Let’s be honest: This hasn’t been a terribly interesting year for eating out in New York, at least not at new restaurants. The reason for this reality is simple: The city’s most high-profile operators are spending much of their time and money trying to rethink their business models amid skyrocketing rents and labor costs. With certain possible exceptions — I can’t speak too much about sushi spots where dinner for two runs $700 — this has not been the year of the great restaurant; this has been the year of the fast-casual spot, of the all-day restaurant, of making sure people keep eating out as the cost of everything goes up.
So when Michelin unveils its annual Red Guide to the Five Boroughs on Monday, it’s entirely likely there won’t be a ton of new one- or two-star restaurants. It’s also possible there will be no new three-star spots; the last time Michelin’s New York bureau made one of those upgrades was in 2011, when it elevated Brooklyn Fare and Eleven Madison Park.
That means it’s possible that the Bay Area, now with seven three-star establishments, will officially overtake New York in that category, effectively establishing Northern California as the U.S. capital of fine dining. Bill Addison made that call a few years ago; I can’t disagree with him.
That’s not to shade New York; that’s just the way things are. What does hurt a bit, however, is that Michelin’s general preference for the fancy over the frugal means that for yet another year, New York’s vibrant pizza, ramen, and barbecue scene will be overlooked in the starred selections. And what hurts even more is that unless Emma Bengtsson’s Aquavit is elevated to the three star level, Michelin’s North America guides will likely continue to exist without a single female chef in its top ranks.
With all that in mind, here are this critic’s prospects for Michelins big winners and losers for the 2018 guide.
The Favorites: The Modern, Momofuku Ko, and Aska
The Modern and Momofuku Ko 2.0, quite simply, are the type of well-funded establishment venues that can guarantee the type of consistency and elegance that Michelin seemingly seeks. (That’s more of a knock against the guide than the very talented chefs at these two excellent institutions.) Ko has been slowly upping its game over the past decade, having relocated to a sleek new space in 2015, while The Modern recently renovated its kitchen, adding a pricey chef’s table — the type of changes that often precede an upgrade in stars.
Aska 2.0 by Fredrik Berselius, which debuted at two stars last year, might be more a statistical long-shot given that it will only be entering its second year in the guide, but it’s not unprecedented. Matthew Kirkley at San Francisco’s Coi achieved the three spot in about as much time. A three-star upgrade for Aska would send a clear message: The guide knows how to cherish envelope-pushing, independently minded chefs pursuing offbeat, offal-y, funky flavors. This critic awarded four stars to Aska.
The Dark Horses: Jungsik & Aquavit
The modern Korean movement in New York has grown into a serious culinary force in recent years. Jungsik unquestionably deserves credit (along with Hooni Kim’s Danji) for getting this snowball rolling, and Michelin deserves credit for more closely watching this tasting menu spot than others, elevating it to two-star status in 2013. I’ve not visited Jungsik since I reviewed it for another publication half a decade ago, but Eunji Lee’s dessert tasting has garnered positive attention. And now that Michelin has a few three-star spots in Seoul — it debuted a guide there this year — maybe this is the time to do a little flag planting in New York? Though, keep in mind that Jungsik in Korea holds just a single star. As for Aquavit: We’ll see.
The Favorites: The Grill, Ginza Onodera
I’ll keep this one simple: The Grill, a theatrical mid-century chophouse, is one of the city’s best restaurants and deserves two stars. That said, the smarter money is on one star, given Michelin’s predilection for set menus at the two star level. For instance, the equally theme-y Carbone has never advanced above one star.
Ginza Onodera, by contrast, is the city’s most expensive sushi restaurant after Masa and could fill a void in the Japanese two-star category left by Soto.
The Dark Horse: Uchu
Had Eiji Ichimura stayed at his newly eponymous restaurant in Tribeca, the sushi master might’ve been a candidate for three stars; he once held two at Brushstroke. Alas, he’s now at Uchu’s sushi bar on the Lower East Side, where a meal costs $300, service-included. The restaurant, incidentally, also operates an ambitious kaiseki bar by Brooklyn Fare alum Samuel Clonts. There’s a ton of star power here, and while it’s not clear whether the two concepts opened in time for Michelin to pay attention, it wouldn’t necessarily be a surprise if the Red Guide decided to plant a flag here before any of the major local critics filed.
This is the second half of the old Four Seasons space, where Rich Torrisi has given New York its fanciest and spendiest non-Japanese seafood restaurant in nearly a decade. Problem is the food might not be up to snuff; both Pete Wells and this critic found inconsistencies in respective two star reviews.
Oiji & Wildair
These are two of the city’s best and most ambitious small plates places. Oiji dropped off the Bibs last year but oddly didn’t earn a star. Wildair, by contrast, still attracts long waits for dishes like raw clams with XO sauce and almond milk; its sister spot next door Contra holds a star. The smart prediction is that at least one of these gets an upgrade.
Le Coucou, Daniel Rose and Stephen Starr’s nationally-acclaimed French restaurant, was passed over for a star last year, while La Sirena, Mario Batali’s decidedly average Italian restaurant was feted with the same award. Think about that.
Cosme, El Atoradero, and Empellon
New York has just a single Michelin-starred Mexican spot: Casa Enrique in Long Island City. It serves stunning mole de piaxtla. But really, Michelin is overlooking more accomplished venues, from the rustic to the refined. The expensive and awesome Cosme still lacks a star; it’s run by Daniela Soto-Innes and Enrique Olvera, two of the world’s biggest names in Mexican cooking. On the flip side, El Atoradero dropped off the cheaper Bib Gourmand list, so perhaps it’ll join the starred ranks in 2018. And maybe the ambitious dessert program at Empellon Midtown, feted by Wells and this critic, will make it a prime candidate as well.
Missy Robbins long held a star at A Voce in the Time Warner Center and on Madison. They were very good, if not necessarily exciting. She now runs Lilia, one of the city’s hardest-to-get-into Italian restaurants. It does not have a star. Let’s hope Michelin fixes this oversight.
Cote and Beatrice Inn
The Beatrice is an extraordinarily expensive steakhouse in the British-American vein, while Cote is an ambitious and (for now) underpriced Korean barbecue spot that tips its hat to the dry-aged traditions of New York steakhouses. This critic gave two very different reviews here, awarding one star to The Beatrice and three to Cote, but Michelin sometimes takes positions at odds with local critics. I’d argue that either one is fair game for a star or a snub.
Surely a dark horse candidate, but not one worth overlooking. Michelin somewhat controversially awarded the expensive Cantonese-themed Hakkasan a star, an accolade it has since lost in New York but still holds in London. Jeff Lam and Eddy Buckingham’s opulent space on Doyers would be a fine avenue for Michelin to celebrate the modern and creative side of Chinese fare in New York. The more traditional Sichuan restaurant Cafe China is the only Big Apple Chinese spot with a star at this time.