disaster…

Main Cities of Europe 2005
Michelin Guide Rouge
Main Cities of Europe

Did you know that the word “disaster” derives from the Latin dis (apart, away from) + astrum (star)?

I present to you, fragments of a dialogue, in two parts. It’s entitled:

“Disaster”

Part I

Time: Shortly after a dinner at dévi.

Setting: Online food forum (if you rummage around online, I’m sure you can piece together bits of this post).

Characters: A motley crew of food-obsessives, including a Friend and the ulterior epicure (“u.e.”).

Friend: Are you saying that you think the food at dévi is not one star quality or are you suggesting that Michelin is not using the same service standards that are being used for the European guides?

u.e.: No, as I had discussed with you, I thought the food at dévi was good, some of it was great. The service, however, seriously fell short of Michelin star standards, in my opinion (based on one recent visit). The atmosphere, as well, was far outside the limits of what I would *expect* of a Michelin-starred restaurant (confirming that I agree with the first half of your next sentence).

Friend: It doesn’t seem to me that Michelin has been particularly concerned with the “luxe” aspect in NY, but I don’t see how that corresponds to an agenda to expand certain dining concepts.

u.e. It doesn’t.

Friend: First of all, only tourists read Michelin guides.

u.e.: I’m not a New Yorker, but I disagree. I would be more apt to agree with you if you switched out “read” for “relied on/paid attention to.”

And, don’t you think (or at least this is my theory) that perhaps Michelin awards stars to places like the Spotted Pig in order to encourage the expansion of certain dining aesthetics (here, the gastropub)? Certainly, April Bloomfield was already known to the Michelin chaps on the other side of the Puddle. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Michelin Guide had *some* method to its madness. Whether it’s right for them to be trying to import (or comport) European standards on the New York dining scene is a whole other issue. Based on my one experience at dévi, I would certainly say that dévi’s star might also have been awarded along the same lines.

Friend: So Michelin is attempting to expose the French to The Spotted Pig? It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.

u.e.: It shouldn’t, because that’s not what I’m saying. I’m simply hypothesizing that, perhaps, the Michelin Guide recognizes that there are worthy modes of eating other than “luxe” or “haute” dining experiences.

Friend: In my mind it makes a lot more sense to consider the fact that NY (and the US generally) might have entirely different dining aesthetics than Europe, including – especially in NYC – a preponderance of restaurants with “one star food” that lack European service elements.

u.e.: I think they do (have different “dining aesthetics”). No argument here.

Friend: I think the NY Michelin one stars are a decent list of places that will be good (not perfect certainly),…

u.e.: Agreed. All I was saying in my blog post (and above) is simply that the exclusion of Eleven Madison Park from the list of starred restaurant, to me, is such an egregious oversight, that it compromises what confidence I might have placed in the rating system otherwise. Again, I won’t bother making comparisons, but there at least three or four one-stars, and perhaps even a few two-stars on that list that, in my experience, offer a far inferior dining experience to that of Eleven Madison Park.

Friend: … but I don’t interpret the exclusion of restaurants from the list to mean anything at all.

u.e.: I do. Especially when the restaurant and chef is as widely well-regarded and known as Eleven Madison Park and Daniel Humm.

Friend: I certainly don’t think it’s a comprehensive list.

u.e.: Me neither. I’m just curious what other restaurants you would add/take off the list? I could think of at least one other restaurant, besides Eleven Madison Park, that I would give a star to. I could name at least five that should be demoted. (Perhaps this end of the conversation is better suited for the Michelin Guide New York thread, if one exists).

Food Obsessive #1: You know how sometimes, when you talk to foodies (I hate that word) from elsewhere in the country, they’re often excited about places here whose time has clearly passed (you see this on the boards all the time, in fact)? And conversely, when you visit friends in another city, they often say the same things about places in their city that you’re excited about? Michelin NYC clearly seems to have its finger pretty far off the pulse of the local dining scene.

New York
Michelin Guide Rouge
New York

u.e.: I’m not hostile to the Michelin Guide as much as many seem to be. In fact, I use it as my go-to guide for the [New York City]. Maybe it’s because I became a trusting friend and user of the guide when I lived in Europe (which predated Michelin’s arrival in the U.S.). Or, maybe it’s because I’m not a New Yorker like the rest of you. I’m positive my dining/eating habits, preferences, and outlook would be very different if I lived there. For one thing, I might appreciate places like Franny’s, momofuku ssam bar, or momofuku noodle bar more for what they are.

