It had been more than a year since the first San Francisco Michelin Guide created some excitement—and ultimate disappointment, as only one restaurant earned three stars. And it had been longer still since the New York Michelin Guide, the first for North America, caused a whirlwind of excitement. Michelin hadn't captured much attention as of late—until this November, when the Red Guide's anonymous inspectors awarded Tokyo with more stars than Paris (94) and New York (54) combined.
The new guide was released on Nov. 19. One hundred fifty restaurants and 28 hotels were reviewed, with eight restaurants receiving the prestigious three-star rating, 25 receiving two stars and 117 receiving one star, for a total of 191. The results surprised both critics and local gourmets, who were skeptical about a foreign guide that would critique a very traditional cuisine. About 60 percent of the selected restaurants were Japanese.
What made the guide's release such a surprise, in addition to its perceived partiality toward French restaurants, was that Tokyo's results came just after the release of guides for Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Los Angles earned no three-star ratings and Las Vegas only picked up one. The Tokyo guide, however, awarded at least a single star to all 150 restaurants listed, which is unprecedented in any Michelin guide.
"I didn't expect to receive so many stars," said Joel Robuchon, reached in Paris, who earned stars for all three of his Tokyo restaurants: La Table de Joel Robuchon with one star, L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon with two stars and Joel Robuchon with three stars. "I was also surprised to find restaurants [rated in the guide] that I didn't know. In Tokyo, the quality of gastronomy is at a very high level in all different types of cuisine—not only Japanese, but also Italian, Spanish, French and so on."
Another three-star recipient, Hiroyuki Kanda, of Kanda Restaurant, said that he believes that Tokyo has extremely high culinary standards due to local chefs' diligence, as well as the speed with which fresh ingredients find themselves in front of discerning diners. "For example," Kanda explained, "I can cook together the local crabs chosen in the morning direct from Hokkaido and fresh vegetables picked from Tanba, and prepare them for my customers the same day."
Two-star recipient Takayuki Hishinuma is one of the recommended restaurants in Wine Spectator's "Translating Tokyo" story in the April 30, 2007, issue. Other recommended restaurants from that article that received Michelin stars include Ginza Sushiko, Ohno, Banrekiryukodo and Ryugin.
If nothing else, Michelin's recognition of Tokyo's high culinary standards puts to rest claims of the inspectors' stronger taste for French food. And it certainly helps the restaurants' bottom line. "In all the restaurants the Michelin has given stars, the business is increasing by about 20 to 30 percent," said Robuchon.
"I didn't know much about the Michelin Guide and didn't understand the impact," said Ono Jiro, who received three stars for his 42-year-old sushi restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro. "We are operating at over capacity; we are busier than before," he said, adding that the attention has resulted in numerous phone calls from around the world. "We have lots of calls every day, but no one [at the restaurant] speaks English and we are not sure what to say," he said, laughing.