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Handicapping the Winners & Losers of the 2016 New York Michelin Guide

Michelin, surely the world's only hundred-year-old restaurant guide published by a European tire maker, will unveil its annual ratings for New York culinary establishments tonight. Anonymous inspectors award worthy venues with either one star ("a very good restaurant in its category"), two stars ("excellent cuisine, worth a detour"), or three stars ("exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey"). And if history is any indication, tonight's announcement will elicit emotions ranging from anger to joy to boredom to laughter to unbridled celebration. In other words, Michelin will likely succeed in doing what critics generally love to do: Provoke.


But let's be real here. The guide is no longer the 800-pound gorilla it used to be. Once the worldwide authority on where-to-eat advice, Michelin must now compete with the wildly popular World's 50 Best Restaurants list. It must vie for the attention of news-hungry gastronomes who increasingly satisfy their thirst for culinary counsel via a never-ending stream of reviews, listicles, maps, videos, features, and photo slideshows, often from dynamic publications like this one, rather than via once-a-year-guidebooks.That said, the Michelin stars themselves, once criticized as the product of Europeans who were out of touch with the New York dining scene, are now welcomed quite warmly by chefs and locals alike, especially as the inspectors expand their reach to more affordable outer-borough institutions like Pok Pok and Casa Enrique.

Michelin has already called a slew of restaurants with the starred results. We know that Eleven Madison Park retained its three stars, and that Semilla, perhaps the most heralded opening of the year, earned its first star. Who else will win? Who will lose? See below for our Eater guide to handicapping this evening's ceremony, and to understanding where Michelin has gone wrong.

Will New York see any new entrants to the three star category this year?

The city hasn't seen any restaurants elevated to this rarefied group since 2011, when Eleven Madison and Brooklyn Fare were let in by the notoriously tough Michelin Doorman ("not tonight, guys"). The remaining three star restaurants are MasaPer SeJean-Georges, and Le Bernardin. Daniel, once a member of this clan, was demoted last year.

The Red Guide typically draws its new three star venues from the two-star ranks, and the three strongest candidates this year are Ichimura, Blanca, and Momofuku Ko.

Ichimura: Famous for its double and triple decker nigiri (think: o-toro atop chu-toro atop toro), Ichimura would become just the second sushi spot in North America, after Masa, to earn three stars. If upgraded, Michelin would be sending a strong signal that some of the country's best sushi doesn't have to be ridiculously priced. Masa starts at $450 before beverage, tax, and tip. Ichimura starts at $195.

Blanca: Uprading Carlo Mirarchi's 12-seat temple in Bushwick ($195), which blends Italian, Japanese, and American influences into a 20 to 25 course tasting menu (the spicy nduja ravioli is essentially a blue collar version of Grant Achatz's black truffle explosion), would clue Michelin readers in on what the rest of the world knows: that the outstanding Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare isn't the only world class restaurant in Kings County.

Momofuku Ko: David Chang's first fancy restaurant has held two Michelin stars since it opened in 2008 as a tiny, $85 tasting menu counter in the East Village. Now, seven years later, Ko has been reborn in a larger, comfier space just off the Bowery, with bespoke graffiti and stools with backs. Three stars, in addition to being a huge win for Ko and chef Sean Grey, would add further weight to the argument that Chang, with his elevated approach to fast food and lean approach fancy food, is one of the world's leading culinarians (Update: Momofuku tweets that Ko has retained its two stars).

Momofuku Ko roe Nick Solares

Which Newcomers From This Year (Or The Last Few Years) Will Earn a Star?

Cosme: Enrique Olvera, possibly the world's most acclaimed Mexican chef, opened an expensive and ambitious Big Apple restaurant last year. The result: He was awarded three stars by New York Magazine, by the New York Timesand by this critic. If Cosme is anointed with a star, it will become just the second Mexican restaurant in the city with that honor. If it's snubbed, Michelin might have some explaining to do.

The Sushi Spots: Michelin is notoriously stingy when it comes to awarding sushi restaurants with stars; the spectacularly well-reviewed 15 East didn't receive that award until its sixth year of operation. This year the big newcomers are Nick Kim and Jimmy Lau's Shuko ($135 to $175), as well as Nancy and Tim Cushman's O Ya ($185 to $245), both of which have been well received by locals and critics. And of course there's Nakazawa, famously snubbed by last year's guide despite a four-star review by NYT critic Pete Wells. The question is: Are all three of these new-ish venues as good as (or better than) Sushi of Gari or Azabu, both of which have stars? Absolutely. Do all three deserve stars? Without a doubt. Will more than one of them earn a star? Doubtful.

