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"Michelin-starred restaurants began to look and taste the same."
December 14, 2012 6:24 AM   Subscribe

Vanity Fair: What's Wrong With The Michelin Guide. Esquire:Why It's Hard To Trust The Michelin Standards. FT:Star-Crossed: Once universally revered, the Michelin Guide is now dismissed by some as a relic of a bygone age
posted by the man of twists and turns (56 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm still in shock that the Michelin Guide is related (in name and history) to Michelin tyres.
It has always been an issue for me, but I'm the kind who doesn't like fine dining.
I know many people who enjoy going along to sample prestige food, and who would dismiss all of these articles in the same way I embrace them because: confirmation bias.

Interesting reading regardless.
posted by Mezentian at 6:39 AM on December 14, 2012


The unrelenting preference for haute French cuisine by the Michelin Guides and the automatic rewards that seem to come with a ridiculous price per plate (especially stuff like 2 stars within a year of opening) definitely make me feel that the Michelin Guides are a tradition that have past their time in the sun.

I don't think any foodie outside of the richest gourmands really seems to pay attention to the Michelin starred restaurants outside of a "Where do you want to go to when you really really need to impress a date or a client".

The current trend towards rewarding Molecular Gastronomy chefs just seems to be continuing the tendency towards rewarding Chefs for elaborate preparations rather than providing a truly inspiring meal.
posted by vuron at 6:45 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm actually a big fan of the guides, but there seems to be real problems with the New York edition. There is no questn that the guide is biased towards French cuisine. I think French food is wonderful too, but it represents a very small % of the types and varieties of cuisine here. And they really do have that Italian problem. Only seven three star in all of Italy? And in NY del Posto is one of the best Italian restaurants there is.
posted by borges at 6:48 AM on December 14, 2012


Do you all remember that scene at the end of the French version of Ghostbusters, where Gozat the Gozarian manifests in Paris and Raymond makes him turn into the Michelin Man?
posted by the quidnunc kid at 6:52 AM on December 14, 2012 [4 favorites]




Meanwhile, the Pirelli Calender is still going strong.
posted by three blind mice at 6:59 AM on December 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think Chicago's Michelin guide is a mixed blessing. On one hand, it lets the world know that this Midwestern City has some incredible and innovative restaurants. It can be hard to convince coastals or Europeans with that without Michelin's cache. On the other hand, it's increasingly considered stale and out of touch by the local food community here. It has also geographically contracted in the last year, which is alarming for those of us working to build the kind of extensive food culture that San Francisco has.
posted by melissam at 7:02 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Related: this fantastic answer about the process was posted on Quora.
posted by mkb at 7:07 AM on December 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


Bibendum! Nobody tell Cayce.
posted by sparklemotion at 7:15 AM on December 14, 2012 [11 favorites]


Their recommendations for Indian/South Asian restaurants are so far off the mark it isn't even a funny joke. I'm pretty sure you could make their bib gourmand list with chicken bits in Campbell's tomato soup and a dash of cream and a pita that you call naan. Their recommendations are just slightly better than yelp's never ending stream of 4 star average reviews. Zagats seems a bit better but now that Google owns it I expect it will deteriorate rapidly.
posted by srboisvert at 7:26 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Much of the criticism seems to be that the guide emphasizes traditional French cuisine; but they are a French company, why shouldn't they concentrate on what they know? They may miss a lot of worthy restaurants, but given the sheer number and variety of eating establishments worldwide, no one else has come up with a comprehensive and reliable way to review them, either. They may be a bit antiquated but I thought this Vanity Fair quote: It wasn’t the only assassin of the greatest national food ever conceived, but it’s not hyperbole to say Michelin was French haute cuisine’s Brutus. was a bit much.
posted by TedW at 7:36 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Michelin has several biases - they are biased towards French food and restaurants in France, they tend to view Japanese food as the only generally worth "haute" cuisine - most because that is also a bias in France. Though I don't think the Tokyo guide overrates food there - indeed their biggest issue in Tokyo is that the very best places just aren't interested in having them or having people not known to the house as customers.

