'Craft' - What makes it so good, so popular and constantly referred to by foodies?
- Charles Yu Jul 2, 2013 08:39 PM
I realize recommendation by Michelin has always been a contentious issue amongst foodies and chowhounders. However, to us out-of-town visitors, who rely on reference sources to direct them to previously untried foodie destinations. Information provided by Yelp, Zagat, Chowhound, Timeout or Michelin....is as good as any.
Question: Why is 'Craft' rated so highly amongst food guides, so popular and constantly referred to as one of NYC's top culinary destination? If the food is indeed so good then why is it not Michelin Star rated??!! If assuming Michelin is reliable for western style cuisine, does it mean that 'Craft' is over-rated for some unknown reason?!
I have always loved Craft for what it is - incredible ingredients, cooked simply, but perfectly. My only gripe is that the prices are somewhat high, but I think again, it goes back somewhat to the quality of product being used.
Can't answer why it doesn't at least have one star (domestically) as I think it is better than a number of those...that being said, if I were in charge of Michelin on this side of the pond, I wouldn't be tossing stars to every reasonably good restaurant in NYC; especially since many of the one stars, to me, are operating at very different levels. It takes away some of the distinction IMHO
Unfortunately, I don't think we know.
To most NYers, it's "crazy" that restaurants like Craft and Babbo don't have a star. I mean Babbo is talked about more on CH than Craft. Both are owned by celebrity chefs.
FYI, Adam Platt has Craft has #5 in the city:
Directionally, I agree with the list.
I also like starless restaurants like Barbuto, Marc Forgione, Esca, Riverpark, Telepan, Sushi Yasuda, Tocqueville, Lincoln Ristorante, and Casa Mono,
I didn't realize Craft doesn't have a star. The food is terrific and the service of a very high level. Michelin has these inexplicable omissions, but Craft certainly deserves one star. I think it deserves more, but in the Michelin scheme, the food and table settings are probably not elaborate enough.
What are your expectations of Michelin-starred restaurant? That is what really matters.
It is not unheard of for restaurants to get Michelin stars and subsequently get slammed over and over and over by people who went to them seeking an experience based on their expectations of what a Michelin-starred restaurant should deliver. I suspect a lot restaranteurs without Michelin stars thank their lucky stars they don't have one but are still filling their tables every night with happy patrons.
The Michelin ratings systems reflects its origins as guide for roadsters, wondering whether a meal will be worth the wear and tear on the tires to get there.
The system is:
3 stars "Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey"
2 stars "Excellent cooking, worth a detour"
1 star "A very good restaurant in its category"
A lot of people mistakenly think that a 1 star Michelin restaurant is just a more informal, price-friendly version of a 3 star, or a younger, less established restaurant that might someday move up the ladder. But a 1-star joint might be totally out of the box when it comes to what people expect of a Michelin starred experience.
My experience of Michelin starred restaurants pretty much tracks my experience of Oscar-winning movies. I see instantly why they won the Oscar, but the movies lack what I want from art. Lots of chefs are manipulating their food to win stars rather than provide a truly good experience of food and dining. Michelin isn't a guide I use to choose where to eat any more than I line up to see the latest Steven Spielberg Best Picture of the Year.
My experience with Michelin is that their reliability is proportional to the local food culture's similarity with French culture. Thus for France, the Guide Michelin is unfailingly reliable, and indeed the only one I'd use. For Spain and Italy it's fairly close, although e.g. in Italy Gambero Rosso is better. For England, Germany, and the USA, it can be less reliable. Michelin tends to miss, in those countries, restaurants in the Northern European tradition, with lots of heavy, filling things that don't make much fuss over plating or visual appeal. Restaurants doing dishes or styles that diverge significantly from classic French style have difficulty getting high ratings, even if the cooking is definitive for the region. This can also apply to atmosphere, to a lesser degree: although Michelin claims atmosphere is not a factor in star ratings, that's only a partial truth; they might give a token star to a Peter Luger which has become an institution - to prove their contention - but on the whole the stars go to the places that provide a cosseted setting. All of these are generalisations, but the trend of diminishing reliability as the cultural distance from France increases is noticeable.
Another factor is that Michelin clearly has a certain "tick-list" when it comes to giving stars. For example, it's now quite difficult to get a star without offering several amuse-bouches and other between-courses extras. I had one restauranteur also claim that Michelin rather candidly told him that his restaurant didn't get a star because he took a hard line on not having French wines, which he considered regionally inappropriate. I can't verify this claim, so it's very much hearsay, but if true it's an interesting inside look at the mechanics of the Michelin process. There is absolutely no doubt in this particular case that the restaurant merited multiple stars - quite possibly 3.
It's also fairly clear that Michelin is fairly chef-centric, when allotting stars: who is running the restaurant seems to have at least as much impact as the food on offer, and there appear to be "white-listed" and "black-listed" chefs.
