If San Francisco's chefs and restaurateurs look pale these days, blame it on the Michelin Man. Or men. The restaurant inspectors have been visiting the city's eateries recently for the Michelin Guide's first book on San Francisco, due out in October.
As it happens, I have been visiting a lot of San Francisco restaurants lately for my own report on local dining for Wine Spectator, also due in October. It will be, ahem, interesting to compare notes when all is said and done.
It does seem to me that serving staffs have been extra alert recently. I have seen chefs roaming their dining rooms eying the customers, trying to suss out who the mysterious inspectors might be. Reports are that single diners are getting shown to the best tables, because everyone knows, or thinks they do, that the first Michelin guy on the scene dines solo.
This will be Michelin's second guide to an American city. Last year, the new New York guide awarded the highest rating, three stars, to four restaurants: Per Se, Le Bernardin, Jean Georges and Alain Ducasse. For months preceding that announcement last year, speculation over who would triumph was Topic A in New York.
Not so here. I get the impression that, except for the restaurants themselves, the local restaurant diners don't care that much. Sure, the results will spark conversations. But I have the distinct impression that whatever Michelin says will have more impact on tourists planning a visit to San Francisco than it will among the core diners locally.
And that probably holds true for New York as well. I can't imagine that New Yorkers are deciding where to eat based on the Guide Rouge rather than reviews in the New York Times, Zagat and word of mouth.
The San Francisco Bay Area has a much smaller universe of restaurants than New York does, which is one reason I won't be surprised if Michelin awards its top rank to fewer here than it did in New York. Also, France has influenced San Francisco dining much less than in New York. Here, Asian and Latin elements find their way onto the top tables.
Also, the cuisine here tends to be less elaborate than elsewhere. What makes it great is the wide access to great ingredients and the chefs' almost universal reverence for them. It remains to be seen how that will play with the Michelin men.
Everyone seems to think French Laundry, in Napa Valley, is a shoo-in for three stars, especially since its sister restaurant in New York, Per Se, got it, and the food is similar. In town, I think Gary Danko has the kind of style and quality that impresses the Michelin inspectors elsewhere. Although Michael Mina has only been open for two years, which might be too soon for Michelin, I had one of the best meals I have ever had in the Bay Area there recently, as good as some of the three-stars in France.
It will be interesting to see how Michelin rates Chez Panisse. The 33-year-old Berkeley icon is a seminal restaurant for California and America, with its emphasis on revelatory, fresh, unusual ingredients and simple preparations.
When Wine Spectator rates restaurants, we assign 30 percent of the score to wine. So Grand Award winners like Gary Danko, Michael Mina, Fifth Floor (where young Melissa Perello has amazed me more often than not) and Rubicon (which is getting along well without star sommelier Larry Stone) get a leg up on the others. How important is wine for Michelin? For us, wine matters. For Michelin, not 30 percent, for sure.
Dan Jaworek — Chicago — June 23, 2006 8:48am ET
Alex Cobb — Fort Worth, TX — June 23, 2006 3:27pm ET
Jeffrey Ghi — New York — June 23, 2006 3:44pm ET
Jeffrey Ghi — New York — June 23, 2006 5:08pm ET
Mitch Frank — Brooklyn — June 23, 2006 6:36pm ET
Courtney Cochran — San Francisco, CA — June 23, 2006 8:32pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — June 24, 2006 1:35am ET
Colin Haggerty — La Jolla, California — June 24, 2006 9:10pm ET
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