They massively under value Continental Europe ex-France, and they massively, embarrassingly overrate the US.

But all guides have biases. Pellegrino is very PR driven flavor of the month. "New Nordic" - welcome aboard. Adria-lite? C'mon down.

Yelp, Zagat have issues of a heterogenous population meaning you can never really figure out where the voice is.

Chowhound suffers from a bit of that + the equivalent of gastronomic anti-intellectualism - although this last attribute isn't not evenly distributed around the site.

Personally I think Tabelog in Japan is probably the best guide around - although reading it through Google translate provides its own amusements.

Saying Michelin is irrelevant or problematic because it focuses on higher price points seems silly. Its a guidebook for gastronomy. Actually when they do try to be a little more ecumenical with the Bib Gourmand is where you see them make some of their silliest mistakes. It is just not what they do.
posted by JPD at 7:46 AM on December 14, 2012


But I think having the gold standard for Restaurants focused so myopically on a style of food that such a small percentage of the population eats more than once or twice a year really limits it's relevancy to the general dialogue about gastronomy while simultaneously creates this unfair level of hype to those few restaurants and chefs that actually fit within their ideals of what makes a stellar restaurant.

It's contributing to the trend of celebrity chefs that don't actually oversee their own kitchens and encouraging restaurants to open that are all about providing this status symbol (most expensive, most exclusive, hardest to get reservations). It's dining in it's least egalitarian format and it's less and less relevant each passing year.
posted by vuron at 7:54 AM on December 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


What everyone needs to know is that:
I am pretty damn fantastic in the kitchen.
It might be technically rough and ready, but it is edible and tasty.
And I know other people who are just as awesome when we have potlucks.

Modern celebrity chefs demean us all to some extent.

Michelin stars, Booker Prizes... they mean nothing.
posted by Mezentian at 8:00 AM on December 14, 2012


So then it will cede its place as being the arbiter of gastronomic fashion. Arguably it already has. The San Pelligrino list (which I personally think sort of sucks) is far far far more influential than Michelin these days.

I mean the simple reality is that places like L'Amboisie* are the gold standards for restaurants, even if many of us could never afford to dine there.

There is a place for publications like Michelin and a place for (better) versions of Yelp.

*(Ishikawa could just as easily fit in for L'Amboisie)
posted by JPD at 8:01 AM on December 14, 2012


What everyone needs to know is that:
I am pretty damn fantastic in the kitchen.
It might be technically rough and ready, but it is edible and tasty.
And I know other people who are just as awesome when we have potlucks.

Modern celebrity chefs demean us all to some extent.

Michelin stars, Booker Prizes... they mean nothing.


This is the equivalent of saying "Is this something I'd have to have a TV to know about"
posted by JPD at 8:03 AM on December 14, 2012 [16 favorites]


I don't think any foodie outside of the richest gourmands really seems to pay attention to the Michelin starred restaurants outside of a "Where do you want to go to when you really really need to impress a date or a client"

I disagree. The best restaurants in NY are well-attended by thoroughly middle-class patrons. One of the food blogs did an analysis of this a while back and found that the clientele of many of these places was overwhelming not the "richest gourmands." Having access to places like Le Bernardin is one of the great things about living NY.

Anecdotally, I've been to some of the places favored by the rich and super-rich and I've usually found them to be pretty underwhelming. A lot of rich folks at a restaurant is something of a sign to me that the place isn't really that good. If you want to succeed in NY, you cannot sustain yourself by serving such a narrowly defined audience.

with the Bib Gourmand is where you see them make some of their silliest mistakes.

In France the Bib Gourmand recommendations seem to be spot on and I've discovered some excellent places. This is especially true when you are our of the cities and need to find something good on the road. Also, the price point of many of the one-stars is pretty reasonable given that some of these restaurants rival the best that NY has to offer.
posted by borges at 8:04 AM on December 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


In France the Bib Gourmand recommendations seem to be spot on and I've discovered some excellent places. This is especially true when you are our of the cities and need to find something good on the road. Also, the price point of many of the one-stars is pretty reasonable given that some of these restaurants rival the best that NY has to offer.

