Monday, March 22, 2010

Etoiles Michelin

Top tier restaurants around the world covet elusive Michelin stars. Michelin stars are the equivalent of Nobel prizes in the culinary world, and just as hard to attain. Awarded by anonymous, professionally-trained experts, Michelin stars instantly endorse a restaurant for outstanding quality in culinary achievement, not only for taste and appearance, but for innovative food, drink, and top-notch service. I've been to a handful of restaurants which have received this honor and enjoyed each one immensely. The three-star designation in particular is exceedingly rare with only 81 restaurants in the world achieving this status. The following Bay Area restaurants have received a Michelin star for 2010:

Three stars:
The French Laundry, Yountville

Two stars:
Coi, San Francisco; Cyrus, Healdsburg; Manresa, Los Gatos; The Restaurant at Meadowood, St. Helena.

One star:
South Bay/Peninsula: Chez TJ, Mountain View; Plumed Horse, Saratoga; The Village Pub, Woodside.
San Francisco: Acquerello, Ame, Aziza, Boulevard, the Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton, Fifth Floor, Fleur de Lys, Gary Danko, La Folie, Luce, Masa's, Michael Mina, One Market, Quince, Range.
East Bay: Chez Panisse, Berkeley; Commis, Oakland.
North Bay: Auberge de Soleil, Napa; Bouchon, Yountville; Etoile, Yountville; Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant, Forestville; La Toque, Napa; Madrona Manor, Healdsburg; Murray Circle, Sausalito; Redd, Yountville; Sante, Sonoma; Solbar, Calistoga; Terra, St. Helena; Ubuntu, Napa.

Of these, I have enjoyed deliciously memorable meals at Chez TJ , The Village Pub, One Market, Bouchon, and Chez Panisse. I count myself lucky to have this many Michelin starred restaurants to choose from in the San Francisco Bay Area, and look forward to trying even more.

This year I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the Michelin group has created a new tier of recognition for more ordinary restaurants called Michelin Bib Gourmand. These restaurants have been designated as high quality and good value for the money even if they don't achieve worldwide status. Good value for the money means that for less than $40, you can get two courses and dessert or wine, not including tax or tips. This category of more affordable, casual, and realistic options identifies a welcome new set of go-to great restaurants for Bay Area food lovers to choose from.

The ones I've eaten at include: Bay Wolf, Crouching Tiger, Junnoon, The Slanted Door, and Yank Sing.  I haven't been to elegant Bay Wolf in years, but used to love going there when I worked at the Clorox Company in Oakland.  Crouching Tiger isn't too far away from us in Redwood City, and features many spicy and mouth-watering Szechuan dishes. Junnoon takes Indian food to a new level with its Indian-California fusion cuisine and fabulous ambiance, featuring colorful decor and hypnotic music. The Slanted Door is a Bay Area institution, with to-die-for Asian dishes including spring rolls and BBQ steamed pork buns. Yank Sing features delicious dim sum and is always busy. A dim sum tip: Get a table near the kitchen so you have first pick of the hot dishes as they're wheeled out on carts.

Which Michelin restaurants have you eaten at? I would love to hear what you think of them, both good and bad, and what dishes you'd recommend. Bon appetit!

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