What sets Michelin apart from its peers is that it doesn’t employ (unpaid, often non-anonymous) judges like the World’s 50 Best List, nor does it nor does it rely on the general populace like the Zagat survey. Michelin uses full-time anonymous inspectors to rate many of the same restaurants year after year, monitoring their progress (or lack thereof) as they mature, doling out additional stars accordingly and occasionally taking them back – as the formerly three starred Daniel found out in 2014.
Around the world, just 120 or so restaurants hold three stars, 14 of which are in the U.S. Those venues, like Le Bernardin, Saison, Alinea, and Jean-Georges, are rarely empty. They are expensive tasting menu spots peddling Western European, Japanese, or American fare (update: I should add: "Chinese-tinged" to account for Benu). Also: these kitchens are exclusively led by men. It’s a sign that Michelin, like the World’s 50 Best, might need to reconsider some of its own standards to better capture this country’s brilliantly diverse and dynamic restaurant scene.
This brings us to another reason you should care about Michelin: It has, for better and for worse, a very different take on what our city’s best places to eat are than our local critics or food writers. As we learned last week, The Spotted Pig, one of the city’s most crowded and vaunted burger spots, has been removed from the starred list, while Olmsted, widely viewed as one of New York’s best new restaurants, didn’t make the cut either.
That all said, here’s a Sutton Look at who could win big (or lose big) in this year’s guide.
Will There Be Any New Three Star Restaurants?
Michelin hasn’t elevated any New York establishments to three stars since Brooklyn Fare and Eleven Madison Park joined that club in 2011. During that same time frame, five restaurants in the greater San Francisco Bay Area have been bumped up to that elite status. Michelin is saying: The West Coast fine dining scene has progressed more rapidly than that of post-crash New York. Michelin might be right.
The Red Guide, as it’s often called, mostly draws potential three star candidates from the two-star ranks, of which there are 10 in New York. Will any one of them receive an upgrade? I’ll shortlist two. First is David Chang’s Momofuku Ko, an extended tasting menu spot that held two stars since 2008, which this critic (and Tejal Rao) elevated to four stars when it reopened in a sleek new Bowery space last year.
The second is Atera, Ronny Emborg’s modern, naturalistic, Danish-tinged restaurant in Tribeca, which this critic lauded in a one visit write-up earlier this year. A bit of context here: Our city is currently awash in excellent Northern European spots and elevating one of them would put New York in the awkward but awesome position of hosting a third of the world’s three-starred Michelin-starred Nordic restaurants. Currently, there are only two such venues: Geranium in Copenhagen and Maemmo in Oslo (Noma has two stars).
Contemplating Michelin’s Per Se Dilemma
Thomas Keller’s New York flagship is one of the country’s most expensive restaurants — dinner can cost up to $790 per person before wine. It has three stars since 2005 when Michelin first came to New York. But both Pete Wells and this critic have published devastating reviews of the Time Warner Center establishment. "Per Se is among the worst food deals in New York," Wells wrote in 2015, while I asserted the following a year earlier: "At these prices, and with such a wonderful crop of tasting menu-only spots doing more affordable and ambitious things, Per Se will have to work harder…"
Keller promised improvements, and Michelin has surely been back multiple times since the reviews. If the stars remain, Michelin’s inspectors would need to explain what they saw in Per Se that local critics didn’t, rather than assuming their opinion exists in a vacuum. It doesn’t. This one they’ll need to argue.
Who Will Get Elevated to Two Stars?
Here Are Some Potential One Star Candidates
Le Coucou: Stephen Starr and Daniel Rose’s take on old school French fare was lauded by every major local critic – including this one. If Michelin doesn’t award a star, it will have some serious explaining to do.
Gunter Seeger: Pete Wells had a bit of a hit-or-miss experience at this Atlanta-import; he also had a few thoughts about the high prices. Eater’s own Bill Addison, by contrast, has a soft spot for his hometown chef. And while I wasn’t quite smitten with my meal here, the uber-formal service and precise preparations (think: white sturgeon mousse with purple potato chips) make it about the surest thing possible for a star.
Aska 2.0: Fredrik Berselius held a star at his erstwhile Nordic spot that closed in 2014. The only reason he’ll be overlooked is if the Williamsburg tasting menu venue opened too late in the season for Michelin’s inspectors.
Indian Accent: This New Delhi import, with its saffron-spiked malakai milk foams and epic papadum tastings, is one of the city’s best South Asian spots. It will likely become the city’s third Indian spot to hold a star (the others are Junoon and Tulsi).
The Sushi Spots: As Michelin continues to fete new sushi spots like Hashiri in San Francisco, it has been more reserved about the state of raw fish over rice in New York, wrongly snubbing Shuko and Nakazawa in recent years. But this year, I’ll argue the super-expensive Sushi Zo ($200 before tip) and Ginza Onodera ($300-$400 service included) are prime candidates to earn a star.
Lilia: Missy Robbins held at star at A Voce. Lilia is better than A Voce. Enough said.
One More Thing
If Michelin awards another star to yet another bland tasting menu restaurant, and continues to snub Estela and Wildair, two of the city’s best and most original and accessible small plates places, the inspectors will only lead fuel to the argument that the Red Guide is sometimes more interested in promoting uniform international standards than championing envelope-pushing, creative cuisine.