My Bib frame of reference is NY-centric, so I'm sure you are correct vis-a-vis France. I also heartily agree with your view that a European one-star is as good or better than the best in NYC at a fraction of the price point. It is frankly a bit of an embarrassment.
posted by JPD at 8:07 AM on December 14, 2012


The best restaurants in NY are well-attended by thoroughly middle-class patrons.

Middle Class...for NYC.
posted by JPD at 8:08 AM on December 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


I disagree. The best restaurants in NY are well-attended by thoroughly middle-class patrons. One of the food blogs did an analysis of this a while back and found that the clientele of many of these places was overwhelming not the "richest gourmands." Having access to places like Le Bernardin is one of the great things about living NY.

I'll trust you that this is true, but I just looked at that restaurant and it looks like a meal there cost $120. I know that that price isn't outrageous for this class of restaurant, but I have trouble imagining a world in which a middle class person can afford that. I'm thoroughly middle class and I'm not sure I've ever spent that much money on dinner for two.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:12 AM on December 14, 2012


I really don't think that the Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare ($225 a person), Le Bernadin's Chef Tasting ($194 a person before alcohol), or Masa ($400) represent something that the middle class of NYC are going to eat outside of rare events (anniversaries, birthdays, etc) or if they are using an expense account.

I'm not surprised that they can still get filled nightly after all the Greater NYC MSA has a massive population plus tons a tourist traffic.

What I'm saying is that while the cuisine developed at these elite locations does influence the greater world of restaurant dining I'm not sure that celebrating the few restaurants and chefs that specialize in this type of cuisine sets a great example for culinary world especially since it overwhelmingly favors a specific cuisine and preparation.

If the Michelin Guide was marketed as the world's leading guide of French Haute Cuisine that would be fine because there is always a need for niche publications. However it's not marketed as such, it's marketed as the definitive take on what are the best restaurants in a given city and that creates massive demand and price escalation simply because the handful of three-star restaurants represent the pinnacle of the restaurant experience.
posted by vuron at 8:24 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'll trust you that this is true, but I just looked at that restaurant and it looks like a meal there cost $120. I know that that price isn't outrageous for this class of restaurant, but I have trouble imagining a world in which a middle class person can afford that. I'm thoroughly middle class and I'm not sure I've ever spent that much money on dinner for two.

I made exactly the median income when I lived in NYC and I went to Le Bernardin once. It was a special treat, but NYC is a rather different sort of place anyway, given that "middle class" in NYC is rather high level of income for other places and that people don't have certain other expenses, like cars. Michelin caters to places like this.

The super rich in NYC have notoriously bad taste. The restaurants that they eat at are pretty vilified by foodies and the foodie meccas are shunned by the 1%.

That underscores how food has become a matter of various niches, which I think things like Yelp, Zagat, and Michelin don't fully address. What I find promising is Google Place's new system that tells you what your friends like, since my friends tend to share my taste.
posted by melissam at 8:31 AM on December 14, 2012


I read the title as was like "aw, shit!" as I just spent $450 on new tires last week.
whew.
posted by foxhat10 at 8:36 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I really don't think that the Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare ($225 a person), Le Bernadin's Chef Tasting ($194 a person before alcohol), or Masa ($400) represent something that the middle class of NYC are going to eat outside of rare events (anniversaries, birthdays, etc) or if they are using an expense account.

Of course - but there are only 7 three star places in NYC - an MSA of 17 million people that is one of the biggest tourist destinations in the world - and BTW the number of very high end places in NYC has actually been relatively stable over the years. There is a very small level of demand for these kinds of places, and the market fills the niche. I do agree though that its not the sort of place the "average" person is going to for much beyond a special occasion.


