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2014 SF Bay Area Michelin Stars

The new list was just released:

Thoughts? I wasn't surprised to see State Bird added or Alexander's or Redd drop off - I really enjoyed meals at both those places but I've heard very mixed things recently about both of them. I never really thought La Costanera was star worthy in the first place, but I'm surprised about Frances, which is still one of the darlings of SF dining.

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  1. AQ is missing from the one-star list. I'm not surprised to see Frances demoted; I never understood how it got the star in the first place. It's popular because there is so little competition in the Castro.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Paul H

      I dunno, I think Frances is pretty good. Maybe not as good as their reservation situation suggests, but I'd happily dine there.

      1. re: Paul H

        Have had many meals at Frances and have enjoyed them all. One thing to note is that we have only ordered entrees once and were a bit underwhelmed with them. I've also heard this feedback from friends who have dined there. Might be a reason why they were docked. We usually go with most of the bouchees, a couple apps, and a dessert. Plus the $1/oz house wine is a great option and the market shots never disappoint.

        1. re: foodcoupleSF

          Interesting - I had the same experience at Frances. I've only been once but we really enjoyed our apps and desserts and were underwhelmed by the entrees. I thought we just ordered wrong, but its really interesting to know others have had the same experience.

      2. Disappointing AQ doesn't have a star. Surprised Luce and Spruce still has one.

        10 Replies
        1. re: tjinsf

          This is the second or third site where I have seen mentioned that people do not think Luce does not deserve a Michelin Star. I have been twice, and left impressed each time. Can anyone provide any insight?

          And, yes I do agree that AQ being left out is most unfortunate...

          1. re: WineGeekSF

            I've eaten there many times for business dinners and I find the food and service to be average. To me there is nothing that makes it exception in terms of the creativity of the dishes, the technique used or the service. It's a solid place just not exceptional compared to the places I think of as 1 star although Michelin does one star the expense account set restaurants.

            1. re: WineGeekSF

              Luce was better when Dominique Crenn was chef de cuisine. I had a version of the yogurt menu which she did for Iron Chef once - that was really good.

              1. re: WineGeekSF

                I have been three times. One experience was fantastic - interesting food with a very engaged server. Second time food was oK, no WOW items. Third time was why I won't return- brought my boyfriend for tasting menu with wine pairing. Server just dropped food in front of us and said "this is the chicken dish" and walked away. Nothing about prep, chef's intent, pairing - zip. We had one course that the wine pairing really didn't work for us and asked to hear from the sommelier what they we trying for to better understand/learn something. Server wouldn't ask for sommelier. When we asked again he said they had run out of the intended pairing wine and this was a similar priced varietal.really?!? Still no sommelier to discuss. We'll never return. $250 with a minuscule tip.

              2. re: tjinsf

                I so wanted to like it because I live so close, but had an almost-thoroughly disappointing experience at AQ. The food was obviously off-temperature, seafood entree smelled fishy in a bad way, textures off in one dish like there was obviously an ingredient left out. The waiter was always there when we didn't need him and never when we did, and had a semi-huffy, overly informal manner. The bar manager was wonderful on the drink we had before dinner, however. Made great conversation, and gave great and patient explanations for the beer selection.

                It was obvious from the sheer number of employees running around the place that they want that star badly, but In my opinion, and have heard the same from others, the food and service is not memorable and not worth the price.

                I will have to go back at some point to give it another shot, but I'm having trouble looking forward to it.

                1. re: MissEnPlace

                  Don't bother going back to AQ, MissEnPlace - I've tried three times and every visit was exactly as you describe. Almost everybody on staff acted like we should be thrilled to be there -- huffy, overly formal, just as you put it -- but it was an emperor's-new-clothesy show, with the server telling us a dish was exquisite when it tasted just okay. Almost funny, at times, like when a waiter haughtily told us how you could tell a really good wine because it was made of only one kind of grape. The last visit, we waited 15 minutes to order drinks and then, after another 10 (and these were not cocktails, just beer and wine), when we asked about where they were, we got a "humph" from the waiter, who stomped off and didn't come back for another long while. Dessert was good, though.

