Against the backdrop of a pandemic that has shuttered at least a thousand restaurants and that has forced over 100,000 hospitality staffers out of work, Michelin’s anonymous inspectors published their rigid 2021 assessment of New York City restaurants today. The so-called Red Guide awarded new stars to just seven venues — and withheld them from many more acclaimed institutions.
New entrants to the single-star category include Rezdora, Stefano Secchi’s wildly popular Italian restaurant; Tsukimi, an East Village kaiseki venue; Jua, Hoyoung Kim’s modern Korean tasting menu spot; Don Angie, the whimsical Italian-American venue in Greenwich Village; Kochi, a Korean skewer restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen; Vestry, a Soho seafood spot from chef Shaun Hergatt, and Francie, John Winterman and Christopher Cippollone’s French-Italian Brooklyn hangout.
The new starred selections are all French, Italian, Korean, or Japanese-leaning venues. With the exception of Francie, they are all in Manhattan. In short, as the restaurant industry continues to adapt and change to survive, Michelin’s starred ranks have largely remained the same.
It appears, however, that the anonymous inspectors gave a little extra leeway to venues given the precarious state of the industry. Not a single restaurant that remained open — or temporarily closed — was dropped or downgraded from the list of starred selections. That means even Eleven Madison Park, which stayed shuttered for the entire pandemic and which is pivoting to a vegan menu upon reopening, kept its coveted three-star status along with Le Bernardin, Per Se, Masa, and the Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare.
Blue Hill at Stone Barns also kept its second star as it shifted to tasting menus led by a rotating series of guest chefs in residence, the most recent of which was Victoria Blamey of Gotham Bar & Grill fame. The restaurant also received the area’s first “green star” Michelin accolade, an award that signifies a commitment to sustainability.
The bulk of new venues heralded by local critics, including Thai Diner, Winner, Bolero, Xilonen, and others, were relegated to Bib Gourmands, a selection of more affordable venues unveiled on Tuesday. The starred-selections are generally spendy restaurants with European, Japanese, or Korean leanings, while the Bibs usually represent a larger selection of the city’s globally-diverse culinary styles.
With the exception of Jeju Noodle Bar, no ramen or ramyun spot has earned a star in the city, a fact that’s true of barbecue spots, pizzerias, food trucks, taco stands, modern Vietnamese fare, or scores of other culinary styles that New York is famous for. With the exception of Casa Enrique, the city’s starred Mexican restaurants are chic and expensive.
Local restaurants critics have generally included a wider variety of venues in their own formal ratings over the years, though the pandemic has prompted those journalists to abandon, at least temporarily, their starred or numerical ratings systems. That collective elimination of stars has dovetailed with reviewers shifting the focus of their columns away from harder-nosed culinary assessments to explorations of how restaurants have been pivoting amid changing operating restrictions, public health guidance, and consumer preferences.
The fact that local critics have declined to award stars as of late has also helped flatten the sometimes arbitrary distinctions between fancier venues, which tend to earn the highest ratings, and more casual spots — whose cuisine is often no less ambitious or labor intensive than at a more formal establishment.
The Red Guide is currently the only major publication awarding stars in the city at the moment. Michelin’s capsule reviews, incidentally, do not appear any different from those of a typical year, with no meaningful consideration of the widespread al fresco or takeaway programs that have effectively overhauled the way New Yorkers eat.
In Michelin parlance, one star means “high quality cooking, worth a stop;” two stars indicates “excellent cooking, worth a detour;” three stars signifies “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey.”
No New York establishments have been elevated to three-star status since the 2012 guide. There are just over 130 restaurants worldwide with that honor. The guide also gives out “plate” awards for non-starred venues, which is a consolation prize of sorts like the Bibs.
The rating process for this year’s guide was finished by late 2020. After the shutdown began in March, New York City restaurants remained closed for everything but takeout and delivery until late June, when outdoor dining debuted. Indoor dining came back in limited capacity from September until early December, before returning in February.
The full list of 2021 starred selections for New York City and Westchester
Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare
Eleven Madison Park
Blue Hill at Stone Barns
Ichimura at Uchū
L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon
Don Angie (New)
Jeju Noodle Bar
The Musket Room
The River Café
Sushi Ginza Onodera
ZZ’s Clam Bar
– With additional reporting by Luke Fortney
This is a developing story and Eater will continue to update this post.