What I'm saying is that while the cuisine developed at these elite locations does influence the greater world of restaurant dining I'm not sure that celebrating the few restaurants and chefs that specialize in this type of cuisine sets a great example for culinary world especially since it overwhelmingly favors a specific cuisine and preparation.


fundamentally haute gastronomy is elitist. In both European and non-European cultures.

But I'm not sure what exactly your trying to say? That Michelin perpetuates the dominance of the western gastronomic canon ? That's probably true. But...I don't think there any non-western/non-japanese places in most cities that are aiming for that world. They've shown a willingness to give high end Indian places stars in London, and the guides in HK and Japan certainly include non-western places - one can argue they are bad at rating those places, but they do try.

I mean Michelin is flawed, no question. But it is actually pretty good at what it is trying to do.
posted by JPD at 8:41 AM on December 14, 2012


It was a special treat, but NYC is a rather different sort of place anyway, given that "middle class" in NYC is rather high level of income for other places and that people don't have certain other expenses, like cars.

I will agree that as a person who doesn't live in New York City 99% of discussions about New York City read as completely crazy to me. I've eaten with some pretty rich people at some of the nicer restaurants in smaller cities and I still think that to spend $400/person we'd pretty much have to be building the physical restaurant from the ground up.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:44 AM on December 14, 2012


If it takes 6 weeks to 6 months to even get a reservation and you can't short-circuit that process with bribing the front of the house then yeah the 1% aren't going to be happy. Having to wait just like everyone else is frustrating especially when you are used to being the center of the universe.

I'm not surprised that there is a tendency for the rich to flock to places that they can always get into but whose prices help keep out the riff-raff. That is assuming that they aren't rich enough to have their own personal chefs.
posted by vuron at 8:44 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it's just that haute cuisine is being superseded by foodie culture as the relevant culinary force. The really interesting, innovative chefs are doing their thing in bistros and informal venues readily accessible to the middle class. And thanks to celebrity chefs and shows like Top Chef (among other factors, of course), more and more of the common folk are becoming interested in what used to be called upscale cuisine, right at a time when that type of food is being increasingly marketed to the mainstream culture. Possibly the one good thing to come out of the recession is that restaurateurs are being forced to reach out to the masses in order to survive.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 8:47 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


The restaurants that they eat at are pretty vilified by foodies and the foodie meccas are shunned by the 1%.


Important but subtle distinction, I'd be happy if I never had to go to another birthday party at Serendipity 2 ever again.

But the 99 percent won't go there, because when they do splurge on food, they want an adventure to remember.


When you have a dense urban environment you can work the "people eating for a special occasion" business every day.
posted by The Whelk at 8:47 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well also those places notorious for mediocre food and insane prices tend to be located in neighborhoods famous for a lack of good restaurants and high real estate prices.
posted by JPD at 8:47 AM on December 14, 2012


The super rich in NYC have notoriously bad taste. The restaurants that they eat at are pretty vilified by foodies and the foodie meccas are shunned by the 1%.

Aww, I like Vinegar Factory,not that it is a restaurant.

Michelin took a huge hit when they introduced the first NYC guide and broke decades long tradition by adding new restaurants at 3 stars. They were kinda in a bind though. You can't have a whole city full of ranstaurants like Le Bernadin with no stars.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:48 AM on December 14, 2012


foodie culture = San Pellegrino List
posted by JPD at 8:48 AM on December 14, 2012


I was thinking the same thing, vuron. It's kind of surprising that the most ridiculously expensive restaurants are still only the price of an iPhone or a couple days at Disneyland -- a luxury for sure, but a middle-class one, not on the order of an exotic vacation or Swiss watch, especially considering that that $200-$300 arguably buys you the best food in the world. I would expect there to be all kinds of $5000 prix fixe places for idiots with too much money.
posted by theodolite at 8:50 AM on December 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm thoroughly middle class and I'm not sure I've ever spent that much money [$120] on dinner for two.

Wow, you are really missing out.
posted by ninebelow at 9:13 AM on December 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


Food writing is already the recidivist culprit of multiple sins against both language and digestion, but the little encomiums of the Michelin guide effortlessly lick the bottom of the descriptive swill bucket.