                  1. re: jane

                    "Almost funny, at times, like when a waiter haughtily told us how you could tell a really good wine because it was made of only one kind of grape."

                    Oh that is amusing! I didn't find the service problematic when I went to AQ - the food didn't quite "do it" for me (different tastes I guess), but I liked the concept and the space. Liked it more than Commonwealth as an overall experience.

                    1. re: jane

                      I knew that Chateau Margaux stuff was no good! Too many grapes, then!

                      1. re: dunstable

                        not to mention Châteauneuf-du-Pape

                      2. re: jane

                        "waiter was always there when we didn't need him and never when we did, and had a semi-huffy ... manner"

                        Sounds like a good summary of what very characteristically passes for expert restaurant service in the US, sadly.

                        (A visit to Las Vegas soon after the advent of its new wave of super hotels with lavish restaurants around 2000 contrasted one high-end restaurant, run by Europeans, where servers were invisible but appeared at your elbow just as you started thinking you might need one, vs. a competing restaurant run by Americans, where the servers would come up to the table, beam at you, and tell you about themselves, but not notice the utensils missing from the place settings, nor offer coffee afterwards.)

                        "like when a waiter haughtily told us how you could tell a really good wine because it was made of only one kind of grape."

                        Now that's astounding, and a dangerous kind of remark to have quoted if a restaurant seeks special recognition.

                  2. I am surprised to see State Bird added. Is it the novelty of the carts? I thought there was inconsistency in the food and service when I went, maybe it has improved. I like both Frances and Rich Table better than State Bird.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Scott M

                      An Eater interview with a Michelin inspector produced this bit:

                      Q: State Bird Provisions earned their first star this year. What can you say about what went into that decision?

                      A: Oh, it's so exciting. It's a ton of fun, I have to say. The food is amazing, and its really creative and the presentation is unique, you know with the dim sum carts and you can see all the plates coming around, so then it kind of speaks to what you're feeling in the moment. And of course they have the menu list that you can order from, but with that presentation you might order something you might not ordinarily think of. And they have this great contrast of some more contemporary dishes, some more creative interpretations of rustic dishes. It's just a ton of fun, and obviously they have the criteria: they have terrific quality product, it's very solid technique. It was one of my favorite meals this year. I'd go back there on my own in a heartbeat.

                      I generally concur with this statement. I sort of agree with you regarding the food at State Bird (I like it okay, though not enough to regularly jump through all the hoops to get a table), but there's no denying that the overall experience is very fun.

                    2. i'm very surprised state bird got one star.

                      also surprised quince got 2 stars. but i guess they had to do something to keep it interesting at the 2 and 3-star level.

                      1. " I wasn't surprised to see. ... Alexander's or Redd drop off - I really enjoyed meals at both those places but I've heard very mixed things recently about both of them."

                        I don't know how many people are aware of the following, but there was a major business change at Alexander's as it proceeded to expand from the original lavish offbeat Cupertino steakhouse (where I had some impressive meals) to first a SF location and then the new "Sea by Alexander's" in Palo Alto.

                        From what I've learned, mostly from fragmentary incremental press reports, the original front-line team of JC "Alexander" Chen (whom the business is named for) and Chef Jeffrey Stout -- the two people constantly cited and credited by critics in the early years of Alexander's, 2005-2010 -- were both pushed out after the success of the original. Chen first, then Stout just as he was about to open The Sea. Subsequently there has been a flurry of print advertising. It reminds me of some high-tech business case histories, where a new investor came in, kicked out the founders, and proceeded to milk the brand they'd built up.

                        11 Replies
                        1. re: eatzalot

                          So it looks like if you lose your star rating you aren't considered for Bib Gourmand? Range lost their star a while back and Frances this year but neither is Bib Gourmand. I don't see them as being less qualified than Rivoli, Wood Tavern or the Slanted Door.

                          1. re: Scott M

                            La Costanera lost its star this year and was added to the Bib Gourmand list. I'm surprised Frances wasn't on the Bib Gourmand list though - maybe it was considered too pricey (its not much more than La Costanera though).

