All the hoo-ha earlier this week about Michelin's San Francisco restaurant ratings focused on the announcement of the list of the 28 that earned stars. The book itself, with all 356 restaurant entries, presents a somewhat different picture. As a San Franciscan who often writes about restaurants himself, I think I found the key to sussing out the most distinctive local spots.
Because everything in the book is considered a recommendation, the blurbs make every restaurant sound just terrific. The starred restaurants get a page to themselves, and generally a few more words, but you can't tell from reading the two- or three-paragraph reviews why one gets a star and another doesn't.
However, if you do get a copy of the book, look for the little red symbol of Bib Gourmand (the Michelin Man licking his chops). Those indicate the "inspectors' favorites for good value." The book suggests you should expect to pay $35 or less for two courses, dessert and a glass of wine, exclusive of tax and tips.
These 38 restaurants much better reflect the diversity we treasure here than the Franco-centric pantheon of star winners. Here are the pan-Asian Betelnut, the dim sum heavens of Koi Palace and Yank Sing, the Vietnamese champion Slanted Door, the Greek favorite Kokkari Estiatorio and the Mexican marvel Mamacita. The Italian stalwarts A16 and Delfina, the California-French classic Bay Wolf and the venerable Indian pioneer Gaylord are on this list, too.
Reading between the lines, it seems the stars reflect the French editors' idea that a restaurant should follow the French model in order to be rewarded. Ol' Bib lickin' his chops lets the reviewers (three of five were Americans) tip us off to the other places that stand out. If the reviewers are unwilling to say a disparaging word, at least they cast their votes for a gang of good restaurants. That's Michelin's secret code.
The book does answer one other question I raised about restaurants that were overlooked for stars. In one of the few negative comments, the Campton Place review mentions that the kitchen "floundered in a state of transition" after the departure of its previous chef, Daniel Humm. And it did. But Michelin must have written it off by the time I reviewed it in June, when I liked what the new chef, Peter Rudolph, was doing.
John H Gruver — Moss Beach, CA — October 8, 2006 11:16am ET
Gil Schwarz — Las — October 9, 2006 11:24pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — October 10, 2006 12:07am ET
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