Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Bauer, Michelin Guide get cozy

It's great to see Michael Bauer's blog, Between Meals, capturing some of the surge in online advertising.

But seeing Bidenbum throwing money at his blog is a bit of a surprise.

I guess the Michelin Man and his friends didn't take the whole getting-fact-checked-on-the-front-page thing too personally, then?

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Rumor has it: Chris Nolan stopped gossiping

A little birdie -- OK, it's Chris Nolan -- tells me Chris Nolan has not written a gossip column for five years, at least not for a salary. And yet I erroneously called her a gossip columnist in my Oct. 11 post on the Chow.com launch.

These days she writes and rides heard over the 9 other contributors at her Spot-On.com, a site for political and social commentary. (Tip: Look for fresh posts down the right side of the front page.)

As for tech gossip, well, I'm not sure where to point you. I kind of a lot miss Chris. I guess there's always Steve Jobs' blog.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Chowhounds do not want your Michelin guide

Precisely 10 days after Michelin Guide convened an intimate, sedate Ferry Building soiree to hand out the first copies of the stuffy San Francisco Michelin Guide, CNET's Chow.com launched last night with a loud, jam-packed party at Bix and the alley outside.

It is impossible not to compare the two events and the two companies. Michelin's guide and party fit with an old European model, where restaurants fit into a clear hierarchy handed down from on high. Chow.com seemed brash and American, even San Franciscan; a loud, diverse, at times chaotic, at times overcommercial attempt to sift food and restaurants along many different lines.

The Chow.com event had that manic dot-com energy I haven't felt for more than half a decade. There were the fancy, expensive-but-free cocktails, with names like "Thai Fighter" and "Ruby on Rails".

There was Chris Nolan, the former Silicon Valley gossip columnist I last ran into at a Red Herring magazine party at Ruby Skye in 2000. (She now edits Spot-On.)

And there were the ascendant, omnipresent bloggers. Amy Sherman was there, schmoozer par excellence, as was Pim of Chez Pim.

Pim, recently departed from her day job, broke the news that she has a book deal, though I could not catch her long enough to find out the topic or publisher. I have sent a hopeful email asking for the details.

If there was a hushed air of inevitability and envy at the Michelin party, the Chow launch was loud, triumphant, perhaps a little over-the-top and starry-eyed, but in the most endearing fashion possible.

Editor Jane Goldman fled the scene when I pulled out my notebook -- I can hardly blame her -- but quickly and graciously replied to an email query about whether recipe-obsessed Chow will include restaurant coverage:
Right now, just starting out, it's probably out of our grasp to cover restaurants across the country in any meaningful way. Especially because we have Chowhound, we've felt that we could wait for a while. But it's coming soon. In fact, we plan fairly extensive coverage.
Great party photos here. The Business Times' past coverage of Chow here (free link).

(This post was corrected.)

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Michelin: From 40 percent Euro to all-American

When I met with Michelin's North America Chairman Jim Micali Monday morning, I made a point of asking him about whether the guide's European standards should be adapted for the local food scene, especially places like Chez Panisse with simpler preparations.

And Jim made a point of telling me that "almost every inspector" was American -- according to both my memory and my notes. I printed this quote in the updated version of my Web story.

The Michelin PR representative who sat in on the meeting told me this morning that Jim actually stated it was a "majority" of the inspectors. So there is disagreement over what was said.

Today I read the copy of 7X7 magazine that arrived at my home yesterday. In it, Michelin Guide chief Jean-Luc Naret states "five inspectors worked on this guide -- three from Europe, two from California. Some from New York also helped." When I first read that quote, I felt misled by Michelin's statements about its American inspectors.

But Michelin says this quote is in error -- only two are from Europe, so in fact a "majority" of the inspectors are American.

Still, with a French guide director, standards originating in France and 40 percent of the inspectors from Europe, Michelin Guide is clearly open to interpretation as Eurocentric -- a position held by some top chefs, including Gary Danko.

Interesting, Michelin's PR representative also told me that the company's goal is that all U.S. inspectors be American within two years.