                            1. re: adriennehm

                              I am not familiar with La Costanera; but Rivoli is in the same ball park as Frances in terms of prices.

                              1. re: Scott M

                                The cutoff is $40 for two courses and a glass of wine or dessert. Frances's non-veg entrees start at $27 vs. $24 for Rivoli and I believe they add an SF employer mandates surcharge.

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  I believe the surcharge is $1.50 per person and Frances offers bouchees in the $7 range which Rivioli does not. Also, Frances' house wine option is a very good value compared to Rivoli.

                                  1. re: Scott M

                                    $7 bouchee + $27 entree + $5 for five ounces of house wine + $1.50 = $40.50

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      And how does the calculation work out for Rivoli?

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          The other nice thing about Frances is you have options to come in under $40. You don't have to get an entrée. Get two bouchees and the pasta appetizer which is typically a fair portion of pasta, plus the wine and the surcharge.

                                          $7+$7+$13+$5+$1.5 = $33.5

                                          There are many different options that will work.

                                          1. re: Scott M

                                            I'm so glad to see Frances gone and happier still to see Izakaya Yuzuki added to the Bib Gourmand.

                                            I'm also happy to see State Bird get its star.

                                        2. re: Scott M

                                          i've never been able to figure out how slanted door is on that list year after year, given the multiple $40+ entrees....

                            1. re: Mike C. Miller

                              I think it has to do with consistency issues, which michelin supposedly places a lot of weight on.

                              i'd say the best dishes i've had are very, very solid 2* dishes by any (very high) international standards.

                              the worst dishes are very solidly no-star territory.

                              1. re: Mike C. Miller

                                The Michelin Guide's director said in 2010, "We couldn’t find the consistency any more at Chez Panisse, so we couldn’t put it on the same level as last year."


                              2. I see Manresa missed its third star yet again... It keeps trying for that illusive third, but can't quite get there.

                                14 Replies
                                1. re: CarrieWas218

                                  Manresa really needs to work on their service, it is so awkward and distracting. I hated how conversation had to stop and wait for their little awkward dance to be over so I could continue my conversation with my family.

                                  1. re: JonDough

                                    Agreed, Jon Dough.... I'm surprised with as many complaints and jokes that have occurred about that service that it has not been changed.

                                    1. re: CarrieWas218

                                      I didn't realize it was a well known issue, it definitely needs to be changed.

                                        1. re: CarrieWas218

                                          Yup, that is what we experienced. Except for the wine thing, that happened at Benu. Some young adult (mid 20's - my age) kept recommending $400+ wines even after I told him it was outside of what I wanted to spend.

                                          1. re: JonDough

                                            i also dislike the style of service at manresa and benu.

                                            i think it is amateurish and unprofessional, for all the reasons already listed here.

                                            1. re: Dustin_E

                                              The difference for me is that I would go back to Benu for the food but I wouldn't for Manresa.

                                              1. re: Dustin_E

                                                Interesting. I really liked the service at Benu - we got the wine pairings, and enjoyed that aspect of the sommelier service. Really enjoyed the food and had a seamless experience - very little awkward interruptions (unlike Atelier Crenn and Manresa referred below). We didn't try to order a bottle off the wine menu and that's obviously more of a tell.

                                                It's been a really long time since I've been to Manresa. I remember thinking the service fell far short of the French Laundry (which is familiar and friendly while still understanding the rhythms of the meal). The chef was experimenting with bitter ingredients that day (or does he always?) and it really didn't match with my palate.

                                                1. re: goldangl95

                                                  I also liked our meal and service at Benu.

                                                  Manresa was a dissappointment. No memorable dishes, not bad, but some just didn't seem to gel and the meal didn't flow. The service was way too stiff and strange.

                                                  1. re: goldangl95

                                                    Here's my thing with Manresa, and my love affair.

                                                    They keep changing. Out of 4 or 5 visits in 12 months, there would be only two or three "classic" dishes. Into the garden, the egg, the tidepool dish.

                                                    Sometimes service and consistency has been lacking. I've written about that.

