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Oct 23, 2013 02:09 PM

2014 SF Michelin Stars - Where have you been, what is on your wish list?

Back in my days of eating out more, I loved having a wish list of restaurants and work my way through it. These days it takes a lot more planning to make it through my list, reservations months out, babysitter, much earlier reservation times, but still fun to see if I've made a dent in my city explorations.

Is this list reflective of your wish list? Any one out there made the eating rounds at all of them?

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  1. My wish is for their SF guide to sell so poorly that they stop publishing it.

    36 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      was talkign abotu this yesterday with a friend - honestly, the best thing that could happen would be if no chowhounders even discussed the ratings at all and no newspapers covered it. while takign to boards to criticize what we think is wrong with the michelin guide may feel good, ultimately the adage of "there's no such thing as bad press" wins out, and as long as we give it so much attention and treat it like an authority, it will continue to be a good deal.

      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        Commonwealth and AQ were on my list for this year thanks for your recs! They should have made the cut.

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          Let me see if I understand this. In over 40 comments so far, combined, in this and the larger current thread about the new Michelin Guide, no one has mentioned any of the Guide content beyond the "Lists" in the press releases -- which is to say, all discussion has concerned four pages of the Guide's 500 or so. Is that the basis on which someone now wishes to see the Guide stop publishing?

          I would really hope to see some discussion of the Guide's real substance, the specific comments in its text about the various restaurants, and not just the "list" restaurants either, on this forum, but so far have not.

          1. re: eatzalot

            I think the French should mind their own business.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              you do realize that the inspectors aren't French, that the Bay Guide guide is for English speaking consumer and that people all over the world use them?

              I trust them far more Zagets that gets reviews from paid surveys, some online sites where the individual make judgements and opinions on restaurants they haven't even been to.

              They are suggestions no more, no less. Don't like them, don't buy the guides, don't look at the lists.

              I think only people that actually go to restaurants should makes comments about the layouts are or what the food is like but that doesn't always happen does it?

              1. re: tjinsf

                Yes, I read that interview with an inspector.

                I think the guide has had a pernicious influence on local restaurants, and that grows directly out of their French prejudices, which I suppose must be implicit in the inspectors' training.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Robert, I'm interested in reading your thoughts about this in more detail. Would you be willing to explain more (or give a link if you've already explained it in more detail elsewhere)?


                    1. re: jayporter

                      >> Robert, I'm interested in reading your thoughts about this
                      >> in more detail. Would you be willing to explain more (or
                      >> give a link if you've already explained it in more detail
                      >> elsewhere)?



                      that should more than satiate your hunger for discussion on this topic. lolz. be careful what you ask for.

                      1. re: Dustin_E

                        Thank you.

                        That thread has some detailed discussions, but I couldn't find any part where Robert explains in more detail about how "the guide has had a pernicious influence on local restaurants". That thesis is new to me, and I'm looking forward to learning about that possibility in more depth.

                        I'm fairly new to the Bay Area, and I think the culinary culture here is top-notch. In that context, possible pernicious influences lurking in the background (or, in this case, the foreground) are particularly interesting.

                      2. re: jayporter

                        I think Michelin encourages high-end restaurants to go in a certain conservative, Frenchy, expensive direction, which for some chefs is bad. Costanera, All Spice, and Aziza might be examples. I think there'd be more diversity at the high end if they weren't so prejudiced.

                        Plus I hate them for being anti-Italian. Only places with Frenchy tendencies the respect the real Italian places deserve.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          "Michelin encourages high-end restaurants to go in a certain conservative, Frenchy, expensive direction"

                          Manresa? At Sent Sovi in the 1990s, in between visits over there to study what was happening, David Kinch used to say that Spain was where the action was in innovative European restaurant cooking. He subsequently named his new restaurant accordingly, and called its interior layout and colors a tribute to Gaudí. Though he has high-end French chef friends, his cooking is independent.

                          So, for that matter, is theirs. In food visits to France in recent decades, what I saw at Michelin-lauded restaurants was often original, inspired cooking. Very little old _Guide Culinaire_ canon anywhere in sight.

                          1. re: eatzalot

                            Interesting. Thanks Robert for following up.

