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Apr 10, 2012 02:56 AM


After Tokyo, Kyoto areas, now Michelin third opus is on Hokkaido. This northern exposure made me look for feedback of what you think the specialities will be..  and what might be the surprises in this new guide.

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  1. I have to admit I am slightly beyond caring - the lack of a universal standard in the Michelin Guide is absurd and for some reason annoying me more and more. The more restaurants I have eaten in which happen to have one, two or three Michelin stars, the more absurd the Tokyo guide seems to me. At first it was exciting having the Michelin Guide a few years back - finally a fine dining guide available in English from a recognised and respected institution, making the market that much more accessible for visitors to this country or residents who cannot read kanji.

    Then you try a number of the restaurants and find that while in some cases the stars seem justified, in many other cases you don't get where on earth the stars came from, in particular if you have eaten at Michelin starred restaurants in France and compare a one star there with a one star here. There are Michelin-starred French restaurants in Tokyo which you would find anywhere in France (without star of course) - places with very tasty food, but certainly not deserving of the ridiculous accolades they are getting.

    It got really annoying when they started giving Michelin stars to so-so yakitori places and decent izakayas. The guide is still useful, but should be renamed - people should not be deceived into thinking that it applies a universal standard around the world. The Tokyo Guide seems to simply award stars to restaurants that are good in their categories, no matter how basic such categories may be (e.g., stars for what inspectors think is decent oden, yakitori, izakaya etc.). Of course, this year Michelin has also awarded not one but two stars to what is basically an upscale yakiniku place.

    As for the constant lament that the inspectors don't "get" Japanese food because they are foreign - in the past few years, all but one have been Japanese (i.e., 6 Japanese, one foreign). If anything, they don't get French food.

    I suppose the whole thing is just a normal commercial enterprise - the Michelin Guide has suffered a lot financially in recent years, in particular because of the internet. Often people just want to know which places have how many stars, and then they look up reviews on the internet of places they think they might want to visit. The identity of the restaurants and star count is revealed in the Michelin press release on the internet the day the book is published. Unfortunately, in the actual guides Michelin only includes very short and usually totally uninformative text in relation to the individual restaurants (written not by the inspectors, but by some office workers hired by Michelin who have never seen the inside of the restaurants!) so there is no added benefit in buying the guide. If they included detailed notes by the inspectors it would be better and would probably motivate many more people to make the purchase.

    In Japan however, despite the widely condescending attitude to the guide, sales (of the Japanese language version) have been excellent, at least in the first few years (no idea if that is still the case, though probably yes if they are yet again expanding to new regions) and I guess the company wants to spoil its paying customers.

    7 Replies
    1. re: Asomaniac

      >> (written not by the inspectors, but by some office workers hired by Michelin who have never
      >> seen the inside of the restaurants!

      really? wow, that's ridiculous.

      1. re: Dustin_E

        Yup. Not just the Japan guide, all of the guides. Which is why the descriptions of restaurants in all Michelin guides often sound unprofessional, bordering on the infantile, and are often just irrelevant from a foodie's perspective because they don't give you the key information you would be looking for. Ever wondered why sometimes 80% of a restaurant description addresses the interior of the place rather than the food, even though stars are purely awarded for the food, not the setting etc..? It is astonishing.

        To be fair, Michelin deliberately does not publicise its criteria for awarding stars so that they can simply assess a restaurant on its merits rather than having restaurants obsessively try to change their cooking to fit the Michelin criteria (and at the same time it is a cop-out, allowing Michelin to remain intransparent); in other words, the inspectors would not give away much. But they could still devote two pages per restaurant just to the food, describing in more detail what exactly sets a restaurant apart etc. I'd probably pay to read that every year, whereas I don't own the current Michelin Guide for Tokyo and will not own any others going forward.

        1. re: Asomaniac

          This time the guide Hokkaido is a special edition, not the 2013 edition. It is true that the Guide might look like for elites, as, in France, you don't eat at restaurants on a day to day basis, whereas in Japan, we eat there so often... This time, Guide will include small eats, rather than just the up grade ones. I am still curious of the food they will consider worth to remember.
          I believe I can trust them more this time, rather than on their up grade restaurants evaluations that for me, are not really based on comparable experience with France.

          1. re: Ninisix

            Here's the complete list. Many ramen shops under the new (for Japan) bib gourmand section:

            1. re: babreu

              bib gourmand - that is exactly where many of the Tokyo starred restaurants belog. There is a Tokyo & surrounding areas bib gourmand guide out as well now, but I do wish they shifted half the starred restaurants into that.

              1. re: Asomaniac

                Yes, even you seem extreme with the 50%, i would add that 70% of the 3stars actually deserve to lose some!  
                So  that means that the big yummy will be ramen (hum, curry ramen? miso ramen, gyokai ?), butadon (for a big glutton day?), and mutton(Japanese mutton is great) ?
                Here some links of the Michelin bib Hokkaido, in Sapporo :
                Yakitori Shiro : 
                Sukiyaki Sankousha
                Ramen Wabisuke 
                Ramen Nanabe 
                Udon Teraya 

              2. re: babreu

                that link isn't working, unfortunately, Babreu

      2. The results are out. Four new 3 star restaurants:

        Sushi Tanabe
        Moliere (French)
        Michel Bras Toya Japon (French)

        18 Replies
        1. re: babreu

          Have anyone tried any of the three starred establishements? I will be heading to Sapporo soon, I need some guidance.