                                                    They're not doing the same dishes, and the kitchen bobbles, in terms of time or dish. This impacts service. I had one evening where a 45 minute gap happened between courses. Man, that was painful.

                                                    I'm not going to appeal to "experts I talk to but can't name", but instead simply talk from my own experience. Manresa has unusually kept their thing "fresh", and that means some only-good dishes, although I have always gotten 2 or 3 WOW dishes at every meal. I find the service exactly what I expect for a challenging, interesting tasting menu restaurant.

                                                    It's so hard to stay fresh. Your loyal customers want similarity. But your other loyal customers count on a commitment to novelty --- that's tough!

                                                    That being said, honestly, I haven't been for about two years. Eating too much good low priced indian food. It's about time for a revisit.

                                          2. re: CarrieWas218

                                            They have two stars from Michelin, four from Michael Bauer, and 17/20 from Gayot, so somebody must like that style of service.

                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              That's my point - they have wanted that third star for some time.

                                          3. re: JonDough

                                            The distractions are particularly associated with the tasting-menu format, which is one of the options at Maresa.

                                            While different people have different preferences about the following, my own perspective echoes many comments I've heard personally and sometimes even online from people who are real food fanatics and well traveled (sometimes coming to the Bay Area explicitly for such gastro-jaunts): French Laundry for immaculate service, Manr. for the innovative cooking.

                                          4. Interesting M.Y. China made the Bib Gourmand list, but Hakkasan gotnothing.

                                            A michelin star also remains elusive for the Penthouse Club -- wasn't that the chef's stated goal when it opened? :-)

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: Dustin_E

                                              I wasn't impressed all that much by Hakkasan. The food is good, somewhat inventive, but the service was inattentive and the decor in this chain restaurant, including the servers' uniforms crosses the gaudy line. Compared to other options of similar quality in San Francisco, it's also markedly overpriced, though Michelin doesn't seem to figure in price so it's probably not their reasoning.

                                              1. re: MissEnPlace

                                                At least they removed Crouching Tiger - Their service really sucks lately.

                                                Other Chinese places that they forgot Koi Palace, The Kitchen

                                                Other places that deserve some play:
                                                Chez Panisse, The House, La Ciccia, Nopa, Redd, Fifth Floor, Zuni, Commonwealth

                                                I made a blog post with more comments

                                                1. re: Foodnut8

                                                  Michelin demands consistency. Koi Palace does not have that unless maybe you know somebody there.

                                            2. I'm always surpised, yet not surprised, that San Jose the 10th largest city in the country doesn't have a restaurant listed. For a city with a large population of people with disposable income that frequent SF, it's kind of sad it doesn't attract high caliber restaurants.

                                              18 Replies
                                              1. re: Bunson

                                                SJ (which grew greatly 50-60 years ago in the "Annexation Wars," successfully resisted by Milpitas and some unincorporated pockets) was traditionally an agricultural county seat, while SF since Gold-Rush days was an international port and business center, the largest city of the West Coast for its first 70 years, three times the population of Los Angeles in 1900, until the latter started its phenomenal growth and surpassed SF's population around 1920. Those factors make for a restaurant city.

                                                SF had a traditional role as "downtown to the Bay Area" -- in my grandparents' time it was common for people within 20 or 30 miles to go into SF for its restaurants and of course some still do. But SJ has a very different history, and never played the same central role as SF even when its population grew to be similar. It has many restaurants and a business center but AFAIK never approached the huge per-capita restaurant-seat numbers characteristic of SF.

                                                However SF is no longer the completely dominant high-end restaurant locale it once was, and near SJ have been several Michelin stars over the years of this Guide: In Los Gatos, Saratoga, Mountain View (where Chris Kostow got his original two stars), now Palo Alto.

                                                1. re: Bunson

                                                  It kind of surprises me, too, Bunson, but I do think that San Jose's location is the reason there are a few high-end restaurants in Palo Alto and Los Gatos. Otherwise, they wouldn't chance being so far from an Francisco.

                                                  1. re: MissEnPlace

                                                    "Otherwise, they wouldn't chance being so far from an Francisco."