                            Eatzalot...Relatedly, I've noticed that the Pellegrino list seems to have more influence that the Michelin guide, in a certain segment of the industry (internationally and in the US) -- a segment that also, perhaps not coincidentally, seems to me more tuned in to what's happening in Spain than they are (in general) to the restaurants of France or Italy.

                            1. re: eatzalot

                              I think Manresa might be a better place if Michelin and Michael Bauer didn't encourage its Edwardian-style excesses in service, decor, and digestion.

                              As Joshua Skenes said, "I've gone out to many excellent places where you feel like shit after the meal."

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                ' As Joshua Skenes said, "I've gone out to many excellent places where you feel like shit after the meal." '

                                Did he say that of Manresa? FWIW, I have some experience of meals there (more than most people who post about the place and likely much more than Josh Skenes, whom I knew slightly) and no particular record of digestion difficulties, especially considering the range of ingredients served, some of them quite novel to my own digestion, an obvious factor. (That with some other Bay Area high-end restaurants, and especially to traditionalistic restaurants elsewhere, where the food ran much richer or heavier.)

                                But what about your point that I answered. An innovative Spanish-inspired restaurant that is hardly "French" or "conservative," and the same true of Michelin-praised chefs even in France.

                                1. re: eatzalot

                                  Skenes didn't mention any particular restaurants, but my meal at Manresa, though I enjoyed it, made me think I'd never subject myself to another tasting menu.


                                  However, since then I've been to Saison (Skenses's place) and Commis, and enjoyed both, probably because the quantity or at least richness of the food was dialed way back, more akin to a kaiseki meal.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    "Michelin encourages high-end restaurants to go in a certain... direction" ... "but my meal at Manresa..."

                                    Additional logical issues here, besides the lack of conservatism or reactionary style at all in my own experiences of modern high-end chefs even in France itself, or of particular digestive anomalies in several (10 or so) Manresa tasting menus:

                                    First, causality. Many of those tasting meals were like 2003-2004, long before Michelin had a Bay Area guide. The Michelin stars followed the chef's style, not vice versa.

                                    Second, sample size. Michelin inspectors use multiple visits (not just one meal) to assess a restaurant, particularly for multiple stars. I recall an account by David Kinch that the Michelin head told him, on getting the two stars in the first Michelin, that on one of the visits, Michelin inspectors even occupied three simultaneous tables.

                                    Both the Michelin and I are therefore basing our reports of that restaurant on far more data than one meal. Point mdg and I discussed in another thread, about the fallacy of people describing, from little experience, how they think a restaurant "is:"


                                    1. re: eatzalot

                                      I don't need multiple visits to a restaurant to form an opinion when reports and reviews online closely match my experience.

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        You just saw two diligent accounts (mine and Michelin's) that differ from your opinion. I could certainly find some critic or online reports to agree with any view I took of a restaurant too; but that's beside the point here.

                                        You've expressed several complaints about the Michelin as objective realities. Each time I or someone else raises a logical issue with them, you move on to something else, or your own opinion. What about nocharge's question to you yesterday in this thread about comparing other influential guides?

                                        1. re: eatzalot

                                          I had a great meal at Manresa and it was delightful while it lasted. I just came away from it never wanting to eat another long tasting menu. If Michelin inspectors had been there the same night I'm certain they would not have knocked it down a star on that basis. Same set of facts, different opinions.

                                          I don't know that any other guides have a significant influence on trends. Zagat's just a popularity poll. Yelp is random.

                                        2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          Regarding multiple visits: I think you can judge the concept based on a single visit, but when it comes to execution, I try to be charitable and not write a place off just based on a single bad experience, especially if it's a new place.

                                          As for concepts, let's assume that I don't like sushi. I walk into a restaurant and it turns out to be a sushi place. Not to my liking. With a modicum of research, I could probably have figured that out without visiting the place even once. However, I'm not going to go on the internet to rant about how bad the place was just because the concept wasn't to my taste. If I did, the response would probably be "so you don't like sushi, well, who gives a rat's ass?"

                                          1. re: nocharge

                                            "I'm not going to go on the internet to rant about how bad the place was just because the concept wasn't to my taste."