          1. re: CWFOODIE

            yeah, very little written in English on the topic. I wonder too.

              1. re: epop

                Thx so much. Very useful indeed.

                1. re: CWFOODIE

                  Is there no translation of the reviews for the small eats ? Why ? In my opinion they are as important !! Hope it will follow.

                  1. re: Ninisix

                    that may seem important, but the book really isn't. I'm completely convinced of that.

                    1. re: epop

                      Really ? Even I do not agree in certain things and have independent opinion, I do think that culinary experience is not only the high ends, or the terroir foods, but also culinary baggage of usual, and so the guide will be important. With no guide, nothing ! 
                      I won't discuss here about the four 3 stars, more than my region (Nice Cote d'Azur), and I don't understand it ! I disagree !!!

                      1. re: Ninisix

                        I think wandering around and finding things probably leads to equal if not greater success in a place like Japan, without the book. In the USA, Michelin standards seem far lower, and may help, as there are really so few places to eat.
                        The books are fun sometimes in their own right, and may introduce a person to a certain place, it is true. But I'd say really not necessary.

                        1. re: epop

                          Kind of hard to "wander around and find things" when 2/3 of the stuff, and most of the good stuff, isn't visible from the street, and isn't exactly advertised. Not that I'm advocating Michelin as the source, but this "wander around and find things" method will certainly net you something to eat. Something worthwhile eating? Not necessarily.

                          1. re: epop

                            For me, Michelin has been, by far, the most reliable guide for Japan or anywhere else. Even more than Tabelog. But it's a guide, not the book of indisputable truth.

                            As Uncle Yabai said, one will never be able to find the best restaurants wandering around. Would you ever walk into Yukimura or Mizai, for example, without a guide?

                            1. re: babreu

                              maybe not, but wandering around has led me to places that blew my mind oftentimes more than what's in Michelin. I treat their books as but one source,
                              but without granting anything definitive about it.

                              I've wandered and found jewels. We're talking places that blow the best the USA has to offer out of the water. That's my opinion, and only that.

                              1. re: epop

                                Do you think this may be all a function of expectations? When you go into a place having read about it in a guide, your expectations are that it's going to be good, otherwise you wouldn't be going. Hence the likelihood of disappointment is much higher than if you just wander off the street, where your expectations may be low. Wandering off the street and having a meh experience won't "hurt" as much as having a meh experience after going specifically to a restaurant because it was reviewed positively in a guide.

                                1. re: Uncle Yabai

                                  I mean having the choice in a domain ( ramen ) and thus have known also the "good taste ", we can realize better the taste for the other things ( pork? mouton? seafood? ) right ? I always have had more satisfaction eating what I wanted to. 

                                  1. re: Uncle Yabai

                                    I think the odds are about the same either way, Uncle Yabai. Like I said, the guide has been adequate, and often helpful, but with blogs and other information out there I'm saying perhaps it is not the sacred text some people treat it as. I agree that certain finds might not happen, as other people mention. But I have found that asking a concierge or friend or stumbling upon a place has been highly rewarding. And often money is saved along the way...

                                    The greater problem for me is how inflated the American restaurant scene is in general, and how little I enjoy eating out there anymore.
                                    Michelin does and doesn't recognize that.

                                    Europe seems to be going the same direction, but is oftentimes several steps behind.
                                    Excuse me if I ramble.

                                    What I will say is that I treat meals as the highlight of my day, and treat them with great respect, so I don't wander into any old place to be disappointed. A bad meal is a wasted day.

                                    1. re: epop

                                      Now you're talking a different game. Yes, of course, asking a friend or reading a blog is likely to lead to good finds. Conceptually, how is that different from the Michelin guide, or any guide? I have a list of all the restaurants I've ever eaten in Japan, there are hundreds of them. Going back through the list, the only restaurant I can think of "stumbling" literally off the street (that is, not off a guide, recommended by somebody, or from a review in a news source) that rates as a real winner eventually gathered a Michelin star, at which point it became a lot more difficult to make reservations.

                                      1. re: Uncle Yabai

                                        Well put, although I am surprised your stumbling ratio in Japan isn't higher. I've been to so many wonderful places simply by walking by. And I am, for better or worse, a rather brutal critic.

                                        I think we basically agree. What I resist is the worship of the Michelin opinion. There are thousands of unreviewed restaurants that deserve stars, and countless others I can think of in some countries that deserve theirs taken away, or lowered...

                                        For example, one can have better sushi at an unreviewed place than one with three stars, at 20% of the price. I swear that is the case...

                                        1. re: epop

                                          "For example, one can have better sushi at an unreviewed place than one with three stars, at 20% of the price. I swear that is the case..."

                                          Care to share this amazing & affordable sushi option with us?

                                          1. re: od_sf

                                            Not being snide but I feel there are any number of coastal places with affordable sushi in Japan, with cuts often better than the 3-star places I've been to.
                                            The 3 stars often have better seating, and beautiful environments, however. Not to say that these other places don't.