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May 15, 2009 08:35 PM

Would the Michelin Guide Be Relevant in Canada? (moved from Ontario board)

The Guide Michelin seems to be a benchmark in many places as to where to dine, or not to, and the number of stars a place might have seems to drive the public in that direction. There are many who check off starred restaurants the way others notch their belts. As the Guide has not reviewed Canadian restaurants, should we view our own perception of our restaurants as sufficient and adequate to give guidance to visitors? Have we evolved in a different direction where the criteria for the Guide are irrelevant?

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  1. I think if there is ever a Michelin Guide for Toronto (I really don't think there is any chance, well maybe after they finish the one of Shanghai, Beijing, Singapore, Taiwan...........................), and people follow it to collect stars, those people will miss a lot of real yummy food in Toronto because non of the chinese restaurant will be getting any star here for sure.

    1. I think restaurants in Toronto have suffered because it's Toronto. There have been several threads on why Toronto restaurants don't, in general, measure up to the standards of world-class restaurants (Paris, Hong Kong, Tokyo, etc.) Toronto isn't a city centered on tourism, etc. etc. It's been spoken to numerous times on the board.

      I personally think that if Michelin came here, LWH would at least get a star. Splendido was maybe a 2-star at its peak. There are some others that may rank at 1-star, but only if there was a drop in standards.

      I don't think Michelin stars are relevant for Toronto. Vancouver, perhaps. Notice how big name chefs have decided to open restaurants there?

      I agree with skylineR33; Toronto's best food is high-end Chinese cuisine. We have some decent restaurants, but compared to the type of food served up in other cities, we're severely lacking, except in Chinese (compared to other North American cities).

      Judging by Michelin's attempt at judging HK, I don't think they'd properly evaluate Chinese restaurants here. No one having visited numerous Michelin-starred restaurants would be impressed by our non-Chinese restaurants; comparing top restaurants in France to those here is an absurdity.

      Those of us who have the opportunity may be nostalgic, but Toronto has its own benefits. If you're looking for restaurants of equivalent cuisine to 3-star restaurants in Paris, Snarf, you won't find them here. Could you find Chinese in Paris as good as that of Toronto? Probably not! Having eaten at Michelin-starred Chinese in Japan, I think the ones in Toronto are better. French? No. Japanese? No. Anything but Chinese? Probably not.

      It's a common sense issue.

      1. In N. America alone, Chicago, Miami and Vancouver all deserve an edition before we even get a sniff. Where does that leave us once you factor in the rest of the world?

        I'm not sure if anyone caught it, but CBC's Doc Zone did a detailed feature on food. One segment focused on the launch of HK"s Michelin guide, interviewing Jean-Luc Naret, the head honcho of Michelin. Also included was some choice bits on Lei Garden, especially the interview w/ Chan Shu Kit, the big boss (7 & 39 min mark). Charles & Skyline will get a kick out of spotting Yung Kee. The producers did their homework it seems.

        It's just the reality of the city. We can't compete on that level because of the lack of demand. Quality ingredients of 3 star magnitude ain't coming to Toronto, simply put.

        Charles brought up a good example in Eleven Madison Park (another thread), which didn't even get 1 star (an error imo). My friend that worked there told me they would only serve seafood brought in that day. If it didn't sell, it would either go towards staff meal or in the bin/city harvest. Trust me when I say no restaurant in Toronto comes close to that level of standard. Not Splendido, not Canoe, not Colborne Lane, etc.......

        As to what foo foo Toronto joint I think deserves a star if following the global standards of Michelin? Splendido, well at least until the end of June.

        1 Reply
        1. re: aser

          Aser, thanks for the video, very nice ! I will watch the whole thing when I get time.

        2. Whether we like it or not, Michelin's current expansion of restaurant ratings is related to world wide tire sales. In our part of North America, Michelin might consider Chicago or Montreal more important, but Toronto has to be on their horizon, It is too bad Eigensinn and Splendido are both somewhat unsettled, but they might very well be visited by the newly expanded staff of Michelin inspectors. Eigensinn is definitely worth a side trip.

          29 Replies
          1. re: jayt90

            Eigensinn is probably the most obvious example of a restaurant with high praise that wouldn't make it through the initial screens, thus begging the question of whether the guide would be relevant here. No wine list, generally no table cloths, no high end china.

            1. re: Snarf

              FYI, there are restaurants which does not have wine list, no table cloths, no high end china which can get michelin star. So whether Eigensinn Farm get a star or not will be the point whether the guide is relevant or not.