                                            True rationale for a Yelp one-star review: "The chick at the next table made eyes at my boyfriend."

                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              Is that any different than someone saying "that place sucks cause it's too french"?

                                              1. re: tjinsf

                                                Depends on whether the restaurant is French.

                                          2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            And that's why people may trust guides where people do have multiple visit to a restaurants than a solo diner making a snap decision based on one meal. It's natural to generalize about a place based on a personal experience but I think it's wiser to make a judgement after several visits especially if you expect people to value that opinion. Your opinion can only speak to that one experience, if you have multiple data points then of course you are going to come to a more complete opinion and representation of a restaurant.

                                      2. re: eatzalot

                                        Michelin promotes the El Bulli / Fat Duck style as well. It's conservative in the sense that they're still looking at that as "creativity" when it's been going on for 20 years.

                                        In my view, that's the continuation of old-fashioned French technique-driven gastronomy, a reactionary rebellion against cuisine nouvelle. That it happened first outside of France is irrelevant.

                                  2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    Let's talk about Aziza.

                                    I definitely feel that over the years it has veered from its initial brilliance in a direction that is 'more Michelin' and somehow less appealing in some ways. I think the new food is good, but since SF is so lacking in good traditional moroccan, it's a shame that we can't get his earlier food, which was just brilliant, near-traditional food.

                                    You know what Aziza should do? They should offer a traditional menu some nights. Unfortunately I don't own the restaurant.

                                    Anyhow, I wonder what would have happened there if Michelin did not exist.

                                    From the beginning, he has been trying to do something he called 'New Moroccan' and so he has always wanted to take his Moroccan background and go somewhere new. It makes sense that over time he would get farther and farther from traditional Moroccan.

                                    The question, I guess, is, would he have gone somewhere different absent the Michelin guide? Would we like it more or less? It's hard to say.

                                    I'm happy to see an artist that does not stay stagnated, it indicates creativity and a willingness to take risks and experiment. What I'm not sure of is whether he's doing that, or trying to conform to a michelin standard that is not creative, but conformist.

                                    Does anybody have any clues as to which is the case?

                                2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  Just out of curiosity, how would you compare the pernicious influence of Michelin to that of Michael Bauer, Yelp, and Zagat?

                                  1. re: nocharge

                                    Well Chowhound started as the anti-Zagat. There are a few problems with different ranking systems:

                                    1. The popular vote - celebrates the most safe and average of the best (e.g. Zagat and to some degree Yelp)

                                    2. Assumption of global homogeny - celebrates one specific value system for dining and assumes the rest of the world would benefit if they followed that system (e.g. Michelin)

                                    3. Reviewers who opine on a lot of food they don't know anything about (the charge against Bauer esp. with ethnic cuisine)

                                    If a restaurant is trying to win at all 3, they create a safe, high-luxe ingredient menu, with whole teams of waiters for each table, a huge wine list, comforting familiarity with an ever so slight twist - and in the end they loose any uniqueness in the process.

                            2. re: eatzalot

                              The Guide's "content" beyond the lists consists of arbitrary, unresearched, non updated tourist generated crap that has no relevance to the actual Bay Area dining scene. It's as if someone looked at a bunch of out of town tourist guides to SF and then arbitrarily picked enough to fill some basic categories. Pure dribble. Is that the kind if discussion you were looking for?

                              1. re: bdl

                                Appreciate the characterization, though it does not accord with my own experience at all, when I check the Guide on restaurants that I know personally from 5 or more meals each, as I often do.

                                In a previous thread, bdl, you wrote that the Guide "lost all credibility in my eyes" based on omitting three restaurants you liked. I understood that clearly. My own approach looks at the Guide in somewhat more detail, each year.

                                Still to date, these CH threads continue to appraise or judge the Guide, without mentioning any of its specific content, such as dish suggestions or how Chowhounders' experiences of a particular restaurant contrasted with what the Guide's detailed comments led them to expect. The impression a reader could eadily get from these CH topics is that they're based solely on the publicized "lists."