                                                    Why is that, Miss? Yountville and Napa, for instance, also are some distance from SF, but not near large population centers like SJ. And as Bunson pointed out there is plenty of population in the Peninsula and S. Bay interested in fine dining now and then. (The population of those areas, over two million, only about a third of it in SJ proper, is much higher than of SF.)

                                                    1. re: eatzalot

                                                      One could argue that the Napa/Sonoma area is a vacation destination. San Jose really isn't.

                                                    2. re: MissEnPlace

                                                      The Michelin-starred places at the southern end of the Bay Area are where rich people live: Los Gatos, Palo Alto, Mountain View, Menlo Park, Woodside, Saratoga.

                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                        I have a hard time thinking of Mountain View as a place "where rich people live" by Silicon Valley standards. My theory is that when people in that part of the world want to go out to a good restaurant, they hop into their cars and drive for quite some time. City limits are of little or no importance in this context and the fact that none of the area's Michelin stars happen to be in San Jose proper is mainly a coincidence.

                                                        1. re: nocharge

                                                          Yes, MV is traditionally a "blue-collar" Navy town (Moffett Field), which certainly described it when Chej TJ opened over 30 years ago.

                                                          But speaking from experience, rather than theory, of "this part of the world," decent to destination restaurants are scattered all around, as typical of the Bay Area; so, just as in Berkeley or Sebastopol or Burlingame, it is necessary for people to make long drives only if they seek something very specific in another town. Already in the 1990s, before any "dot-com boom," there were 6-8 conspicuous high-end "destination" restaurants around silicon valley, well known to everyone in the region who paid attention to such things. When the Bay Area Michelin appeared, it was the just latest to recognize many of them.

                                                          And (here again we return to the fact that many people commenting on the Michelin don't actually read it), among the highly rated (two- and three-fork) restaurants in the Michelin itself that do not have stars, but might someday -- many starred restaurants in the various Michelins surfaced originally this way -- more still are in the S. Bay, including in SJ itself.

                                                          1. re: nocharge

                                                            Compare the crowd you see at restaurants in downtown San Jose with those in the towns with Michelin-starred restaurants. San Jose probably also suffers from excessive redevelopment having left it without a nice downtown.

                                                            Mountain View is adjacent to Los Altos (median household income $159K, per capita $67K) and down the hill from Los Altos Hills ($172K / $93K).

                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                              Then why haven't Michelin-starred restaurants appeared in Los Altos or Los Altos Hills, following your theory?

                                                              In fact, several years ago a high-end "destination" restaurant opened in Los Altos's downtown on 1st Street. It went out of business. Recently another started, but too early to tell its fortune yet.

                                                              1. re: eatzalot

                                                                The income map on this site makes the disparity between the Santa Clara County portion of Silicon Valley and San Jose very clear:


                                                                Wealth-generating tech businesses are most densely concentrated between Menlo Park and Sunnyvale. The people they enrich tend to live nearby and in the adjacent hills. Successful high-end restaurants tend to be located where they can get both business meals and well-off locals.

                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                  There are plenty of wealth-generating tech businesses south of Sunnyvale. Apple in Cupertino, Intel in Santa Clara, eBay in San Jose just to name a few. And there are pricey restaurants there, too, like Alexander's in Cupertino or Michael Mina's Arcadia in San Jose. The lack of a Michelin-starred restaurant in San Jose proper is just coincidental.

                                                          2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                            Those towns themselves vary considerably in income and demographics -- Palo Alto has a large student population for instance -- but also, that factor is hardly enough to explain why SJ in particular lacks starred restaurants (its own median household income is higher than SF's, according to quickfacts.census.gov, and some of SJ's many neighborhoods compare to the other cities you mentioned, in income).

                                                              1. re: MissEnPlace

                                                                "There are no rich people in San Jose?"

                                                                Yes, MissEnPlace, and not only are there such (I mentioned it earlier; some of its neighborhoods resemble smaller "wealthier" silicon-valley towns), but that's also visible on the same map that Robert linked. As a resident of that county, I see little support for that particular theory (which, again, would predict starred restaurants in the higher-income-area restaurant clusters like downtown Los Altos, where they aren't.)

