the michelin guide and me

by brendan on October 4, 2006

monday was a big day for foodies in san francisco – the michelin guide published their first ever guide to the san francisco bay area (check out the sf chronicle coverage here). it was no surprise that the french laundry was given the highest honor of a three star ranking (and making thomas keller the first person to have two restaurants with three star ratings, as per se in new york received the same accolades), but it was a bit surprising that nobody else did – restaurants like the ritz carlton dining room, chez panisse, and fluer de lys were grouped in the one star category, and in case you were wondering, a one star restaurant is defined as “a very good restaurant in its category.” wow – that’s a pretty harsh blow to some restaurants and the foodie population of the bay area who look on many of the restaurants in the one star category with high esteem and consider them very good in any category.

michael bauer had an interesting take in a recent blog posting, basically saying that because the french laundry is so far above every other restaurant, it handicaps everyone else – it’s an interesting point. is the french laundry so good that by giving it a 3 star rating, every other restaurant that would have gotten a 3 in a french laundry-less world (ie: hell) is relegated to the fate of a mere one star? that has to be a tough world to live in for restaurant owners in san francisco . . .

personally, i think a restaurant owner friend of mine (i won’t name names, but can tell you that the restaurant this person owns is mentioned in both the chronicle’s article and bauer’s blog as a restaurant that didn’t make the list and should have. also, i am trying desperately to get this person to contribute to this blog) said it best – “it doesn’t make sense and i am happy we are not in it.” we both agreed that the michelin guide rates the restaurants in france almost perfectly, but that they come up short everywhere else – it’s set up to judge refined french cuisine, but it’s rating system seems to fall apart when it is applied to an eclectic blend of cuisine like we have in san francisco.

the bottom line? ratings are ratings. personally speaking, my palette seems to always agree with michael bauer from the sf chronicle as well as some of the seasoned vets over at gourmet, so when they give something a great review, i know that there is a good chance i will be pleased when i eat there. as far as guides go, for my money i think the slow food guide is the way to go – i know they have them for san francisco, chicago, new york, and italy, and you can feel confident that going to one of those restaurants you will be eating fresh food from a chef who respects, and cares deeply for, the ingredients he is working with. . . what rating is better than knowing that?

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