I don't think you get to criticize any genre of writing after having written that sentence.
posted by mudpuppie at 9:13 AM on December 14, 2012 [9 favorites]


A lot of Danish people have a grudge with Michelin because Michelin won't give three stars to the acclamied restaurant Noma.
posted by WalkingAround at 9:16 AM on December 14, 2012


I've eaten with some pretty rich people at some of the nicer restaurants in smaller cities and I still think that to spend $400/person we'd pretty much have to be building the physical restaurant from the ground up.

Perhaps it's because I grew up with this culture (as I got into my teen years, my thoroughly middle class family really splashed out for birthday dinners and the like) and perhaps it's because my friends and I really like to explore our options, but I've eaten multiple meals at that price point and nearly all of them were memorable and worthwhile.

There are some $200/person stinkers in LA (highly recommended by the Zagat guide! absolutely Applebee's food!) but once you get into $300/person and up, it's hard to go wrong. I'd suggest word of mouth rather than Yelp, Zagat's, or the Michelin guide.

You should, if you have the income, definitely try out the more expensive restaurants (perhaps for a very special occasion). It's worth it.
posted by librarylis at 9:19 AM on December 14, 2012


On the one hand it would be nice if Michelin gave more recognition to non-French places, on the other hand their attempts to do so in NYC have been a joke, the restaurant-reviewing equivalent of throwing in a token non-white person in ads.

For example, they gave Laut (a Malaysian place) a star last year, and this year Cafe China and Lan Sheng (both Sichuanese places) both got a star. The food at these places is OK, but by no means amazing or any better than other restaurants in Manhattan doing the same thing. And there are restaurants in Queens that seriously kick those places' ass, food-wise.

I think Michelin should either stick with what they know - French and French-inspired food, and be explicit about this focus, or get some people who actually know their stuff to rate the non-French places.
posted by pravit at 9:22 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I know that that price isn't outrageous for this class of restaurant, but I have trouble imagining a world in which a middle class person can afford that.

Maybe I've lived in San Francisco too long, but a $127 prix-fixe menu of four courses doesn't seems pretty great to me. It's not something I could do every day or every week, but it's totally affordable as a special-occasion thing. Middle-class people could afford that easily once or twice a year, depending on what their priorities are.

And if you look at that menu, and then go and look at the menu for Guy's American Kitchen and Bar (recently in meTa!), which is definitely aiming itself at middle-class people - well, if I were a tourist who liked food, I'd rather rearrange my spending priorities and eat at Le Bernadin for lunch than Guy's for dinner (or anything except a hilarious meetup with mefites). It's definitely a better value in all the ways that are important to me (YVMV).
posted by rtha at 9:30 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


The most expensive meal I ever had in NYC was at the Applebee's (don't ask) in Times Square - it's exactly like airports, you're trapped (or don't know where to go) and the names are familiar and the prices are jacked w-a-a-a-ay up cause of the location and cause they can.
posted by The Whelk at 9:32 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


The American Michelin guides aren't very good. They're editorially quite different, with all this superfluous text. And the European snobbery judgement doesn't translate well to American tastes. You won't go badly eating in New York on the Michelin guide, of course, and the San Francisco guide while problematic had some use. But in the states you're better off with, I hate to say it, Zagat. Or else NYTimes.

But in Europe, oh, the Michelin guides are amazing. Such beautiful dense information design. The magic of the guide rouge is you can be out driving in the French countryside and be near a village of 2000 people around lunch time. "I wonder if there's somewhere good to eat here?" And you look, and there's a restaurant with two little forks and what luck! the forks are red, a place of particular charm or comfort. And then you go and have the best food ever, in the middle of nowhere, thanks to three lines of data printed on onionskin in this little tiny book. It works because the Michelin guide is well compiled. Also, it works because France has amazing dining.

