Michelin's standards are so high and so rigorous that of the nearly 4,000 restaurants mentioned in the French guide's new edition, only 21 merit three stars -- "cooking worth a special journey." In all the rest of Europe, no other new restaurant won the top award this year. Only one restaurant, Marc Meneau's L'Esperance, near Vezelay in Burgundy, lost its third star. In all, Michelin added 35 stars and removed 26 -- the first time in five years that the guide awarded more stars than it took away.
Under the Michelin system, one star is considered "a good place to stop." A two-star rating merits "a detour." For three stars, Michelin advises a hungry tourist to travel across the country, from Paris to Lyon or from the Cote d'Azur to the Pyrenees -- and then pay an average of $200 per person for an unforgettable feast.
Like many of its counterparts, the new French three-star shrine is off the beaten track. It's at least a half-day's drive from Lyon, much of it over hilly secondary roads, to reach Michel Bras, in south-central France's Aubrac Mountains, just outside the town of Laguiole. Due to its remote setting, the restaurant is closed from November through March.
Bras, who grew up in the region, favors strong flavors and local herbs. He has encouraged his local growers to replant vegetables that long have been invisible in the markets. A soft-spoken, modest man, Bras can recount the detailed differences in texture and taste of 30 kinds of cabbage. His wine list features local Gaillac and Marcillac bottles. "Michel Bras has a unique personal cuisine," said Bernard Naegellen, the guide's director since 1985. "Either you love it or you hate it."
To obtain his third star, Bras built a supermodern, luxurious outpost on a mountain perch. The stone-and-glass restaurant has been compared to a grounded ship or a spacecraft. Once the diner sits down, the window folds up, blocking any view of the surrounding countryside. "People come to see the landscape in the plate," the defensive Bras said in a past interview. The chef was unavailable for comment at press time.
Marc Meneau, the demoted Burgundian chef, also was unavailable for comment. After earning a third star in 1983, Meneau's restaurant sales jumped by 30 percent, and he soon built himself a luxurious winter retreat in the Caribbean. But he apparently wasn't paying enough attention to his restaurant. Said Naegellen, "L'Esperance was not as regular as it should be."
For more on Michel Bras:
For more on Mark Meneau and L'Esperance:
For more on the Michelin guide:
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