It’s been a solid year for eating out in the Big Apple, a reality that should bode well for an exciting 2019 New York Michelin Guide. Boding less well is the fact that the results are being announced tomorrow, the day of the most consequential U.S. midterm elections in a generation. It’s not a day everyone will be thinking about tasting menus.
Michelin’s anonymous inspectors, nonetheless, will be awarding worthy venues one, two, or in certain rare cases, three stars, on Tuesday. Among the chief new venues eligible for these accolades are Atomix, Frenchette, La Mercerie, Shoji at 69 Leonard, and the bland L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon. They’re among the city’s best new restaurants (mostly), but they’re also expensive establishments geared toward those who book their tables well in advance — and occasionally pay the full price of dinner while making a reservation.
Those venues represent only one reason why 2018 has been so great for dining out. What the inspectors are more likely to overlook, as they have in years past, is the city’s more diverse group of ambitious and affordable-ish venues, be it all-day spots like Kopitiam or Atla, one of the high-minded pizzerias to have opened recently, or the new crop of modern Chinese restaurants in the East Village and elsewhere.
Last year’s big Michelin news was that the San Francisco Bay Area, awash with tech money, overtook New York in the ranks of three-starred restaurants, with seven Northern California venues holding the Red Guide’s highest accolade, versus this city’s five.
The big takeaway from this year’s guide, however, could concern a distinctly darker issue. This is Michelin’s first New York edition since the #MeToo movement began last year, with women coming forward to report longstanding misconduct and abuse in the workplace.
The Red Guide’s stringent focus on finding stars “on the plate” suggests that Mario Batali, who has been accused of multiple accounts of sexual misconduct, could very well retain stars at Babbo, Casa Mono, Del Posto, or La Sirena, which is closing at the end of the year. Batali stepped away from operations last December but maintains ownership, though he is in the process of divesting from the empire.
Just the same, it’s possible those venues will lose their stars if the scandals have prompted a drain of talent, as they reportedly have at La Sirena. This will also be the first year April Bloomfield’s the Breslin, which has held a star since 2010, is assessed since the chef split with Ken Friedman, another restaurateur accused of sexual misconduct.
Here are some predictions for this year’s guide:
Ko: David Chang’s Bowery gem is likely this year’s leading candidate for a three spot. Chef Sean Grey and general manager Su Wong Ruiz installed a new a la carte bar room that’s meant to test out ideas for the more expensive tasting counter. Whether that “trickle” up effect has worked its way through to the full menu is unclear, but at least one colleague reports thats the $255, service-included offering is stronger than ever.
The Modern: Danny Meyer’s set menu palace (and small plates bar room), remains a strong candidate for three stars. The expensively renovated kitchen is theoretically capable of producing the kind of painstaking consistency Michelin is known for demanding.
Aska: Fredrik Berselius’s modern Scandinavian spot in Williamsburg is the most studied and creative tasting menu restaurant to open in New York in at least half a decade. Does it deserve three stars? Of course. Will it get them? Maybe.
Jean-Georges: I had a number of underwhelming meals at Jean-Georges shortly before it was downgraded to two stars last year. You can be sure Vongerichten is doing everything in his power to regain his restaurant’s three-star status. The outgoing Michelin director said last year he hoped that the restaurant regained its star “quickly.”
Less likely candidates include: Jungsik, the Korean fine dining palace, where I had a technically competent if somewhat sleepy meal earlier this year, as well as Ginza Onodera, the heralded New York location of the high-end sushi chain. That’s no disrespect to the Japanese restaurant — it’s just that Michelin has only awarded a single sushi spot (Masa) with three stars in its decade plus in the U.S., and the only “chain” restaurant that has ever earned three stars is Joel Robuchon, the high-concept analogue to L’Atelier.
Atomix: Chef Junghyun Park helped Jungsik rise to two stars expeditiously, and most local critics would argue that Park’s Atomix, with its esoteric menu cards and ingenious pairings like duck with gochujang mole is the more creative and thought provoking of the two restaurants. Such experimentation, however, doesn’t aways translate to stars.
Probably another super expensive sushi spot: Michelin has been keeping a close eye New York’s burgeoning high-end Japanese scene, awarding stars to the young venues like Satsuki and Amane. This year’s leading candidates are Ichimura at Uchu — the chef held two stars for years at Brushstroke — as well as Shoji at 69 Leonard, which has been receiving high praise among raw fish experts and Pete Wells, who awarded three stars.
L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon: Despite mixed reviews — I awarded just one star — the globe-trotting chef, who died this year, rarely opens restaurants that don’t get a single star (or better). L’Atelier held a star back in its Midtown days, and barring a disaster (perhaps akin to one of my meals), it will earn a star again in its new downtown location.
Frenchette: This is the most obvious candidate for a one spot after Robuchon. Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson ran the Michelin-starred Minetta Tavern for years, and their creative, modern take on brasserie fare (think: blowfish tails diable and duck frites) have made it one of the year’s most celebrated new restaurants.
La Mercerie: Marie Aude Rose is cooking traditional cafe and bistro fare with as much technical expertise as anything Daniel Rose is putting out at Le Coucou, one of the city’s most venerable bastions of haute French gastronomy. If the world is just, La Mercerie will get a star. But in Michelin’s world, not even Le Coucou has a star. So we’ll see!
The Grill: Think of it this way: How could ZZ’s Clam Bar, a very good cocktail bar and raw fish spot, have a star, and the Grill, possibly the city’s best chophouse, not?
Beatrice Inn: Michelin has been known to elevate unexpected (but not unheralded) meat establishments to single star status. Among those selections have been Cote, a cross between a Korean barbecue spot and a New York steakhouse, as well as M Wells Steakhouse in Queens (no longer starred). My own review of Beatrice notwithstanding, Angie Mar’s venue certainly has the creative DNA to merit consideration here.
Restaurants That Should Get a Star, But Likely Won’t
Cosme (still one of the city’s top Mexican restaurants), Le Coucou (see above), Lilia (by Missy Robbins, who previously held stars at the less beloved A Voce), Oiji (a really solid Korean spot), Nargis (one of the city’s best Central Asian restaurants), Kopitiam (an all-day Malaysian Cafe), and I Sodi (a thriller of a Tuscan venue).
P.S. Dear Michelin: Going forward, maybe don’t do this on election day?