Dirty French & Santina: The Major Food Group, which holds stars for Carbone, an elevated ode to 1950s red sauce spots, and ZZ's, a raw fish bar whose prices would make a Russian oligarch blush, could see either of their two big new restaurants on the starred list. Dirty French, helmed by Rich Torrisi, is perhaps the more serious candidate, with its studied take on global gallic fare, though the chickpea crepes at Santina, an American's dream of Almafi coast Italy, could very well nab a star as well.

Estela: In 2006 we all started eating at David Chang's Momofuku Ssäm Bar, marveling at how unusual it was to devour fancypants uni with whipped tofu at a noisy bar with low ceilings and no reservations. In 2015 we're all eating at Estela by Ignacio Mattos, wondering how one of the city's best steaks is served not as a $142 côte de boeuf but rather as a $37 tallegio and anchovy-laced ribeye. Ssäm Bar, one of our most influential budget gourmet spots of the late aughts, never got its star. Will Estela, another stripped down small plates place with haute technique (and an Obama visit under its belt) get snubbed as well? If Michelin wants to show it gets New York, it will give Estela its proper due.

The Stephen Starr Ship Enterprise: The East Coast restaurateur wowed New York with two of his strongest offerings ever this year. First came Upland by Justin Smillie, famous for its chicken liver pasta, its yuzukosho duck wings, and its Obama brunch visit. And then Clocktower by Jason Atherton opened in the MetLife building, instantly giving New York a chophouse and cocktail bar on par with Minetta Tavern. I'll say there's a better than 50 percent chance at least one of these gets a star.

Lupulo: George Mendes' Portuguese tapas bar was left out of the $40-and-under Bib Gourmand list; given the chef's Michelin-star credentials at Aldea and given his spectacular seafood compositions at Lupulo (raw fluke with smoked trout roe; shrimp porridge with carabinero prawns), this is a very likely candidate for a star.

The New Fancypants Joints: Gabriel Kreuther and Chevalier, with their fancy set menus and posh Midtown locations, are straight out of pre-crash New York. Chevalier at the Baccarat Hotel (the name says it all) charges $96 for three courses, while the Alsatian-inspired Kreuther asks $98 for four courses. My call: Kreuther gets a STAR.

Shuko chef Jimmy Lau uses a long blade to slice pink fatty tuna before service Daniel Krieger/Eater

What About These Restaurants That Made Kind of Big Changes?

Atera: Matthew Lightner left the two-starred restaurant earlier this year; he was replaced by Danish chef Ronny Emborg and a service-included menu. No major critics have reviewed the revamped venue as of yet. Typically, Michelin starts a restaurant from scratch when a new chef rides into town, and so it wouldn't be considered a slight on anyone if Atera appears on the list with one star this year, instead of two. We'll see.

Contra: If you're a big time European chef swinging through New York, this is where you want to cook. Fabian von Hauske and Jeremiah Stone have hosted Maemmo, Souvenir, and Septime, and in October they'll host Le Chateaubriand. In between those pop-ups, the two young chefs also happen to run one of the city's most envelope-pushing neo-bistros, now featuring seven courses for $67, up from the old five course menu for $55. Few restaurants are more deserving of our attention.

The Big Pizza, Ramen and Barbecue Omissions

Michelin's starred recipients comprise some of the city's finest high-end spots, with a good dose of affordable venues thrown in here and there. But where Le Guide Rouge fails in its seeming inability to award a star to a New York pizzeria, ramen-ya or barbecue joint, three institutions that represent the best of what the city does, and quite frankly the best of what America does. These are venues deserving of proper stars, not just cheap eats accolades. And so because Roberta's, Mu Ramen, and Hometown received the $40-and-under Bib Gourmands, we know they won't make the starred list (and that's a shame). But here's hoping that Danny Meyer's Marta, BrisketTown, Ivan Ramen, or Motorino pick up the slack and earn proper sparklers.

The Big Blue Hill Elephant in the Room

I've yet to meet a single well-traveled eater who doesn't think Blue Hill at Stone Barns isn't one of America's best restaurants. So just as Michelin ventured south of San Francisco to Los Gatos to award two stars to David Kinch's vegetable-heavy Manresa, the inspectors should consider Dan Barber's celebration of Hudson Valley produce in Pocantico Hills.

Finally

Give Annisa back its star. Really.

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