At the end of the day, there are certain types and classes of restaurant that will NEVER get Michelin stars, even though their food is world-class. Likewise there are other types of restaurant which are almost guaranteed to get stars, even though the food may be lacklustre. Even so, Michelin is far, far more reliable than a lot of other guides. The value of ratings in guidebooks is that they give the newcomer or tourist, unfamiliar with the local scene, some idea of places to try in a world of often-bewildering choice, and in that respect they provide value; Michelin being one of the more valuable. But it would be naïve in the extreme to consider any guide as an authoritative and exhaustive source for any city of reasonable size.
I agree with a lot of what you say except I think you very much overrating the utility of the guide for the cuisine of Spain and Italy, where in many areas it is downright misleading, let alone "reliable" for the clueless tourist hoping to sample the best these cultures can offer. I haven't bought a copy of Gambero Rosso for Italy in years, which like Michelin, favors fancified food and promoting "chefs" to gossip about. Osterie d'Italie is a much more reliable guide for locating places to eat wonderfully while traveling through italy.
And I think that even as you provide a wealth of evidence, you are still underestimating just how much of a closed loop the Michelin culture is, and how much the Michelin evaluation of "good" becomes THE evaluation for many competitive restaurant chasers, so of course the guide is useful for them and they tout the utility to others, and feel hurt or puzzled if they like a restaurant and it doesn't get a star, and cheer when their choices are validated by Michelin. Whatever value you ascribe to the star system, I would point out it also does a lot of damage to food culture in equal measure.
Which isn't to say that all Michelin starred restaurants serve terrible food or are to be avoided, unless you happen not to like what Michelin likes or what fits their formulas. And then it becomes a guide for where *not* to go.
In much of Europe, I think it is fundamentally misleading to think that local food scene is going be best revealed to you in a Michelin starred restaurant. A culture can have a great food culture without concerning itself much with a professionalized, hyper-competitive restaurant culture, and Michelin just doesn't know how to handle that, because the guide is not about food and good eating. It is about restaurants, and a very narrow definition of restaurant at that.
My experience with the reliability of Michelin in Spain and Italy has generally been positive, albeit with a few glaring omissions. However as you've said it depends a lot on your own expectations.
Guides like Michelin or Gambero Rosso are rating relative to *fine*, high-end dining. Their standards are based on expectations arising from fairly high budgets - people able to spend at least €60 a head, not including wine. That's not to say they don't find places below that price point, but it does mean that their standards are judged relative to a high starting point.
If what you are trying to find is fairly rustic, basic trattorie or tapas bars offering reasonable food at relatively budget prices, then these guides might list some such places but they won't have the highest ratings - simply because their quality is being judged on the same absolute scale. And restaurants that charge more *are* going to be able to produce a better result, in the limit. To give a case in point, I've had a risotto alla milanese at Cracco (Michelin 2-star, Gambero Rosso 2 forchette) that was manifestly better than others I've had at more basic restaurants - which is to be expected - they've got the budget to get absolutely the best ingredients and cook them with absolutely the most uncompromising technique. The best possible quality doesn't come cheap, although very good quality may do so.
Now, for many people high prices or a formal, ostentatious atmosphere is enough to diminish the experience - and they may well feel there is something more genuine about a humble restaurant without any particular ambitions to greatness or world fame quietly going about producing very nice versions of regionally authentic cooking. That's a valid approach to eating.
But, I would also urge people not to confuse relative goodness, in a particular price/style category, with absolute quality, without regard to price or character. Unless that local trattoria is producing something truly sublime, it can't be considered as good as the Michelin-starred restaurant that *is* giving you something sublime - and this goes beyond considerations of things like portion size, friendliness/approachableness of the staff, degree to which the menu reflects traditional regional dishes, etc.
On the other hand, as you also say, the process of "star-chasing" is leading to a dangerous homogenisation of the high-end restaurant experience, and at the same time a tendency of such places to offer unusual "creative" dishes without anything basic or traditional on the menu - a pity, because I'd like to see what traditional dishes can be like, done by a top-end establishment. Minetta Tavern (1-star) is an example of this - the burger is quintessentially American and it's hard to argue with the awesome output they've achieved (Bun excepted). Some may balk at $26, or think this is silly, but to me it shows what can be done, in the limit.
New York is in a bit of a "bubble" - because it's a great world metropolis, it can support an almost infinite number of very high-end restaurants, all of whom will almost inevitably copy each other to some degree as they try to compete in an aggressive market, and this can have the effect of skewing the perception of both fine dining locally and what to look for when abroad. I'd say the Michelin guide is far from infalliable, when it comes to the New York scene, but for the Romance-speaking European world they provide a reasonable approximation to the truth.