For Chef Chris Pandel, there's nowhere to go but up.
Two of his restaurants—Balena in Lincoln Park and The Bristol in Bucktown—were among 64 Chicago eateries listed last week as recipients of The Michelin Guide's Bib Gourmand for 2013. The designation is given to the rating group's favorite restaurants in an affordable price range—less than $40 for two courses and a dessert.
The Michelin Guide went on this week to announce its 2013 Michelin Star winners for Chicago. Though several North Side restaurants have been awarded the highest honors, Balena didn't make that second cut.
But Pandel has taken a "never say never" approach toward the issue.
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"I would say that I am extremely proud for our mention in Michelin," he said in a written statement to Patch, regarding the Balena win. "I also believe that being assigned a Bib allows us to focus on goals to make the restaurant better as a whole. I believe we are capable of garnering a star and now it's just time to focus and push to get there."
He went on to say he's proud of teams both at Balena and The Bristol for "maintaining consistent standards" which allowed "Michelin to grant us space in their publication for both houses."
The Bristol, 2152 N. Damen Ave., is an American restaurant boasting handmade pasta, charcuterie, farm-fresh produce and a nose-to-tail approach to cooking. It has an extensive beer and wine list and also serves up handmade cocktails. It opened in September 2008.
Balena debuted less than four years later in the spring 2012. The Italian menu features a long list of appetizers, as well as handmade pastas like tajarin topped with pork ragu and tagliolini nero. Traditional Italian pizzas include a mortadella, pistachio and onion combination as well as a spicy sausage option, and so many more.
The restaurant didn't transfer its communal table approach over from The Bristol and rather, features two levels of intimate dining options. Or, there's always the bar, where flies can enjoy Debbi Peek-created cocktails, ranked on the menu using a 1 to 10 bitterness scale.
"I believe that Balena is a restaurant that speaks to every kind of diner," Pandel said. "The ability to come sit at the bar for a glass of wine and a simple bowl of pasta or to sit for a three hour coursed out meal in the same space is a rare find."
Where does Pandel plan to go from here?
"To put it simply, we shoot for the stars," he says.