Michelin's Secret Code

Oct 6, 2006

All the hoo-ha earlier this week about Michelin's San Francisco restaurant ratings focused on the announcement of the list of the 28 that earned stars. The book itself, with all 356 restaurant entries, presents a somewhat different picture. As a San Franciscan who often writes about restaurants himself, I think I found the key to sussing out the most distinctive local spots.

Because everything in the book is considered a recommendation, the blurbs make every restaurant sound just terrific. The starred restaurants get a page to themselves, and generally a few more words, but you can't tell from reading the two- or three-paragraph reviews why one gets a star and another doesn't.

However, if you do get a copy of the book, look for the little red symbol of Bib Gourmand (the Michelin Man licking his chops). Those indicate the "inspectors' favorites for good value." The book suggests you should expect to pay $35 or less for two courses, dessert and a glass of wine, exclusive of tax and tips.

These 38 restaurants much better reflect the diversity we treasure here than the Franco-centric pantheon of star winners. Here are the pan-Asian Betelnut, the dim sum heavens of Koi Palace and Yank Sing, the Vietnamese champion Slanted Door, the Greek favorite Kokkari Estiatorio and the Mexican marvel Mamacita. The Italian stalwarts A16 and Delfina, the California-French classic Bay Wolf and the venerable Indian pioneer Gaylord are on this list, too.

Reading between the lines, it seems the stars reflect the French editors' idea that a restaurant should follow the French model in order to be rewarded. Ol' Bib lickin' his chops lets the reviewers (three of five were Americans) tip us off to the other places that stand out. If the reviewers are unwilling to say a disparaging word, at least they cast their votes for a gang of good restaurants. That's Michelin's secret code.

The book does answer one other question I raised about restaurants that were overlooked for stars. In one of the few negative comments, the Campton Place review mentions that the kitchen "floundered in a state of transition" after the departure of its previous chef, Daniel Humm. And it did. But Michelin must have written it off by the time I reviewed it in June, when I liked what the new chef, Peter Rudolph, was doing.

San Francisco Dining Out United States California

You Might Also Like

First Impressions of Angler

First Impressions of Angler

Offshoot of Saison in San Francisco keeps the precision, relaxes the style

Dec 18, 2018
A Tenor Discovers Wine

A Tenor Discovers Wine

Brian Jagde had to make a choice: wine or opera. He got both

Nov 13, 2018
Ted Baseler, the Ad Man Who Became a Wine Industry Leader, Steps Aside at Ste. Michelle

Ted Baseler, the Ad Man Who Became a Wine Industry Leader, Steps Aside at Ste. Michelle

As CEO, he managed to expand both quantity and quality at the Washington wine titan

Aug 23, 2018
The Music of Wine

The Music of Wine

Pairing wine and sound can be rewarding, and instructive

Mar 21, 2018
Remembering Archie McLaren

Remembering Archie McLaren

He brought flair and generosity to the table

Feb 22, 2018
Wine Kludges

Wine Kludges

Odd but effective remedies and hacks for problems with wines and corks

Dec 19, 2017
WineRatings+

WineRatings+

Xvalues

Xvalues

Restaurant Search

Restaurant Search