More Michelin:

If you have not yet seen this, Michael Bauer has a very interesting list of apparent factual inaccuracies in the guide, including:
  • The guide says Aziza has belly dancers on weekend evenings, but the owner says there have been no belly dancers for three years
  • The guide states Jamie Passot greets guests at the entrance to La Folie, but according to Bauer she has not done so for 12 years.,
  • The guide states Reed Hearon is at Rose Pistola, but he has not been there for at least three years.
  • Judy Rodgers has been at Zuni for about 19 years, not 26.
  • The guide states the following of Nick Peyton, who left restaurant Gary Danko in 2000:
    It was at (the Ritz) that Danko met his partner Nick Peyton, who is responsible for the large brigade of skilled and knowledgable waiters who always seem to be there when needed ...
    Bauer feels this implies Peyton is still involved in the restaurant, though my initial read is that it's simply unclear and that a reader impression is different from factual inaccuracy. When I first read this passage Monday night, I remember being surprised Peyton was still involved, however, and ideally there should be a clear indication Peyton is gone. Why mention him at all?

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Michelin: Reviewing the reviews of the reviews

Let's get wicked "meta." What sayeth the critics about the Michelin critics?

Thomas Keller:
We had coffee.
Giving [Chez Panisse] one star, in my mind, shows that the inspectors don't get the Bay Area food scene .... the list lacks many of the places that go to the heart of Bay Area dining

... hard to make sense of ... I wonder if our restaurants are being handicapped because [French Laundry] is much better than any of the other restaurants here

... I don't know if it's a wake-up call or we're just going to become even more provincial and say, 'Screw 'em!'
Michelin is predisposed to rating French-styled and -setup restaurants ... If Michelin wants to embrace the world, it needs to look at cultural differences

... [The star demotion] fits into the whole Michelin modus operandi, to show that they are in charge.

I know that it's absolutely about the complexity of the wine list, and a certain kind of service, and the way the restaurant is set up. At Chez Panisse, I've never wanted it to conform in that way.

Roland Passot:
I'm disappointed by not getting two stars ... it will become a bible.

Hubert Keller:
Maybe I should just open a bistro.

Charles Phan:
I don't kiss up to the French.

Anonymous at Ferry Building party (via Cooking with Amy):
"I'm not putting Michelin tires on MY car..."

Danny Scherotter:
The reason Angelenos come to San Francisco to eat is because our food is more about ingredient-driven, organic, free-range, sustainable, fresh-right-from-the-backyard, seasonal food than it is about some chef's ego and how high he can pile [it].


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Monday, October 02, 2006

Michelin's forgotten chapter: the hotels

The Michelen "red book" guide for the San Francisco Bay Area includes not only restaurant rankings but also rankings for hotels.

The rankings are on a one-to-five scale of house icons, with a special demarkation for "Agreeable features: pleasant hotel/restaurant."

Clear winner is the Ritz-Carlton, which garnered the only five-house rating, plus the "agreeable" demarkation.

Surprisingly, neither the Four Seasons or St. Regis could rise above four houses. In fact, the guide ranks the Four Seasons with the JW Marriot, which did surprisingly well.

Boutique hotels not affiliated with the big national chains did well, with disproportionate representation among the 2s and 3s.

Hey, where the heck is the Mark Hopkins Intercontinental?

Some highlights, with "agreeable/pleasant" demarkation winners in red and surprises in bold:

Five houses:

  • Ritz-Carlton
Four houses:
  • Auberge du Solei
  • The Fairmont
  • Four Seasons
  • Hotel Healdsburg
  • JW Marriot (formerly Pan Pacific)
  • Mandarin Oriental
  • Meadowwood
  • Omni
  • Palace
  • St. Regis
  • West St. Francis
Three houses:
  • The Argent
  • Argonaut
  • Casa Madrona
  • Claremont
  • Clift
  • Hotel De Anza
  • Fairmont Sonoma
  • Gaige House Inn
  • Les Mars
  • Hotel Monaco
  • Hotel Montgomery
  • Napa River Inn
  • Hotel Nikko
  • Palomar
  • Hotel Valencia
  • Villagio Inn
  • Vintage Inn
  • Vitners Inn
  • Vitale
  • Washington Inn

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Michelin party: Scene and heard

Most definitely in attendence at Michelin shin dig in the Ferry Building:

  • Laurent Manrique, Aqua
  • Ron Siegel, Ritz-Carlton
  • Hubert Keller, Fleur de Lys
  • Roland Passot, La Folie
  • Nancy Oakes, Boulevard
  • Willie Brown
Clearly not in attendence:
  • Gary Danko
  • Thomas Keller, French Laundry
  • Michael Bauer, Chronicle
  • The Michelin inspectors ("we gave them the night off," har har)
  • Gavin Newsom, mayor
Pretty sure I never saw:
  • Michael Mina

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Michelin shows up Chronicle on La Toque?

It was pointed out to me by an industry insider at the Ferry Building Michelin party tonight that the Chronicle has not once reviewed La Toque in eight years.

The Rutherford restaurant garnered a Michelin star, right up there in Napa Valley with Bouchon, Bistro Jeanty and Auberge du Solei.

The guide states of La Toque:

A meal to remember ... sublime flavors and textures ...dishes are exquisitely seasoned ... a notch above many other Napa Valley restaurants.

Is Rutherford too far north for the Chronicle? That would be odd for a paper that positions itseld as regional in scope.

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Michelin biggest fall from grace

Clearly, Campton Place.

Here's how the normally restrained, near-maddenlingly subtle Michelin guidebook describes what has happened since the departure of its 20-something wunderkind executive chef earlier this year:

While the decor hits the mark, the kitchen floundered in a state of transition at the beginning of 2006, after chef Daniel Humm left.

Ouch. First Bauer cut the four-star restaurant down to 2.5, then Michelin did not deign to award a single star.

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Michelin hears pushback from Danko

From Wine Spectator online, Gary Danko reacts:
"It's very interesting to see what the French think about American restaurants," said Gary Danko, chef and owner of Restaurant Gary Danko, which received one star. "We're very happy to be in the Michelin galaxy. It tells everyone the French are interested in what's happening here."

Still, Danko, one of San Francisco's most esteemed chefs, also added, "If Michelin wants to embrace the world, it needs to look at cultural differences."

Read the full story at Wine Spectator Online.

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Michelin reaction: 'puked on my keyboard'

If the Michelin guide produced head scratching in New York, it's generated something more serious here in the Bay Area.

Confessions of a Restarant Whore: "What the fuck? ... Don't even get me started on Michael Mina's two stars. I just about puked on my keyboard reading that shit."

Vinography: "It's pretty hard to see a restaurant like Gary Danko or Rubicon rated the same as Range."

San Francisco Gourmet: "To put Michael Mina and especially Aqua in the two star category while pushing The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton, Fleur de Lys and Masa's down to one star is, to put it bluntly, patently absurd."

EGullet's Joe Gerard: "The Danko ranking jumps off the page."

EGullet's 'lizard': "The Danko rating has to be especially painful in light of former co-owner Nick Peyton's 2-star coup at Cyrus."

Bauer blogged on this back in June, and well at that, but has not entered the discussion today. Maybe a reported post tomorrow?

Danko and the Ritz both have five stars from Mobil and five diamonds from AAA, as seen in my handy-dandy chart. Ritz also has four stars from Bauer.

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Michelin likes SF and NYC the same. Sort of.

So the San Francisco Bay Area gets 28 Michelin-starred restaurants among 5.6 million people , vs. New York's 39 starred restaurants among 8 million people.

That puts San Francisco neck-and-neck with New York in per-capita starred restaurants -- about one per 200,000 people.

But NYC has four four-starred restaurants to our one. They are Per Se (yay Thomas Keller), Le Bernardin, Alain Ducasse and Jean-Georges.

Also, the Michelin people told me that in both cities, about 8 percent of surveyed restaurants receive a star.

Population figures are as of 2000, and I used the population for the areas Michelin actually covers, which in the Bay Area excludes Contra Costa County. In NYC it covers all five boroughs.


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Michelin answers for star slaughter

Michelin president Jim Micali addresses the one-star review for Chez Panisse and whether his reviewers are all snooty Frenchmen in the updated version of my Business Times article (free link).

Here are the star rankings in a more organized format. I put Chronicle stars in parenthesis -- this is usually but not always Michael Bauer. I also added winners of four or five Mobil stars out of five possible, and winners of AAA five diamonds, out of five possible. Ones I think are interesting in bold.

Three stars:
  • French Laundry (4* Bauer) (Mobil 5-star).

Two stars:
  • Aqua (3.5* Bauer) (Mobil 4-star)
  • Michael Mina (3.5* B)
  • Manresa (4* B)
  • Cyrus (3.5* B)

One star:
  • Fleur de Lys (4* Bauer) (Mobil 4-star)
  • Rubicon (3* B)
  • Bushi-Tei (3* B)
  • Quince (3* B)
  • Range (3* B)
  • Acquerello (3.5* B)
  • La Folie (4* B) (Mobil 4-star)
  • Masa's (3.5* B) (Mobil 4-star)
  • Ritz-Carlton Dining Room (4* B) (AAA 5-diamond) (Mobil 5-star)
  • Gary Danko (3.5* B) (AAA 5-diamond) (Mobil 5-star)
  • Boulevard (3* B)
  • Fifth Floor (3* B) (Mobil 4-star)
  • Chez Panisse (4* B) (Gourmet mag's #2 restaurant in country)
  • Sushi-Ran (3* B)
  • Chez TJ (2.5* B)
  • Auberge du Soleil (3* B) (Mobil 4-star)
  • Bistro Jeanty (3* B)
  • Bouchon (3* B)
  • La Toque
  • Terra (3.5* B) (Mobil 4-star)
  • Dry Creek Kitchen (3.5* B)
  • Farmhouse Inn and Restaurant (3.5 *B)
  • K and L Bistro (3* B)
No stars:

This is not a comprehensive list. There are more than 300 restaurants in the Michelin guide in this category. These are just the ones who have strong accolades elsewhere but no Michelin star.
  • Campton Place (Mobil 4-star) (2.5* B) (new chef after Mobil rating, before Bauer and now Michelin)
  • Jardiniere (3.5* Bauer)
  • Chez Panisse Cafe (3.5* B)
  • Farallon (3.5* B)
  • Oliveto (3.5* B) (Oakland was ROBBED!)
  • One Marker (3.5* B)
  • Redd (3.5* B) (Top Ten new restaurant list from SF Magazine)
  • Silks (3.5* B)
  • Zuni (3.5* B)

Here's the Michelin press release.

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Michelin in bloody star massacre

Michelin rankings are out. Three stars for French Laundry, just one for Chez Panisse, Fleur de Lys, La Folie, Ritz-Carlton Dining Room, Gary Danko.

Read more, including the full list, in my Business Times Web update, Michelin rankings cut Bay Area restaurants down to size. (Link is free for all readers.)

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Friday, September 29, 2006

Monday's starry morning

Michelin will unveil its San Francisco star ratings Monday morning, 10 am.

I write on the Business Times website that this could threaten Michael Bauer's preeminence as an arbiter of taste in the Bay Area.

Roland Passot of La Folie doesn't think so, saying the Guide will still take a back seat to Bauer. But he admits "I'm kind of a nervous wreck ... I think everybody is kind of nervous." Apparently Michelin hasn't let the chefs in on the rankings, even to spare them the agony of anticipation this weekend!

In New York, people initially thought the Michelin rankings were freaky weird. Gawker wrote:
Everyone who even tangentially cared got their cloth napkins in a twist over it. Too French! Too elitist! ... The Spotted Pig?! Jean-Georges better than Daniel?! Oh, people were angry."

New York magazine:
The book, everyone eagerly agreed, was quirky, off-key, and almost comically Francophile. Three stars for Alain Ducasse?! “Ducasse is the Abba of haute cuisine,” one of my food-writer friends sniffed. According to Michelin, one of the very top brasseries in New York is an entrenched Madison Avenue establishment called La Goulue. “La Goulue,” said another incensed food friend of mine. “My grandmother doesn’t even go to La Goulue!”
But, as it turns out, Michelin has become uniquitous. A simple keyword search on NYTimes.com or NYMag.com reveals the prevalent use of "Michelin Man" as an honorific and star ratings dropped like nobody's business.

Many chefs -- Bay Area and otherwise -- no doubt remember Bernard Loiseau, the pioneering French chef who came to care far too much about his Michelin stars and eventually took his own life.

Perhaps the biggest question here is how Chez Panisse will do. It is not a three-star restaurant by traditional Michelin standards. But it has set its own standards, standards that have come to all but rule the regional culinary scene and marked a key turning point for food around the world.

If the New York rankings were Francophile, that does not bode well for the house that Alice Waters built.

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