I must apologize and account for my long absence from posting. If I have any readers left out there, thanks for hangin’ in there and spread the word that I’m back!
I’ve been eating my way around Europe… and “chasing the (Michelin) stars.” I’ve spent quite a lot of time (and money) scoping out the high and low-end dining scenes. I’ve met joys and disappointments. I’ve still got a few more on my radar before I must leave, but I thought that the advent of the Michelin Guide for the City of New York (hitting the streets on Friday (read about it here)) would make a good segue into some initial observations about the Guide Rouge.
Personally, not having experience eating at high-end establishments outside the United States, the entire Michelin phenomenon had always been of passing amusement to me. I had always been much more concerned with, and followed Zagat (though skeptically) and trustworthy restaurant savvy friends. As well, I made good use of restaurant critics whom I had come to know and agree with.
Getting acquainted with the marshmallowy white “gourmand” of Europe has been great fun. I purchased the “Main European Cities” (2005) edition and have made very good use of it (in English – unlike the guides for individual countries, which are printed in the local language). The dog-eared and margin-marked book has been my companion throughout my travels. Although it lacks a lot insight into the more provencial and out-of-the-way places, I’ve found it immensely practical for my purposes – providing a thorough run down of the usual, and unusual, suspects in the cities I’ve visited: Stockholm, Barcelona, Salzburg, Luxembourg, Warsaw, Dublin, Paris, just to name a few.
Now, having eaten at a host of both starred, and non-starred restaurants, I have a few personal observations I’d like to note.
1. 3 stars are not necessarily better than 2. At least, this has been my observation from the two 3-starred restaurants I’ve visited vis-a-vis the 2-starred places I’ve eaten at. Why? I suspect it has something to do with the fact that 2-starred places are usually striving for a third star, and thus are more conscious about service, value and presentation. The two 3-starred restaurants I’ve visited (teaser for upcoming reviews) seem to fit this mode and attitude…
2. 2 stars are not necessarily, but usually are, better than 1. The advantage of one star seems to be value. Although this isn’t always the case, it seems to hold true for the majority of my experiences.
3. France, the British Isles (including the Republic of Ireland), and especially the Scandanavian countries are a cut above in prices, but not in quality or value in France and Britain. The Scandanavians are a little more reasonable in value – for them, it’s more a factor of sheer economics. I get the feeling that the French, Irish, and British food industries are just wantonly obnoxious.
4. Germanic speaking countries have better value and service.
5. “Bib Gourmand” establishments tend to be good finds at good value.
6. Do not confuse the “couverts” index with the food index… though difficult, I have learned (personally), to ignore the couverts… as comfort isn’t most important thing to me.
7. Stars go with the chef, not with the establishment… so losing a star, doesn’t necessarily mean service/food is worse, it could mean that the lauded chef has left. It could very well be that whoever fills their toque could have similar aspirations, and perhaps improve, upon their predecessor’s work. (see # 1 above).
8. Eating in hotels is often just as good, if not better, than at independent restaurants. This isn’t usually the case in the U.S. (other than Hawaii, New York City, and perhaps Frisco and Chicago).
Stay in tune for more observations… and Part II of this string, where I’ll give my personal reflections on the “stellar” results of the Guide Michelin in New York…