The Michelin guides are also useful in Europe (and somewhat, the US) at the high end with the rarified stars, etc. There's been a lot of corruption and too much respect paid to tradition over innovation, but most of the places that get stars and 4-5 forks in France really are truly fine high dining. And in smaller cities, a star is a quick guide to the fanciest place in town.
posted by Nelson at 9:32 AM on December 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


Overpriced Applebees food targeted at tourists with more money than sense really isn't representative.

Places like Flavortown being able to work is just a by product of Celeb Chef status it's just that the Celeb Chef in this case happens to be the star of a show celebrating diner and dive food.
posted by vuron at 9:33 AM on December 14, 2012


No doubt there are great restaurants in Queens but Michelin is a guide for tourists. Why else would a tire company have started rating restaurants. As cool as it might be, they aren't an exhaustive guide of the restaurants of Queens. They are going to stick to rating popular places in well traveled areas.

I think we are really expecting too much from them. Let them stick to rating spots that attract tourists. We have specialist bloggers for restaurants of Queens now.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:33 AM on December 14, 2012


For example, they gave Laut (a Malaysian place) a star last year, and this year Cafe China and Lan Sheng (both Sichuanese places) both got a star. The food at these places is OK, but by no means amazing or any better than other restaurants in Manhattan doing the same thing. And there are restaurants in Queens that seriously kick those places' ass, food-wise.

Lan Sheng is as good as any of the Sichuanese places in the boroughs. Not appreciably better for sure, but in the same league as Little Pepper et al. Lan Sheng and Cafe China shows that at least they are paying attention - the blooming of all these little Sichuanese places around Manhattan when most of the other regional chinese is limited to the outer boroughs.

Laut was truly bizarre though, as was that UES Persian place that was in the first few editions - I forget the name.
posted by JPD at 9:39 AM on December 14, 2012


Maybe I've lived in San Francisco too long, but a $127 prix-fixe menu of four courses doesn't seems pretty great to me.

Man, I mangled that (and missed the edit window). The "doesn't" shouldn't be in there!
posted by rtha at 9:40 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


But in Europe, oh, the Michelin guides are amazing.

I agree that the Michelin guides are extremely useful in France. But I wouldn't extend that to Europe in general. They're pretty rubbish in Italy, for example, where the best food is often medium range but they tend to highlight the over-priced places. The exception is in NorthEast Italy especially the Trentino/Alto Adige and parts of Friuili where it looks like someone did do some research. Spain is fairly unreliable and you should forget the Michelin guide if you go to Portugal.

The UK guide is too focussed on expensive places as well that conform to the Michelin-type that everyone knows and complains about. They've tried to remedy this a bit with the Eating out in Pubs and the like but there are much better guides out there than theirs.
posted by vacapinta at 9:42 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


vacapinta do you have a preferred guide in Spain? Campsa?

For Italy - the Slow Food Locanda guide?
posted by JPD at 9:50 AM on December 14, 2012


Lan Sheng and Cafe China shows that at least they are paying attention - the blooming of all these little Sichuanese places around Manhattan when most of the other regional chinese is limited to the outer boroughs.

I like Cafe China's food the least out of all the Sichuanese places I've tried in Manhattan. I mean it's OK, but I have to assume they wouldn't have that star if not for the decor. I don't remember the service being much better or worse than other Chinese places.

For me Michelin's main utility is finding places my European father-in-law will be happy to eat at when he visits the city. I haven't gone wrong with their one-star choices for upscale French places, which I normally don't eat at very often otherwise.
posted by pravit at 10:07 AM on December 14, 2012


The problem with Michelin here in San Fran is just that they aren't comprehensive enough. The places they highlight are almost uniformly excellent, but there are so many new and interesting restaurants that apparently don't even get a visit by a reviewer... And yes of course there is the laser focus on French Cuisine.

Zagat I find to be halfway to rubbish, barely more useful than Yelp. When it comes down to it, I am not interested in what your average jerkwad in a survey thinks about the food in a restaurant. I am much more interested in a food critic's take.

Thus here in SF, your best bet is probably the Chronicle's food critic, who is sort of mediocre (like everything else in the paper) but at least he eats everywhere and has a reasonably variable palate. I suspect the same goes for most big cities. If only the big papers were better about making smartphone apps and the like!
posted by jackbrown at 10:25 AM on December 14, 2012


vacapinta do you have a preferred guide in Spain? Campsa?

For Italy - the Slow Food Locanda guide?


The truth is, I've found no country-wide guides that are any good. I guess its because covering a whole country may be trying to do too much and so its a setup for failure.

When we travel, I scour about a dozen sites I know, ones haunted by users I trust. I consult books and websites usually ones written in that language rather than ones for English-speaking tourists. In the end, I end up producing a map for my family like I did this one for Florence.

There are some outstanding guides though that I've found along the way. But they are region-specific. Here's a few that happen to be on my shelf next to me:

Beth Elon: A Culinary Traveller in Tuscany
Just an outstanding example of a food guide written by someone who lives there and loves the food and culture - as opposed to a food reviewer passing through.

Eugenia Bell: A Civilized Travellers Guide to Turin
You fall in love with the city after reading this guide and her restaurant recommendations are just amazing.

Alice Haberer: Lyon restaurants
Small, beautifully organized guide of the incredible food in the incredible food city.

Johannes van Dam: Delicious Amsterdam
Wonderful little guide to Dutch food and to restaurants of all types in Amsterdam. A great guide not afraid to be contrarian.

Guide Routard: Petits Restos des Grands Chefs
We actually prefer the Guide Routard when travelling in France since it has a wider range of recommendations. This guide is a great guide to medium-range restaurants with fantastic food.

etc...
posted by vacapinta at 10:30 AM on December 14, 2012 [19 favorites]


Yeah - usually the best approach. The self made maps are incredibly helpful.
posted by JPD at 10:47 AM on December 14, 2012


I'll trust you that this is true, but I just looked at that restaurant and it looks like a meal there cost $120...I'm thoroughly middle class and I'm not sure I've ever spent that much money on dinner for two.

I'm thoroughly middle class and I've made meals that cost that.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:54 PM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm thoroughly middle class and I've made meals that cost that.

Yeah I've made a Special Occasion dinner for two that came out to at least 200$ bucks in groceries. That includes like, 4 full courses and wine so YMMV.
posted by The Whelk at 1:14 PM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


We're working class and very irregularly will go out to a fancy place (anniversaries mainly, to the place where I proposed) and spend at least $120 (that's AUD). My parents never would and they earn much more than us. It's a matter of how important food is to you, and experiences with food. The Other Anachronism and I are pretty egalitarian with our 'foodiness' - if it sounds good, gets good rep from people we trust, we give it a go. Indian, Chinese, dodgy burger joints, fancy restaurants doing molecular stuff. Our best friends are the same and almost universally our time together is spent focussed on food; sometimes going out places excruciatingly expensive, or making stuff ourselves, or trying out something new. That's just how we roll.

In other words, Michelin doesn't get a look in because it's way too focussed on a bunch of stuff we don't give a shit about. One half of the couple friend has gone to a few Michelin starred places, and has a few on her bucket list, but even they've grown to prefer doing the extravagant and sublime foodie thing with groups of friends and creating it themselves (all very much wine connoisseurs as well). It allows for a more congenial experience, and far more of a shared experience as well, compared to dropping a couple of $k on a meal out with fifteen other people.
posted by geek anachronism at 2:25 PM on December 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


The NYC Michelin guide contains 900 restaurants. The NYC Department of Health lists something like 24,000 restaurants, making it about 3% coverage.

The stated goal of the Michelin guide is to choose the best restaurants within the tradition of fine cuisine. I think a useful comparison is to classical music and opera (and I hate opera): in that music and live performance are universally enjoyed, but within, the genre of (and self-proclaimed as) "fine arts" is a specific niche of appeal.

What all food-lovers want and need is more alternatives to help them make informed, happy choices, from a more diverse selection of restaurants. There do exist other sources, but not in any consistent, user-friendly way—a lucky blog here, a small but passionate community there. And then there's Yelp, which is organized as a crowd-sourced business, with its set of pros and cons. Ultimately there's word of mouth, but in the 21st century I think we are interested in moving beyond that.

Meanwhile, what restaurants need is to become less beholden to the Michelin-as-institution. The starred restaurants really are fantastic experiences (the don't-try-this-at-home type), but there is a homogeneity to them. While styles and conventions are expected (just as in the history of art movements), it is worrying (at least, it worries me) if the source of the convergence to "international cuisine" (you've seen one restaurant, you've really seen them all) is the power of the food-review apparatus. It's a dose of reality when I watch videos or read articles about chefs stressing out about or even essentially staking their self-worth or validation on the New York Times* or Michelin ratings (and some have the self-awareness to admit as much). That is an upside-down way to life, I think. As with all institutional failings, the problem—that the very quest for eating well undermines itself—is structural and the responsibility is shared.

For example, the difference between the 2* and 3* restaurants is so obviously political. The 2* restaurants are able to stretch or transgress culinary boundaries (Corton, Atera, Soto, Momofuku Ko), while the 3*'s are even bigger productions that please more people by making conservative but consistently luxurious cuisine—essentially, crowd-pleasing food (all schooled in the French ways, all white tablecloth, excepting the Japanese one that compensates by serving the highest grade of bluefin tuna). Sure, the number of stars do mean "better", but only in a really narrow and structurally-influenced sense.

Recently I took my dad to Per Se, and when the infamous, influential, and signature dish of butter-poached lobster tail came, all he talked about instead was when decades ago in Hong Kong he had the freshest lobster ever, in some small, unknown kitchen but with whose chef he was acquainted. I can only imagine the sensory overload of "xian" and of texture that meal must have been like. And that is the kind of human food memory that these world-class "fine" restaurants (as seductive as they have managed to become) are up against.

Going back to the music analogy—classical music writers don't assign number ratings to pieces. Maybe it's time for guides that try not to do anything too easily read as reductive like that, either.

*I'm a fan of Pete Wells, he seems really sensitive about cultural inclusion. The basic problem with newspaper article reviews is that there can only be so many done per year.
posted by polymodus at 2:32 PM on December 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm currently living in France, and the Michelin guide gets used a lot when we're driving across country for work... Because if you want lunch, it needs to be between 12 and 2, and good luck getting seated after 12:30 in small towns at a decent place.

So while driving (we take the national roads, rather than the freeways, to avoid high tolls) one of us pops open the book and we look up likely small towns we'll be passing through or near. If something good is listed, then voila, lunch is sorted.

Lunch is the best eating-out time in France, as many workers get lunch vouchers, so the average meal price is 10 euros or so for that day's menu. This is a fabulous value and to do the same for dinner would set you back 25 to 50 euros.

I do feel that italy gets shorted, they have (in my opinion) much better regional and rustic food, which I enjoy much more than French cuisine soaked in cream and wine... But as always YMMV. Being lactose-intolerant in France is no easy feat, given most French don't believe such a thing even exists :)
posted by EricGjerde at 4:45 PM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


What happens when someone tries to organize somewhat subjective opinions: some people agree with it, others don't.

The thing is, we are human beings, and are therefore able to process information. You don't have to live in NYC and do all the 3 star restaurants then the 2 stars etc...

What you could do, is make inferences, knowing what a Michelin guide stands for, and having tried a few bib's, maybe one or two starred restaurants, tie up that information with some nyt articles, some reviews on yelp and zagat, what your friends told you, etc... The Michelin guide would be one of the sources that would help you make a decision on where you want to eat.

Sometimes it's going to be a failure - sometimes it's going to be great. Correlating one of your available sources of information to the result, I think, would be a mistake.
posted by Riton at 6:30 PM on December 15, 2012


A taste of the divine - "An exquisite, luxurious meal is an ephemeral pleasure – but perhaps that's the point. So is the human condition"
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:51 AM on December 18, 2012


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