Michelin says its new Red Guide "confirms the high level of dining in San Francisco, the Bay area and wine country." It looks to me like more of a slap in the face.
I mean, no restaurants in San Francisco worthy of three stars? Only two worthy of a pair? As a San Franciscan, I have to say, this city is better than that.
As I predicted, Thomas Keller's showcase French Laundry in Napa Valley got the only three-star rating in Michelin's first assessment of San Francisco and environs. Among the four two-stars, only Michael Mina and chef Laurent Manrique's Aqua are in town. Manresa, chef David Kinch's haven for adventurous dining in Los Gatos (near San Jose), and Cyrus, chef Douglas Keane's luxury stronghold in Healdsburg (Sonoma County), got the other two-star ratings.
As with New York last year, the list of one-stars is a puzzle. High-end restaurants sit cheek by jowl with casual pubs and bistros. Italian and Asian restaurants are in short supply. Jean-Luc Naret, director of the Michelin Guides, professes admiration for the diversity of San Francisco restaurants and cites the number of Asian and other ethnic restaurants among the listings. But these protests ring hollow when the editors hand out stars to a list of mostly French and French-infused restaurants.
Naret says that the stars reflect the food on the plate. But clearly, it helps if that food has a French accent. And that's just fine. Our reviews at Wine Spectator focus on restaurants that handle wine well and omit those that don't. We say so up front. Michelin should just come out and admit it, instead of pretending to be so impressed with our diversity.
Of the 23 one-stars, only Sushi-Ran in Sausalito, which I agree is the best sushi bar in the Bay area, and Bushi-Tei, the Japanese fusion restaurant from chef Seiji Wakabayashi, which opened earlier this year, represent the hundreds of great Asian restaurants. Where is Slanted Door? Where are any of the great Hong Kong-style seafood restaurants, with their tanks of live creatures and sublime cooks? If the stars are supposed to be about the food on the plate, those guys qualify, hands down.
Terra, chef Hiro Sone's St. Helena restaurant, serves a menu of Japanese and Italian dishes but largely keeps the cuisines separate on the plate. So I guess that qualifies as half an Italian restaurant. So does Quince, which straddles both French and Italian cuisines but leans strongly toward Italian. Acquerello is the only truly Italian restaurant to get a star, and deservedly so. But what about Delfina? What about A16? Too purely Italian, is my guess, and not as fancy as Acquerello.
So, what does a reader make of a list that puts plush Gary Danko, noisy Sushi-Ran, hip yet casual Range and venerable Chez Panisse on the same plane?
The clues may be in Naret's explication of how the inspectors arrive at their ratings. Michelin's team of inspectors dines anonymously at hundreds of restaurants. Each one makes his or her recommendations, but all the inspectors must approve anything that gets a star. My guess? Some of the high-end restaurants that ended up with one star were candidates for the top ratings, but had an off day when the big dudes got there.
In the end, Michelin missed an opportunity to be more relevant by broadening the scope and pointing the way to exciting dining that may not have been on others' radar. Instead, the only results causing a stir are the restaurants that rated lower than expected (Danko, in particular) and the omissions (where are Jardinière? Campton Place?).
In New York, once the excitement upon publication died away, locals pretty much ignored the Michelin ratings to decide where to eat. They go by local published recommendations, word of mouth and personal experience. Tourists may use this new guide, but San Franciscans will almost certainly do as New Yorkers do and go about their business without the benefit of the Michelin man.
Jared Wagner — Maple Valley, WA — October 2, 2006 7:04pm ET
James Mancbach — October 2, 2006 7:30pm ET
Glenn S Lucash — October 2, 2006 7:50pm ET
Colin Haggerty — La Jolla, California — October 2, 2006 10:09pm ET
Gene Keenan — san francisco — October 3, 2006 2:58am ET
Filippo Recchi — Florence, Italy — October 3, 2006 4:47am ET
Jeffrey Ghi — New York — October 3, 2006 8:36am ET
Dan Jaworek — Chicago — October 3, 2006 9:13am ET
Pat Lee — October 3, 2006 10:45am ET
Anacleto Ludovic — paris france — October 3, 2006 12:37pm ET
Marty Smith — October 3, 2006 12:49pm ET
John B Vlahos — Cupertino Ca. — October 3, 2006 2:35pm ET
Colin Haggerty — La Jolla, California — October 3, 2006 5:04pm ET
Ron Zimmerman — Woodinville, WA — October 3, 2006 5:28pm ET
Robert Stutch — NYC — October 4, 2006 1:32am ET
Glenn S Lucash — October 4, 2006 9:11am ET
Mark Mccullough — GA — October 4, 2006 11:05am ET
Colin Haggerty — La Jolla, California — October 4, 2006 8:41pm ET
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions