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Oct 16, 2013 09:09 AM

SF Bay Area Michelin Guide 2014 Bib Gourmand

The Chronicle posted the 2014 Big Gourmand list and noted additions and subtractions.

There's a big boost to Asian restaurants (7 new ones) and areas outside of SF.

Restaurants with at least one Sichuan chef dominate the Chinese places (Happy Noodle, Sichuan Home, Crouching Tiger, Fey vs. Old Mandarin, Yank Sing, and M.Y. China). Happy Noodles, which I'm fond of, is a bold addition. Unlike other places on the list, the spiciness of the dishes I've had there hasn't been changed for the Western palette. It's probably the only restaurant on the list where you have to walk through the kitchen to get to the bathroom.

Discussion of 2013
Discussion of 2012

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  1. Is Fey in Menlo Park a new restaurant?

    5 Replies
    1. re: macdog

      I think it's about a year old now, maybe a touch less. There was a long chain, and a chowdown, and some fairly unimpressed 'hounds when all was done. Much statement that Fey needs to up the amperage when it comes to spice & taste.

      1. re: macdog

        I was SHOCKED to see Fey on the list. The lunch I had there was the worst I have had (even worse than places with trays 8 of food out). Maybe it is because the decor is nice?

        1. re: estnet

          My food at Fey has always been edible. Bland, perhaps, but edible.

          The worst chinese I've had was on I-80 somewhere between fargo and MSP. Not edible.

          I also did not throw up after eating at Fey. I have at other restaurants (due to taste, not food poisoning).

          That being said, I have a lot of trouble justifying Fey.

          To claim that Fey is the worst lunch you have ever had stretches belief.

          1. re: bbulkow

            Maybe I've been luckier than you - never had food so bad it made me throw up VBG

            While it may not be fair to judge a restaurant from one lunch I have to say that this rating has given me serious pause in how I look at their ratings. I have eaten all over the world in various starred places - for ANY restaurant to serve food that had been sitting in a premade bin in the back is bad, but I never would have expected this from a place they rate (and I didn't know this when I ate there - tried it b/c of ch recs).
            AIK is that hole in the wall chinese places in SM that I frequent serve me made to order, freshly prepared (well except maybe except for the egg roll and soup), properly cooked food,
            I just can't imagine going to a Mich rated place ANYWHERE and having food that isn't worth eating b/c it is so badly prepared. Just MHO

          2. re: estnet

            Since no one has mentioned this yet, Fey's actual _review_ in the 2014 Guide cites "outstanding tea-smoked duck, roasted to order with meltingly tender meat and shatteringly crisp skin;" "fiery mapo tofu;" whole fish with peppers, hua jiao, chili oil; "signature" hotpot offerings (tables fitted with heating elements specifically for those).

            I wonder what CHers think of those dishes -- I've seen only one mention of MPTF recently -- which presumably figured in the Bib Gourmand status.

            It's evident from the past Fey threads (that Melanie has just posted in our separate discussion here) that Fey has alternated Chengdu and "non-Chengdu" chefs (which is important info to know, as well as who is is in during your particular visit) and also that it does pull its punches for the perceived market.

        2. I'm wondering if La Costanera's downgrading from a Michelin star to Bib Gourmand has anything to do with the fact that one chef has left to run a food truck (El Calamar) or that the owner has been preoccupied wit running his own food truck (Sanguchon).

          The increase in Asian restaurant mentions indicates that Michelin reviewers are perhaps educable. Chinatwn still gets stiffed, though. Z & Y deserves a spot on the list and perhaps Great Eastern or R & G.

          I'm chuckling at your comment about walking through the kitchen to go to the bathroom.. It's always a good opportunity to see what's going on in the kitchen. (But let's hope Justin Bieber stays away.)

          21 Replies
          1. re: soupçon

            "The increase in Asian restaurant mentions indicates that Michelin reviewers are perhaps educable..."

            Come on. I've seen insightful, cuisine-knowledgeable writing about regional Chinese, with recommendations of specialties, in past Michelins.

            Of course I refer to the actual Michelins, not the bits of froth served up online by their marketing dept. this time each year since 2005 to boost interest (the advance B G and "star" lists, totalling only a minority of the recommended restaurants and little of the Guide's detailed information even about them).

            You people who opine all about the Michelins based solely on those flashy bits are missing most of the content. As if characterizing a multi-course restaurant meal just from a few appetizers and desserts. Read the actual book, then we can discuss its reviewers' strengths and weaknesses earnestly.

            1. re: eatzalot

              Yes, I have made this point many times as well, but always on deaf ears. Hasn't anyone noticed that the Michelin guide is more than 10 pages thick? There are many recommendations for cheap Asian food in there.

              1. re: dunstable

                In fact, FAR more restaurants I've seen praised specifically by Michelin's reviewers in the book meet the "Bib Gourmand" price value requirement than actually make that list, so I have to assume they limit the length of the list. Yet another reason why reliance just on these published "lists" imparts distorted impressions of the Michelin content.

                1. re: eatzalot

                  The Bib Gourmand symbol denotes the inspectors' favorites for delivering the most value among those restaurants that meet the price requirement.

              2. re: eatzalot

                I totally agree that Michelin often gets stereotyped unfairly and that people may overlook its value. On the other hand, when the first Bay Area edition (2007) came out, it was pretty sloppy (rush to market?) and contained several items that made people roll their eyes, like Ozumo's Embarcadero entrance.

                1. re: nocharge

                  Yes, 2007 ed. (released late October 2006). Same reaction occurred in other US regions that got their first Michelin Guides, in fact the "feeding frenzy" of deliciously appalled Gotchas in Los Angeles newspapers and online media surpassed even the one here.

                  Not to mention little gaffes. A personal favorite was a Bay Area seafood restaurant, where the Guide mentioned something like customers preferring food sources with "four legs" could find chicken dishes on the menu. (Great local mirth; quips re metropolitan writers never having seen a chicken; etc etc.)

                  These though were errors and exceptions, no more representative of the whole book than the hyped "lists" are. But they surface online, thus assume outsized importance to readers who only get their information online.

                  [Years corrected above per thoughtful follow-ups.]

                  1. re: eatzalot

                    The lists are significant in that they are more highly recommended than the many other places in the guide.

                    *** = worth a special journey
                    ** = worth a detour
                    * = good place to stop
                    BG = inspectors' recommendation for best value

                    The first SF guide in 2006 had some embarrassingly outdated information, such as saying that Reed Hearon was at Rose Pistola and that Aziza had belly dancers, when neither had been true since 2003.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      "The lists are significant in that they are more highly recommended than the many other places in the guide..."

                      All true, Robert, and taken for granted in what I posted above. All separate though from my point here, that most of the Guide's content remains outside the awareness of people who only get their information about the Michelin from online or media sources.

                      The star meanings are, as explained in the book, roughly those long familiar in the European guides, including to Americans who've traveled there. In fact the European Guides have been more detailed, in my experience, with more restaurant specifics, especially via shorthand symbols and sub-rankings. The Guide has even explicitly mentioned simplifying its presentation to enter the new market of the United States, but in W. Europe where everyone has consulted it for generations, people are more generally acquainted with its shorthands and customs.

                      One of the pleasures I found in past decades was identifying outstanding chefs and restaurants that did not YET have stars; generally they'd be on the radar for years before they earned any, and less expensive, too. That experience taught me to pay attention to the details inside, not just the stars.

                    2. re: eatzalot

                      The first SF edition was the 2007 one. Using google, I found the following site that would seem to indicate that the stars were announced in early October of 2006.

                      1. re: nocharge

                        Cover date was 2007, right. It was published in October 2006.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          Yes, of course. Pretty much any guide book with a year on the cover was published the year before.

                    3. re: nocharge

                      Agreed the first one was quite bad especially compared to the European editions but they have consistently covered a wide variety in the guides and the inspectors do hold on to favorites. I do like that most restaurants do not know who the inspectors are unlike the local reviewers and the service they get is more like what an average dinner will have.

                      1. re: tjinsf

                        Agreed, tj. And according to the in-depth New Yorker article that helped introduce the Guide to the US ("Interview with M."), the reviewers, far from being random journalists (let alone people whose main qualification is wanting the job), require rigorous professional culinary credentials even to be considered,and are then systematically screened for cuisine knowledge, including ability to identify all ingredients. (And they are not allowed to tell their parents, who would presumably keep it to themselves for at most a few minutes.)

                        Overall it sounds a bit like joining a religious order, in that they have to really believe in what they are doing, for the workload is heavy and the pay modest.

                        1. re: eatzalot

                          I got a guide a couple of years ago and for my neighborhood, Noe Valley, they included Erics and Le Zinc but left out La Ciccia, Contigo and Firely. They lost all credibility in my eyes.

                  2. re: soupçon

                    Carlos Altamirano already had two other restaurants, Mochica and Piqueos, when he opened La Costanera, so I don't think adding a food truck meant he was spreading himself much thinner.

                    1. re: soupçon

                      Here's the full (I think) list of SF Chinese restaurants recommended by the Michelin Guide:

                      Bund Shanghai
                      Dragon Well
                      Great Eastern
                      Henry's Hunan
                      Mission Chinese Food
                      Oriental Pearl
                      R & G
                      Sichuan Home
                      Yank Sing
                      Z & Y

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        Well, here are the Chinese places that get a full entry in the 2012 guide, for what it's worth. This is for the whole Bay:

                        Asian Pearl
                        China Village
                        Crouching Tiger
                        Dragon Well
                        Gary Chu's
                        Heaven's Dog
                        Henry's Hunan
                        Hong Kong East Ocean
                        Hong Kong Flower Lounge
                        Hunan Home's
                        The Kitchen
                        Koi Palace
                        Legendary Palace
                        Liou's House
                        Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot
                        Old Mandarin Islamic
                        Oriental Pearl
                        R&G Lounge
                        Shanghai Dumpling Shop
                        South Legend
                        Ton Kiang
                        Yank Sing
                        Zen Peninsula

                        1. re: dunstable

                          That's so 2012, dunstable! ;-)

                          As of the current (2013) book, add:

                          Bamboo Garden
                          Cooking Papa
                          Great Eastern
                          Mission Chinese
                          Sichuan Home -- and delete a couple others.

                        2. re: Robert Lauriston

                          Eric's but not Eliza's....Shameful!! (tongue firmly in cheek)

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            Listing Eric's with its barely edible (Americanized but that's not the issue) food is appalling. I won't let family members go there, and I live around the corner.

                        3. Happy Noodles was reported as closing soon in a recent report, wonder if they'll see a bump through this, and stay open?


                          The peninsula asian in this report seems fairly random, frankly. I have a hard time justifying Crouching Tiger anymore (although they still get a slice of my sunday takeout business). Evvia's a natural addition.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: bbulkow

                            Happy Noodles was quite definite about closing a day or two before, which was weeks after the Michelin came out.

                          2. Have ANY of the Sichuan food fans on Chowhound reported having had any kind of a good meal at Sichuan Home?

                            The reviews and attention this place gets are mystifying to me. The food is definitely 2nd rate. And now a Michelin mention. WTF?

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: davidg1

                              I've not been to Sichuan Home to be able to say. But sight unseen, I bet it's better than either Fey or Crouching Tiger, both Sichuan restaurants on the Peninsula, which are so disappointing foodwise but do have a bit nicer decor.

                              1. re: Melanie Wong

                                Melanie, I mentioned in the MPTF thread that some of the best Sichuanese restaurant cooking I've had has been at restaurants whose names didn't reveal that they had Sichuanese cooks, and the reverse has also been true -- grossly inauthentic dishes in a restaurant with "Sichuan" in its name. I've since gotten in the habit of routinely chatting with front staff to learn the chef's background and experience.

                                After your own dan dan mian report in particular, I wondered about who's running Fey's kitchen, and don't recall anyone here mentioning it. Then again, there are the specific dish recommendations in the Michelin (which I just posted elsewhere in this thread); only the MPTF has surfaced recently on CH, and just one experience report, I think.

                                1. re: eatzalot

                                  Here are the two threads with more info on Fey:

                         (includes my own meal report)

                                  I did not attend the chowdown reported in the second thread. However, many of those attendees were present for the dinner at Mandarin Gourmet and said MG was much better.

                                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                                    Thanks. Lots of evidence of inconsistency (a possible tip of multiple hands, or turnover, in the kitchen) as well as the numb-to-market rule (your March-1 comment cited a "Mr Chau's" clientele).

                                    In a quick read of all the postings in both threads, I spotted little info about who was running the kitchen during those meals. (ETA: Just RWCfoodie, who did catch good info re alternating chefs.)

                                    That can be useful, very clarifying, information, so I wish more of the intrepid Chowhounders would get into the habit of inquiring routinely.

                              2. re: davidg1

                                I think Sichuan Home has been on that list for a few years, probably riding the coattails of Patricia Untermann's review from when it opened.

                                As for Fey, I've disliked their meals on Thursdays. Not planning to go back on other days...

                              3. I think my conclusion after my own experience and the other comments is to disregard any Michelin ratings of Chinese places!

                                16 Replies
                                1. re: estnet


                                  1. Since I gather you refer here to judging the Michelin from one Fey meal, I wonder if you have read Michelin's actual review of Fey (which lies behind the "Bib Gourmand" classification) and what you think of it.

                                  2. What about the issue of Fey's multiple chefs with different styles on different days, which was in RWCfoodie's previous comments and which I mentioned in this current thread?

                                  1. re: eatzalot

                                    Perhaps you can enlighten those of us didn't purchase Michelin guides--- does their Fey review tell people to inquire who the chef is before ordering the "fiery mapo tofu" they recommend?

                                    It's fine recommending an inconsistent restaurant with unique dishes, but why play chef-roulette with a Sichuan restaurant when there are plenty of consistent Sichuan restaurants in the area offering similar dishes? The latter is where I want my money to go. Fey doesn't advertise that it has different chefs in the kitchen on different days. More to the point of this thread, the alleged thoroughness of Michelin inspectors is in question when they're not picking up inconsistencies on different days. Isn't the point of professional reviewers to pick up on these things so single-time eater don't have to eat bad meals?

                                    1. re: hyperbowler

                                      It's always possible to make they-ought-to've arguments to buttress a received impression, and to some extent I play devil's advocate here, after Fey's history of CH comments.

                                      But I'm also very experienced personally with comments by people appraising whole restaurants and their menus and typical dining experience based on just one first-hand visit, trying one dish (occasionally, exactly the wrong thing to order there, or on what any regular would warn as the wrong time or day to visit). Look at Yelp. Going further and assessing an entire guide book, which most people here appear never to've actually opened, from one restaurant seemed like a bit of a reach, which is why I asked those q's of estnet.

                                      1. re: eatzalot

                                        Michelin's blurb recommends only four dishes and they waste eight of their 126 words on a Tina Fey joke.


                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          Yes, I already quoted the dishes here yesterday, and the "Tina Fey joke" is typical of the junk they seem to feel obliged to add, maybe with good reason, in adapting this guide to a country that gets so many of its references from evanescent pop culture.

                                          In Europe, the Guides focus more deeply on the food (another comparison I seldom see discussed on this board's perennial "Michelin" threads since 2006).

                                          Still interested to hear from estnet.

                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            Thanks for the link, Robert. Now we can all kvetch about their offerings after having read the specific reviews.

                                            As I suggested above, I disagree with their description of Fey's Mapo Doufu as "fiery."

                                            I asked where to find a good version of Mongolian Beef in a previous thread. LOL, little did I know it was a specialty of Z&Y: "golden brown scallion pancakes sprinkled with sesame seeds; tender pork strips bathing in a garlic sauce pungent with dried Sichuan chilies; and Mongolian beef flavored with oyster and soy sauce." It's also recommended at Crouching Tiger.

                                      2. re: eatzalot

                                        Everyone has their own tastes, and anyone trying to come up with these kinds of ratings will always come in for a great deal of flak.

                                        However, there are always certain things that stand out as particularly foolish.

                                        Personally, I think the inclusion of Sichuan Home is ludicrous. It's bizarre that in their review of Z&Y there's no mention that it's a Sichuan restaurant. I think Old Mandarin is good, but not great (a lot more excellent non-Cantonese food can be had in SF than used to be the case, and they don't have the sort of Muslim Chinese food you find in the San Gabriel Valley), I think that Troya, while decent, is not particularly good. I think the A16 cookbook is far better than the restaurant and no way in hell does SPQR deserve a Michelin star. I think Dosa is good, but if you grew up eating a lot of good Indian food you would know it's not THAT good. On the other hand, I give props to them for including the wonderful Kappou Gomi. But there will be lots of people who disagree with me about all of these places.

                                        But it does sound like Fey is a mistake. Inconsistency is not something that can be overlooked by professional reviewers.

                                        1. re: davidg1

                                          Their blurb on Old Mandarin mentions a "signature stir-fry" when the dish that draws Chinese diners is Peking-style hot pot (not mentioned at all), falsely states that it follows "the Islamic dietary code" when they serve beer, recommends an imaginary "extremely hot pepper chicken" dish, and calls the bland stirred flour balls "deeply flavored."


                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            the extremely hot pepper chicken dish is not imaginary; it's called "la si ni" (so spicy it could kill you) and is a popular item there. i agree with the rest of your criticism however.

                                            1. re: vulber

                                              Calling the la si ni a chicken dish is about as misleading as calling dry-fried string beans a pork dish.

                                              1. re: vulber

                                                There's no chicken in that dish.

                                                  1. re: vulber

                                                    Yes, that photo has chicken. I've ordered extremely hot pepper many times there (I think Martin Strell posted the first report when we tried it).

                                                    They must have added a variation.

                                                  2. re: Windy

                                                    Chicken, eggs, or both, it would be hard to tell and I'm not sure they always make it the same way. This photo sure looks like chicken:


                                                    1. re: Windy

                                                      They probably changed the recipe. In an old thread that Windy is on someone was speculating whether the meat was lamb:

                                                      The version at Beijing Restaurant has some chicken in it:

                                                      1. re: hyperbowler

                                                        Yeah, we thought it was beef too, but the meat was never prominent: