Michelin, the world’s oldest and most recognizable restaurant guide, recently announced that it would start breaking with tradition by revealing some of its New York selections throughout the year, versus annually. The move is a clear sign that the Red Guide is looking for ways to stay relevant amid a competitive food media landscape where new reviews appear virtually every day of the week, instead of once a year.
The guide’s anonymous inspectors kicked off the new policy by unveiling six new selections: Les Trois Chevaux, chef Angie Mar’s pricey ode to haute French fare; Le Fanfare, an Italian-ish restaurant in Greenpoint; Takeda, an Upper West Side omakase parlor; Torien, Yoshiteru Ikegawa’s excellent yakitori spot; Yellow Rose, an acclaimed Texas joint in the East Village; and 63 Clinton, a sub-$100 set menu venue from Samuel Clonts and Raymond Trinh.
But there’s a catch: Michelin isn’t actually telling us whether the venues in question are receiving single stars, multiple stars, or zero stars, nor is the guide revealing its Bib Gourmand list, its annual nod to more affordable venues. Michelin is simply stating that the restaurants are being included in its yearly guide, while adding that “some featured restaurants” could receive either Bibs or stars in the future. The inspectors also added a few quick “reviews” about the culinary offerings at each venue in a downloadable Michelin smartphone app. Those reviews are brief.
Here’s how Gwendal Poullennec, international director of the Michelin Guides, announced the changes in a press release: “As the restaurant industry continues to face unprecedented challenges and uncertainties, we hope that these regular revelations and updates to the selection throughout the year will provide opportunities to highlight the profession and invite everyone to discover and support the restaurants around them.”
What Michelin is doing here is a good thing. The move is, for now at least, helping the guide de-center its skewed awards process, which is in need of a serious overhaul. The inspectors, after all, have a habit of overlooking venues that aren’t European, American, Japanese, or Korean in their starred selections.
The Red Guide, instead, is seemingly trying to put its focus on the work and words of its inspectors, a policy that could theoretically help Michelin move more into line with what other publications more reliably offer, which is informed advice and argumentation rather than arbitrary symbols that favor a select group of institutions. Scores of restaurant critics have put their stars on a temporary hold during the pandemic; Eater has permanently dropped its starred system.
That said, allow me to offer four quick suggestions as to how Michelin might implement this new policy with more panache.
- Given Michelin’s clear favoritism toward certain cuisines, it would be more productive if all six of the new restaurants didn’t fall into the European-American-Japanese category — though props to the guide for adding a Texas restaurant like Yellow Rose. The New York guide, somewhat improbably, has no starred Indian, Vietnamese, Thai, regional Chinese, or African restaurants.
- Since the inspectors reportedly do a lot of eating, and since they surely engage in spirited debates with their colleagues over starred selections, it would be nice if their so-called reviews were actually reviews, and not 120-word capsule write-ups that do little more than describe the ambience and list a few of the dishes.
- Perhaps Michelin could have found more than two spots to highlight that aren’t tasting menu venues? That’s not how most folks eat on a regular basis.
- Even though Michelin has stated it will unveil more selections throughout the year, could it have not found more than six venues overall, especially given how the choices are skewed toward venues that will cost roughly $300 or more for two — Yellow Rose and Le Fanfare notwithstanding?
Michelin is taking a small step in the right direction, though it seems for now that it’s more interested in keeping its classic hierarchies in place than committing to any meaningful change in terms of broadening the scope of restaurants it chooses to champion. Or as a restaurant critic might say: the idea is nice; the execution needs work.