As a foreign “foodie,” maybe I can shed some light on why it is that non-New Yorkers are often excited about places whose “time has clearly passed.” You and I (and a few others) have danced around this issue in off-forum discussions. Perhaps what I failed to articulate in those discussions, and what I state here (and, perhaps you already realize), is that I approach dining as an exercise or curriculum as much as, if not more than, I do for gustatory satisfaction. I realize that this is not everybody’s approach.

I know that there have been dozens of restaurants that I’ve been excited about that have completely befuddled you. Actually, Chanterelle is one of them. Nobu is another. What excites me about them is not necessarily the expectation or anticipation of a great, or even particularly good or interesting, meal (although one will always hope). Rather, what I aim to gain by eating there is a sense of history, and at a much more simple level, an ability to say that I’ve eaten there – even if it was not at the height of the restaurant’s/chef’s success/renown. Like Citizen Kane for a film major, Mona Lisa for an American in Paris, or The Great Gatsby for a high school student, the experience may not be one of the more thrilling ones in life, but it’s certainly “required reading.”

There is a rite of passage in the dining community. It is exactly because I’ve eaten at “outdated places” (and others that may thoroughly bore the rest of you), despite warnings and discouragement, that I’m able to participate in this discussion with any sense of self-legitimacy. Of course, I don’t get the benefit of eating at these restaurants at the frequency that you all do (personally, I think I’d go broke), but over the past 3 1/2 years, I’ve managed to make it to every New York Michelin 3-star (twice each), every 2-star except for masa and Gordon Ramsay at the London, 10 of the 1-star restaurants (some twice), and, as we have identified on this thread, a number of other restaurants that deserve Michelin stars. Despite a number of disappointments, I don’t regret a single meal for the experience.

For what it’s worth, if I were only to pay attention to the opinions/sentiments on this forum, I might have missed out of some pretty fantastic meals, like the one I had recently at Aquavit, which many have accused of being passé.

Intermission and scene change.

Part II

Time: Shortly after Part I.

Setting: Private email chain

Characters: A motley crew of food-obsessives, including Friend, Food Obsessive #1, Food Obsessive #2, and the ulterior epicure (“u.e.”).

Friend: u.e. and I just made an interesting discovery. Despite both of us believing otherwise, Michelin does not take service or decor or tableware into account. It actually makes me think EVEN less of the NY one stars.

u.e.: Yes, in fact, Michelin’s site explicitly states that “Stars represent only what is on the plate.” In that case, I think Michelin is batting a very low average.

[For eveyone’s convenience, here is what the Michelin Guide states: “Every restaurant listed in the Michelin Guide is recommended by our team of professional inspectors. The ones listed below have earned stars that reflect their exceptional culinary achievements, regardless of cuisine style. Stars represent only what is on the plate. They do not take into consideration interior decoration, service quality or table settings.”]

Food Obsessive #2: Yes and no. Michelin OFFICIALLY states on paper that only food is taken into consideration. However, the head of Michelin (the food reviewing side) has stated in interviews that service is considered.

u.e.: Can you link us? Friend and I had a rather lengthy discussion about this. I had initially conjectured that Michelin should re-state their standards, because they clearly do not comport with what Michelin “means” when they review restaurants.

Friend: In answer to u.e.’s question: I would kick off Dressler, JoJo, Jewel Bako, Fleur de Sel, Etats Unis, Sushi of Gari and Country. I would add: Franny’s, Sripraphai, Spicy & Tasty, Xiao La Jiao, momofuku ssam bar, momofuku noodle bar, based on my one meal Fiamma, possibly S’Agapo (I’d have to eat there more to understand consistency).

u.e.: Based on Michelin’s own professed and printed standards (that is, severing food from all else), I would, from personal experience, agree that Jewel Bako should be demoted; Fleur de Sel is on the edge. Based on my one visit, I would be inclined to demote wd~50 as well (although I know many present on this thread deem it worthy). I’m not sure how I feel about Perry Street being on that list (of one-starred restaurants), it runs neck and neck with Fleur de Sel in my book. And, Del Posto and Bouley should be demoted to one star restaurants.

Restaurants that should definitely get promoted: I would give Eleven Madison Park and Babbo two stars, each. I would give Aquavit, Sushi Yasuda, and Esca one star each. Unlike Friend, I would not give Franny’s a star, but momofuku ssam bar might be under consideration, along with casa mono (however much you all might disagree).

I’d leave every other Michelin-starred restaurant that I’ve been to where they are. Of course, I’d be more than willing to reconsider any of these restaurants, given more opportunities to dine there.

Food Obsessive #2: I’d consider casa mono.

Friend: Sure, I think casa mono is definitely best of kind.

~ by ulterior epicure on July 1, 2008.

One Response to “disaster…”

  1. Great post. Thanks for the read.

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