                                1. re: eatzalot

                                  Points taken. I used those 3 restaurants as an EXAMPLE, though, and not a reason. My impression was from a perusal if a friend's guide and admittedly incomplete. I'm sure there were restaurant listings that u would have agreed with as well. I so remember that "Home" was listed after having been closed for a year. I'll watch out for a newer guide (though probably won't buy it) and update my opinion.

                                  1. re: bdl

                                    It's an annual guide; these things happen. It's not a problem unique to Michelin.

                                    I buy a Michelin Guide once every few years for each of the cities I dine in regularly. It's the only paper guidebook series that attempts to make a comprehensive assessment of a city's dining without indiscriminately mentioning every single eatery.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                I tend to agree. We're ending up with the "Parkerization" of the restaurant industry, at least at the top end.

                                Also, my experience is that when I've waited too long to go somewhere the first time, "top rated" or not, it is too late. TFL (after Corey Lee left) is probably my best example. The original Michael Mina at its peak was something not to be missed. Later on, not so much (and the reincarnation I could take or leave). I'd much rather go out to a newish place getting a lot of great buzz than some place resting on its laurels, or at a state of equilibrium to the point of malaise, even if the food is proper and pretty.

                                The same can be said for service at the "top end." They have to play into an expectation that I may not want nor need, even if everything is proper and professional. (See further, below.)

                                My biggest exception to the "waited too long" would be Chez Panisse, which is more like a great neighborhood restaurant to me than a destination restaurant. But I didn't live in the neighborhood for much of its existence. Re: the service here, once the server knows the occasion is "you had a last minute table open, so we came right over," it is a comfortable and friendly experience.

                              2. i've been to all the 2 and 3 stars except meadowwood and baume. i've been to all the 1-stars in sf proper except campton place, luce, and ame. most of the ones i have been to, i've been to more than once.

                                my take on it all is this:

                                french laundry and manresa serve very good food. but joel robuchon in las vegas and urasawa in beverly hills are definitely better than either of these (but also more expensive.)

                                chez panisse and various steakhouses have the best meats in the bay area, at the same level and sometimes better than what you get at french laundry or manresa.

                                the best seafood in the bay area you get at japanese or chinese places (ino, sawa, yum's bistro, etc). or get from a good vendor and cook at home (swan's, etc).

                                whether a restaurant is on the bib gourmand, or listed in the one-star category is a total crapshoot. the only thing it tells you is the restaurant's rough price point, and an assurance that you won't have to put up with particularly terrible decor or service (ie the bs you have to go through to eat at jai yun, etc.)

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: Dustin_E

                                  Whatever you do, do not waste the money required to add Meadowood to your list.

                                  1. re: pauliface

                                    couldn't disagree more, every meal I've had at Meadowood has been excellent, a couple better than TFL, the other 3 star in the area.

                                2. The stars list is best used for when you need a certain level of service or are eating with a certain clientele. Mostly the 2 & 3 stars are being judged on an international dining criteria and things that make SF charming to some, the casual atmosphere and service, risk taking in some ways and compulsive obsession to local, organic etc are things that mean places may not get stars while other ones will.

                                  I've been to all the 2 and 3 star ones, Saison is probably the only one I wouldn't pay to return to but more because of service and food restriction issues. Baume was a bit disappointing but I think it's fine for an expense account meal.

                                  Creen, Benu and Quince have always been delightful.

                                  The 1 stars are more hit and miss. I've been to most of them, many without any idea they were a 1 star. Chez TJ was a disaster, Luce has become fairly average once Creen left, Spruce was also pretty average.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: tjinsf

                                    "Chez TJ was a disaster..."

                                    Not to get off onto a side topic, but I'm guessing you didn't visit during the periods in recent years when either Kostow (2 stars at TJ, before 3 as the chef who made Meadowood famous) or Chemel (1 star at TJ, before he opened Baume and made 2) were chefs there. That restaurant has been something of a grad school or post-doc stint for some very talented chefs, with enough turnover that I tell people if TJ doesn't strike your fancy, wait 'till the next chef arrives and yet again completely reworks the style of the place. More on this in a recent reply I made to bbulkow:


                                    1. re: eatzalot

                                      should have been clearer, it's was disaster the last time I went there 3 months ago and was going downhill in the last year for me. Yeah I had some good meals under Kostow and Chemel.