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What’s Wrong With the 2020 NYC Michelin Guide

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Critic Ryan Sutton digs into what restaurants were left out of this year’s star ratings

A table by the window at Wayan
The dining room at Wayan, which did not get a Michelin star
Alex Staniloff/Eater

Michelin had some good developments this year: Blue Hill at Stone Barns got two stars, and Atomix got upgraded to two stars. But it’s also worth meditating on the guide’s significant omissions when it released its New York stars last week.

The bulk of the city’s top non-European, non-American, or non-Japanese venues continue to fall into the second-class cheap eats category, known as the Bib Gourmands, even though some of them cost just as much as their Euro-centric counterparts. Just the same: No new restaurants with a female head chef have ascended to the starred ranks in at least five years. Given how both the James Beard Foundation and the World’s 50 Best list have taken strides toward improving diversity and representation, the Red Guide’s apocryphal inspection system — which nominally favors little else besides what’s on the plate — makes it feel all the more out of touch. Here’s a closer look:

Where are the South and Southeast Asian stars?

Once upon a time, the New York Michelin guide boasted three Indian spots with stars. Some of those venues have closed (Tulsi, Devi); others have arguably declined in quality. But regardless, New York is experiencing a wonderful uptick in excellent South Asian establishments, from the modern Rahi, to the more homestyle Adda. That’s what makes the following fact particularly surprising: For the first time since 2012, not a single local South Asian spot in New York holds a star. (Junoon had one last year.)

If one widens the geographic region to Southeast Asia, one will encounter a star at the always awesome Thai spot Uncle Boons. And that’s all. It’s curious what Michelin fails to see at great venues like the Vietnamese Di An Di or Wayan, a French-inflected Indonesian spot.

No starred Chinese Restaurants? Really?

The anonymous inspectors dropped Cafe China from its 2020 list, which means that the Big Apple doesn’t have a single starred Chinese spot for the first time in seven years. It seems out of line with what’s actually available in the city: The New York metropolitan area is home to the largest Chinese population outside of Asia, and accordingly, one of the country’s great collections of restaurants from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the mainland. One might think the number of Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant would increase, given how a newer breed of Sinosphere restaurants are opening throughout the city, from well-funded operations like Hutong to smaller but no less ambitious projects like Little Tong, MáLà Project, Szechuan Mountain House, and others. Alas.

Some other curious admissions

Lilia, which ranks with Stone Barns as one of the most impossible tables in New York, was overlooked for a third straight year, as were the perennially packed I Sodi and Via Carota. And yet the debut Benno, which most agree is a fine place to eat, was the sole Italian spot to nab a star. Last year, Oxomoco and Claro earned stars for their Mexican efforts, while Cosme were snubbed again. The lovely global Korean fare of Kawi and Haenyeo missed their chance as well, while Atomix, a stunner of a tasting menu venue, earned yet another accolade. And while scores sushi or kaiseki spots have earned stars recently, the inspectors continue to pass over Shabushabu Macoron.

Why do these selections matter? Because they represent some of the numerous examples of restaurants with male executive chefs being selected for the guide’s chief honor, while their critically acclaimed counterparts with female chefs were not.

One could argue, like Michelin often does, that these establishments don’t exhibit the necessary consistency. But the cumulative tally of these individual decisions paints a more troubling picture. That is: As very good Chinese, South Asian, and Southeast Asian spots continue to open around the five boroughs, and as female chefs continue to run more of our kitchens, the Michelin seems to suggest that things are improbably getting worse on all these fronts.

The inspectors, again, would say it’s not about the larger trends; it’s about the restaurants. But here’s a thought: When a guide’s own pseudo-science rulebook seem to continuously favor expensive Euro-American-Japanese spots run by men, perhaps it’s time to rethink that rulebook.

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