                                                                nocharge summed it up best here. A large town like SJ has both richer and poorer neighborhoods. Presence or absence of Michelin stars there is happenstance.

                                                                1. re: eatzalot

                                                                  High-end restaurants thrive where they don't depend entirely on locals but also get business from expense accounts and/or tourists.

                                                                  There are many other factors, such as the feedback loop of foodies moving to areas with lively restaurant scenes and restaurants opening where there are lots of foodies, and families with children going out less and going home earlier than singles and dinks.

                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                    I don't think its a coincidence that SJ has no starred restaurants. set aside the merits of the Michelin star system, eatzalot your point of SJ doesn't have the history like SF as the 'downtown' of the bay area can be the reason why it hasn't attracted the international fame, the tourists, the museums, the foodies, etc.

                                                                    SF is world famous, arguably much more famous relative to its size. the wine country is famous also amongst the wine/ fine dining world.

                                                                    once there are enough restaurants that have the qualities that Michelin look for, just by chance alone some of them will get the Michelin recognition. my guess that SJ gets no stars is because is that 1) there are fewer restaurants that the Michelin inspectors find to their taste, and 2) that Michelin inspectors are less inclined to go to SJ compared to SF or the wine country, and lastly 3) SJ just isn't talked about around here often, so perhaps the Michelin folks don't even know where to start with their SJ research, but that may have something to do with why hounders aren't around SJ often, which may have something to do with the first point.

                                                                    1. re: ckshen


                                                                      I think you are making very good observations to the point that your post made me think "I wish I had said that". The summary, in my opinion, is that the Michelin guide being targeted to tourists to a significant extent also means that it will be less likely to do a good job in less touristy areas like San Jose.

                                                                      1. re: nocharge

                                                                        The guide lists restaurants in San Jose, and includes some places that have gotten good reports here, including Vung Tau, Blue Line, and Zeni.

                                                                        The lack of stars jibes with the discussions on this board when people who live in or are visiting San Jose have been looking for high-end restaurants.


                                                        2. Sad to see Redd and Frances drop off. I have had fantastic meals at both places, although I can see how they were on the fence. I do recall having one of my first meals at Redd several years ago though, and the hostess was excitedly telling us they were hoping to get a 2nd star. Not sure where things went downhill. And agree that Alexander's is nothing too special in my opinion.

                                                          However, I am very glad to finally see La Costanera fall off the list. My experience there was terrible.

                                                          Service was amateurish for a one-star venue. Young servers dropped off dishes in a hurry with no serving silverware. They failed to clear plates that were drenched in puddles of sauce when a new dish of a very different taste came. We had to call servers over multiple times to take care of that stuff because they rushed away from the table so quickly. I'm all for eco-friendliness and not wasting dishes when not necessary. But if you're eating a dish with a heavy sauce that will obviously obscure the flavors of the next one on your plate, you want a a clean plate. At least in a Michelin-worthy place.

                                                          Then there was the food, which was mediocre at best. Lots of things were too heavily sauced and not much better than I could get at a far less fancy Peruvian place in the Mission. The quinoa flan dessert we had was inedibly grainy and flavorless.

                                                          Anyway, this restaurant's removal and State Bird's appearance give me more confidence in trusting Michelin's picks.

                                                          1. Has anyone eaten at Baume? I work quite close to it, and it's quite mysterious from the outside.

                                                            2 Replies
                                                            1. re: peterme

                                                              Their "menu" is beyond parody. I don't think I could bring myself to eat there. There have been some reports:


                                                              1. re: peterme

                                                                Well, as I recall, it does purport a version of molecular gastronomy, by nature pretty exotic. (To be expected, by anyone already acquainted with the old scientific term "degrees Baumé" before the restaurant appeared.)

                                                                More detail, of course, in the Michelin's actual review. Chef Chemel came to general notice during his earlier tenure at Chez TJ.

                                                                I get some other very positive reports from individuals (not everyone food-savvy, alas, posts on CH :-) and would at least want to try the restaurant, before judging it at all.