For the fourth consecutive year, the French Laundry in Yountville has earned a rare three stars from Michelin, a name synonymous with fine dining in Europe. Thomas Keller’s restaurant in Yountville tops the ratings for Michelin’s 2010 San Francisco Bay Area & Wine Country Guide, which is being released today.
In the nearly 110- year history of the guides, only 71 restaurants worldwide have earned three stars, described by the company as “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey.” Keller’s Per Se in New York also holds three stars.
Thirty-eight other Bay Area restaurants, including two that have since closed, received either one or two stars. Two stars means “excellent cuisine, worth a detour;” one star, “a very good restaurant in its category.” There are 451 restaurants included in the 2010 guide, 110 for the first time.
The two-star restaurants are Coi in San Francisco, Cyrus in Healdsburg, Manresa in Los Gatos and the Restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena; all maintained their two-star rating from last year. However, two restaurants lost their ranking: The self-named Michael Mina in the Westin St. Francis Hotel on Union Square lost a star, while Aqua, the seafood restaurant in the Financial District, lost both its stars. This year chef Laurent Manrique left and the family that owns the restaurant has been locked in its own legal battles.
34 get one star
Michelin awarded one star to 34 restaurants, nine more than last year. Eleven restaurants received one star for the first time. They are Aziza in San Francisco; Commis in Oakland; El Paseo in Mill Valley (it has since closed); Etoile at Domaine Chandon in Yountville; La Toque in Napa; Luce in the InterContinental Hotel in San Francisco; Michael Mina (demoted from two stars); Quince (which has since moved into new quarters); Sante in the Sonoma Mission Inn in Sonoma; Solbar in the Solage resort in Calistoga; and Ubuntu in Napa. Twenty-three restaurants retained their one-star ranking, including Gary Danko, La Folie and Chez Panisse.
Two Napa Valley places were dropped from last year’s one-star category: Bistro Jeanty in Yountville and Martini House in St. Helena.
For those who have earned a first star, it’s exciting. “It’s something as a young cook you work toward for a long time,” said 34-year-old Brandon Sharp of Solbar. “For me what’s so special is that with Michelin it’s not a sliding scale, so whether you’re in Tokyo or Calistoga the star means the same.”
Sharp has been cooking what he calls “American soul food” at the restaurant since it opened in July 2007. That translates to dishes such as herb-scented chicken soup with hand-made gnocchi, spicy shrimp lettuce wraps, pasilla chile-rubbed pork tacos and a double cheeseburger topped with fried pickles.
His style is an example of how the list of starred restaurants is much more eclectic in San Francisco and New York than it is in France, where the guide originated.
Roland Passot, who has had a star at San Francisco’s French-centric La Folie all four years, said that growing up in France the blueprint for getting one, two and three stars was very clear.
“A bistro or something very simple in France would not be one star,” he said.
Changing times, tastes
The American guides are adapting to the times. Michelin acknowledged two culinary areas that distinguish the Bay Area’s restaurant scene by highlighting small plates and sake and cocktails. Small plates is a completely new classification, and has not been part of any previous guide.
Michelin’s first Bay Area guide was published in 2006, a year after the first New York guide. Those are currently the only U.S. cities covered by Michelin; in the past, the company has published guides to Los Angeles and Las Vegas, but suspended them this year, citing economic concerns. Expansion to other cities is also on hold, a Michelin spokesperson said. Michelin guides cover cities in 22 countries, mostly in Europe, but also in China and Japan.