When Michelin released its first-ever guide to New York restaurants and hotels last November, it held a dazzling party at the Guggenheim museum, inviting celebrity chefs from around the world. This year, guide director Jean-Luc Naret announced the 2007 results at Bouchon Bakery, Thomas Keller's low-key café in a Manhattan mall, in front of a dozen reporters. After making big splashes last year in New York and earlier this month in San Francisco, the famous French gastronomic guide would like to be considered a normal part of the American culinary landscape. But don't think chefs weren't waiting in nervous anticipation for the results.
"New York continues to be the most incredible culinary destination in the world," Naret told the press. This year about 100 restaurants were added to the guide, while 80 were dropped, for a total of 526. Three restaurants--Jean Georges, Le Bernardin and Keller's Per Se--retained their three-star rankings. Alain Ducasse's Essex House restaurant surrendered its trio of stars, but only because Ducasse has announced he will close and relocate early next year. Bouley, Daniel and Masa all held onto their two-star awards, while Mario Batali's Del Posto won two stars in its first year. David Bouley's other restaurant, Danube, was demoted from two stars to one.
This year, 32 restaurants received one star (compared to 31 last year) including newcomers A Voce, Country, Perry Street and the Modern. Six restaurants lost their single stars, including BLT Fish, JoJo and March.
"Wow. I had no idea," said March's co-owner and wine director Joseph Scalice. "This is a shock." Scalice insisted that nothing had changed in the East Side eatery, and that while he and chef Wayne Nish were proud of the Michelin ranking, their first focus remains customers rather than reviewers.
Michelin's five New York inspectors, three of whom are American, visited every restaurant in last year's guide and 250 new ones. "Stars are not engraved in marble," said Naret. "If the star is not shining brightly, it is gone."
Michelin sold 100,000 copies of the 2006 New York guide, which Naret said he was satisfied with. The guidebook's move to America was not without controversy, however. Many chefs and foodies complained that the 2006 guide's selections were inconsistent, and that Michelin favored formal French dining over diverse New York cuisine. The 2007 New York guide does include a larger variety of international cuisines, and Michelin included its Bib Gourmand category in the guide this year, which is a list of inspectors' favorite restaurants where a person could have two courses and a glass of wine for under $40.
San Francisco chefs had a similar reaction to the first Bay-area guidebook, released earlier this month, which listed 356 restaurants. "When we went to San Francisco, it was like a big competition," Naret told Wine Spectator. "They said they expected more stars than New York, and asked why we didn't go to San Francisco first."
Despite the grumbling, Michelin has no intention of retreating from America's shores. Naret said that Michelin inspectors are already scouting other U.S. cities in preparation for new guides. "We're very young here, and we're not pretending that we can run a marathon yet," he said. "But now we're going to grow a bit faster."
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