              1. re: skylineR33

                You're right skylineR33! All the three Michelin 1* 'soba Kaiseki' have only wooden tables. Both Okina and Takeyabu don't have wine list either. Though baren looking, decor is pretty nice though!

            2. re: jayt90

              According to Michelin's definition, your assigning Eigensinn a 'worth a side trip' status means its a two star! Based on my experience eating there and comparing the food to all the two stars that I have eaten worldwide. All I can say is 'NO WAY'!! How can Eigensinn's food be better than Daniel (NYC), Michael Mina (SF), L'Atalier Robuchon ( Paris, HK and Tokyo ), Les Crayeres ( Reims ), Michel Rostang ( Paris ).....etc!! The meal that I had at SF's MASA was absolutely gorgeous, almost perfect and better than a number of Parisian 3* like Grand Vefour. However, the restaurant is only a 1*!!!

              1. re: Charles Yu

                With regard to your last statement, isn't that the key to the discussion? There is a noticeable bias in the guide towards preferring French cuisine, and not giving top marks unless there is formal service and a good wine list. Very few restaurants serving local cuisine gain any traction in that environment, though many think that to be a prevailing philosophy in food today. Also, the notion of sustainability is somewhat ignored by the guide.

                Very few Canadian restaurants are going to have wine lists with any degree of vertical availability, as most provinces heavily restrict the secondary market.

                If you (anyone reading this post) were to put forward a list of criteria and weighting for what should comprise the equivalent of a 3 star, what would be on that list? What would be complete deal-breakers?

                1. re: Snarf

                  That's not necessarily true. The Japanese guide has a lot of Japanese restaurants on the menu, and the inspectors the second time around were nearly entirely (or entirely) Japanese -- and that really didn't change the options. These restaurants don't have the same formal service of a palace restaurant, and decor can be sparse or extremely limited. Some have no wine at all.

                  Very few restaurants in Toronto have food worthy of Michelin stars, based on the Michelin-starred restaurants in which I've eaten.

                  Michelin describes how they supposedly rate restaurants on their own website, with their criteria. You should go and look at it.

                  1. re: tjr

                    However, for the nine 3-star in the Japanese guide, there are three French and only one "traditional" kaiseki restaurant (Hamadaya, which does not consider to be the best "traditional" kaiseki by most of the people). Personally, this does not sound right to me ... which make me think the guide bias towards French cuisine and have doubt on the Japanese food experience of the judges.

                    1. re: skylineR33

                      I think this is because the guide is supposed to cater to tourists (though it sold incredibly well in Japan). I suppose we'll see when the Kansai edition comes out? Most of the big name French chefs don't have restaurants out there, so I'm imagining it might focus more on Japanese food of styles other than sushi.

                      There's always going to be stuff missing though; I find that the Tokyo guide is reasonably accurate as to where I'd place the restaurants I've visited, though it's obviously missing out on a lot of good restaurants, and some restaurants that are pretty bad are overrated. 3/9 restaurants being French seems like there isn't really much of a bias, considering the cuisines considered generally seem to be French, Japanese and Italian (in Japan). I left my 2009 one at the office, but the 2008 one has about 90 Japanese restaurants, 5 Chinese, 45 French, 8 Italian, 2 Spanish, 2 "Steakhouse." The majority of the 3-stars are Japanese.

                      I agree there's a lot left out, but in the Japanese rankings, I don't think you could necessarily say that there was a French cuisine bias just on numbers alone; but I'd have to say that they've missed a lot of Japanese restaurants, while the French ones were pretty much well-covered with a few exceptions.

                      1. re: tjr

                        Right, the Kansai edition should have more Japanese food of different styles.

                        In the 2008 Tokyo guide, for the 3 stars, there are 3 French restaurants and 5 Japanese restaurants (in which 2 of them serves sushi).

                        That's true, the guide is supposed to cater to tourists. That's why I do use the HK guide as I am from HK. The Japanese Guide probably has more success than the HK guide. In fact, all my friends in HK of all age group do not use it at all. Their French selection in the HK guide is pretty accurate though.

                        1. re: skylineR33

                          In terms of the inclusions of restaurants in the HK guide, are there glaring examples of good restaurants which are not included? I'm curious as to how many seem to be excluded versus how many are included.

