Jean Banchet nominations.
This amazing Journey began when two likeminded people got together and made things happen with Grace Restaurant. Today it stands as a great tribute to Chicago’s culinary marvel. It is amazing to me how many Chefs and great restaurant s come out of Chicago. What is their secret? How does this happen. I believe it is pure love for food and the art of its industry.
Born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, Curtis Duffy knew early on he had a passion for cooking. In 2000, he left Ohio to work at the legendary Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago. After three years at Trotter’s, Duffy accepted a position as Pastry Chef at the esteemed Trio, where he was recognized as “Best Innovative Pastry Chef” from Food & Wine. Duffy met Chef Grant Achatz at Trio, and in 2004, they left Trio to open Alinea, where Duffy worked as Chef de Cuisine. Alinea skyrocketed to fame, being named the “Best Restaurant in America” by Gourmet just a year after opening, and is widely recognized as one of the best restaurants in the world. In 2008, Duffy took his impressive skill set to Avenues (The Peninsula Chicago) and was instantly celebrated for his thoughtful, progressive and imaginative cuisine by consumers and media alike.
At Avenues, Duffy garnered an extraordinary list of awards and accolades, including two stars from the prestigious Michelin Guide, the AAA Five Diamond Award, and perfect four-star ratings from Chicago Magazine and the Chicago Tribune.
In May 2010, to mark the 20th anniversary of the James Beard Awards, Duffy was named a “Legacy Chef.” The James Beard Foundation asked previous Outstanding Chef award winners from each of the prior twenty years to select a chef whom they have mentored and who they believe would have a major impact on the culinary world in years to come. Grant Achatz selected Duffy, essentially naming him to the next generation of leading chefs. The following year, Duffy was nominated by the JBF as “Best Chef, Great Lakes Region.”
In mid-2011, Duffy left Avenues to begin making plans for his own restaurant, which opened in December 2012. At Grace, Duffy’s culinary style – elegant, graceful cuisine – is showcased, reflecting his personal taste and drawing upon his wealth of experience. His micro-seasonal cuisine is best described as “thoughtfully progressive” – thoughtful as he puts tremendous time, focus, research and thought into what he creates, and progressive as he will utilize modern techniques to coax the best out of the ingredients. Each dish is an expression of his personality – progressive but grounded – and puts ingredients at the forefront. He continues to source the highest-quality ingredients, allowing flavor to trump technique.
When not in the kitchen, Duffy volunteers with the Grand Chefs Gala, a fundraiser benefitting the Greater Illinois Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. In 2010, he emceed the annual fundraiser and helped to raise $275,000 to benefit the Foundation, and in 2012 he served as the Chef Chair of the Gala.
Michael Muser joined Grace as a partner, general manager and sommelier, directing the front of house. Michael Muser similar to Chef Duffy has his view on how Duffy’s cuisine works with certain wines, notably from the Loire and Rhone regions of France.
See comment from people that have dined at Grace Restaurant:
“Celebrated a graduation here and it ended up being one of the best dining experiences! The flavors, textures, aromas, presentation, attention to detail, wine parings, and cleanliness were impeccable and spot on! It was also one of the most expensive dinners I’ve ever had. I’ll be back!”
“The most amazing food experience I’ve ever had. Being new to Chicago, I felt at home here as everyone was so warm and welcoming. The attention to detail that Chef Duffy and his staff portrayed was impeccable from start to finish. The food was DELICIOUS! Simple, clean, elegant, sweet, savory… Courses were paced just right and the wine pairings were perfect. I loved how knowledgeable the staff was with every course, you can tell that everyone there absolutely love what they do as it shows in the service. The plates look small but they are very satisfying and by the end of it I was pleasantly full! I got a tour of the kitchen and it was pristine! Quiet and very focused. I also love the bathrooms. There are four unisex bathrooms reflecting the four seasons. I’m torn with spring and winter being my favorite, but I do love summer and fall. Yes, I tried all four! I was there for a few hours as they do not rush anyone so that you can fully enjoy all that Grace has to offer. I can’t wait to go back! Thank you Grace for the best dining experience of my life.”
“Dined here during our weekend vacation. First of all, the service was OUTSTANDING. Everyone there were super friendly, knowledgeable and passionate. The decor of the restaurant was clean and pretty. The plating of each dish was absolutely gorgeous. Prettiest dinner I’ve had so far! But the food itself was a bit disappointing, a lot of it was too salty to my liking.”
“My wife and I dined at Grace last Friday evening. We both opted for the Fauna with the wine pairing. This may have been the best meal of my life. The ambience of the restaurant is wonderful, the food is AMAZING, and the service was nothing less than impressive.”
What does the future hold for Grace Restaurant? Would they expand? Would they create a chain of restaurants? These are questions only Chef Duffy and Michael Muser know. My take on this whole experience is that if you have a desire to start something; then you should write it down, set up a plan, surround yourself with people who will make you successful (lift you up and not bring you down), and finally put it into motion.
If you have ever visited grace and would like to share your comments, please send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org or write it directly on my blog. I would be happy to know what you encountered at this great restaurant “Grace.”