                          HK and Japan are probably some of the better places in the world to acid test the effectiveness of the guide, as the local cuisines have an inherent sophistication which is not dependant on wine as an accompaniment, and which arguably exceed French cuisine in terms of complexity and effort in many circumstances. I say this from the point of view of someone from a mostly Celtic ethnology, so I'm not trying to suggest a cultural bias.

                          1. re: Snarf

                            IMO, the two or three really 'stand-out omission' of the Hong Kong Guide include the High -end continental cuisine - Gaddis in the Peninsula Hotel which I was expecting at least a star. The other one is the Italian 'Da Domenico' - arguably the best Italian restaurant ( foodwise ) in HK. This restaurant wasn't even mention in the guide! Since there are sooooo many good Chinese eateries in HK, omission of a few is expected.

                            1. re: Snarf

                              Well, the Tokyo guide went from mostly French inspectors to mostly Japanese inspectors, and the ratings didn't really change. So... Not sure if that says anything.

                              1. re: Snarf

                                Yes, like those mentioned by Charles for non-chinese restaurant. For chinese restaurant, I think they got it all wrong. It is a bizarre list. Up until today, I have not seen a single one HK local food critics praise for the michelin rating. Some even gives harsh comment on it. From the list, I don't think they understand what HK has to offer at all. There are clearly better chinese restaurants in HK than the only 3-star chinese restaurant in the HK guide. There are 1 star restaurants (eg. Fook Lam Moon) which should get more. There are restaurants which should not be in the list (eg. Hutong, The Square).

                                Local favourite restaurants (which does not have a nice environment) such as Tin Heung Lau, Sheung Hing are nowhere to be seen in the list. Most local cuisine (except wonton noodle) are basically missing in action in the guide.

                                There is a thread in the China/HK board which talks about the Favourite dish in HK, there are only a few which belongs to the star restaurant in the HK Michelin Guide, even less belongs to 2/3 stars. So this gives you an idea how many great restaurant are missing in the guide.


                                1. re: Snarf

                                  Regarding the Tokyo Michelin guide, there is a bit of information. There is a famous Japanese food critics (友里征耶) which follow the guide and try all the restaurant and rate them. For those 3 stars restaurants, he gave non of them 3 star, except one of the French restaurant. And he gives the following 3-star restaurants ZERO stars.

                                  - Jiro (Ginza)
                                  - Hamadaya
                                  - Kanda

                                  1. re: skylineR33

                                    In case you're interested, this is the blog to which skylineR33 is referring:

                                    It's a pretty fantastic read (if you can read Japanese).

                              2. re: tjr

                                With so many fine restaurants in Tokyo, leaving out a few good ones is expected. However, based on my Tokyo dining experiences, I'm really stunned to see Iron Chef French - Sakai's flag ship 'La Rochelle' not included in the guide let alone given star rating. Stepping into the restaurant, watching the well seasoned staff performing their duties and being ushered to the table by the friendly Maitre D' reminds me of starting a culinary adventure in a well oiled 'Traditional' Parisian 2* - 3* like a Michel Rostang, Carre de Feuillente or Lucas Carton. As for the food! The food was amazing. A seafood terrine appertizer that I once had was so beautifully plated that it took me sometime before I was forced to destroy the art work. And the flavour! Layers and layers of it, originating from the multiple layers of langoustine, sea prawns, fresh crab meat, scallops, fish..etc and the sauce/oil drizzled in a floral pattern around it. The fish entree was a piece of Japanese snapper from the sea off Hokkaido which was another masterpiece and one of the best fish dishes I've ever eaten. Easily bested a similar dish that I once had at the Parisian seafood specialist 2* - Vivorois
                                All these attributes and get ignored?! If I was Sakai, I would be mad! Afterall he did beat out quite a few Michelin star chefs during his time on 'Iron Chef'
                                Such is the life of a chef in the Michelin universe - mega-frustration!!

                                1. re: Charles Yu

                                  I don't actually know, but in my mind I imagine that the French are still angry about the results of the King of Iron Chef Tournament, haha. I don't really understand how he was "forgotten" or "passed over" by the Guide; it doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

                                  1. re: tjr

                                    No, their anger is based on William Shatner not reprising the role of Chairman after the pilot of the first American series. They still sting from Jerry Lewis not winning an oscar as well.

                          2. re: Snarf

                            Snarf, I agree mostly to your post above. I would think about changing the title of this thread to "Would the Michelin Guide Be Relevant to the rest of the world besides Europe ?"

                            1. re: skylineR33

                              Or even Europe. There are enough people in European countries who don't agree with the rankings. I think either the problem is that Michelin isn't comprehensive enough, or that the judges saw something everyone else didn't see. Some restaurants deserve the praise, others don't, and others aren't even included.

                              1. re: tjr

                                In the latest 'San Pelligrino top 100 best restaurant in the world'. After El Bulli and Fat Duck, the third best happens to be a restaurant in Copenhagan of all places!! Looks like Michelin is not the only guide thats coming out with some weird rating!

                                1. re: Charles Yu

                                  Do you have a link for that? Sounds interesting. I'm reminded of the magazine articles that put Eigensinn highly rated (personally, have always liked his food), and puzzled about the accessibility of the experience to people who don't know that there are no hotels nearby.

                                  1. re: Charles Yu

                                    The Danes are currently at the height of continental cuisine at this point, according to a lot of different European critics!

                                    1. re: tjr

                                      Any links? I don't follow this market generally. Curious about whether it's molecular, locavore, or simply trying to be more French than the French.

                                      1. re: Snarf

                                        souphie, one of the resident French hounds, has posted a bit about it on his blog:

                            2. re: Charles Yu

                              My last statement was not 'cuisine' specific. I could have used a 3* Italian in Italy or Japanese in Tokyo or Chinese in Hong Kong as an example.

                              I am just trying to make a point that, in general, nowadays, food standard of Michelin star restaurants worlwide are so high that on a given night, even a lowly 1* in California at the top of its game, can cook up food that can even bested a Parisian 3*. As such, I believe for a 3* to be a 'genuine' 3*, Michelin should take into account of the 'whole package' ie., Food, Wine, Service, Ambience and Decor. Afterall, according to the guide, a 3* is one thats 'worthy of a SPECIAL TRIP'. And to me, if I am to take that special trip, I will be looking for more than just food. Great wine list and service plus memorable decor should be factored into the whole experience. My two cents worth!

                              1. re: Charles Yu

                                One of the top sports to attrract nerds for statistics is baseball. Most of the websites these days have what are called 'sortable statistics', that look at a number of different benchmarks, and rank the teams based on these. So if you look at a typical reference chart, you can click on any one statistic category, and see the listings reranked based on that particular statistic.

                                There are undoubtedly those who are not as fussed with having table cloths, or the number of forks on the table. If such a matrix were to be created, what criteria would you folks suggest?

                                Example. If you were to consider which restaurants were the most creative and inventive in Canada, which ones would you suggest and why? Under the Michelin guidelines, these would likely be cordoned off in the special trip suburb, but maybe there are people who specialize in special trips?

                                1. re: Snarf

                                  No ifs or buts! Definitely 'SOOKE HARBOUR Restaurant' in Vancouver Island. Its like a really 'nicely decorated' version of an Eigensinn Farm but BY THE SEA! The food using ultra fresh seafood at its doorstep, organic products from its back garden, wild mushrooms from forests just down the road and Artisanal farm products.....etc is simply amazing!! Its definitely Michelin stars calibre!

                          3. The only way Toronto will be featured in the guide is:

                            - Combined with other food centres such as Montreal and Quebec City

                            - Have enough 'world class 5 star' hotel in town to fill up the rear section of the guide. We might have better luck in this area than restaurants since we'll be seeing the completion of the Trump Tower, Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons ans Shangri La within the next couple of years.

                            On the food side, looking at how inconsistent Michelin evaluated and awarded stars to restaurants in New York, Hong Kong and Tokyo, any star given to Toronto establishments will be highly controversial. I have dined in restaurants that offer great food ( in many a case much better than what Toronto has to offer ) and IMHO deserve at least a star but were totally ignored by Michelin. A few include Aquavit, Degustation, Eleven Madison Park, Felidia,Sushi Yasuda and Le Cirque in NYC, Gaddis in Hong Kong, Jiro ( Roppongi branch ), La Rochelle ( Iron Chef French Sekai ) in Tokyo. If all of the afore mentioned establishments were left out, then using the same evaluation criteria and level playing field used by current Michelin inspectors, I will be surprise to see the current Toronto list will garner more than 5 one stars!!

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Charles Yu

                              How Jewel Bako made it over Yasuda/Kurumazushi baffles me to no end.

                              1. re: aser

                                Michelin NYC is a joke and I don't think very many people take it seriously.