November 1, 2005

Michelin comes to New York, rates restaurants

By Richard Satran

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Michelin guides, guardians of
France's gourmet standards for over a century, brought their
prestige rankings to the New World on Tuesday, awarding top
honors to four restaurants with a decidedly French flavor.

The three-star gourmet ranking was bestowed on Le
Bernardin, Per Se, Alain Ducasse and Jean-Georges, cited as "an
exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey."

The winners were no surprise, since they are among the
best-known restaurants, and also among the highest-priced and
hardest to get a reservation.

Of the four getting the highest rankings, three are
restaurants headed by French chefs. The sole American, Per Se's
Thomas Keller, was trained as a chef in France and gained fame
for his French Laundry restaurant in California's Napa Valley.

There were four two-star ratings: Daniel, Masa, Bouley and

The announcement of the winners came after months of
speculation about whom, among New York's celebrity chefs, would
win the stars.

Michelin's Jean-Luc Naret, director of publications, said
that his inspectors, all of them Europeans trained in France,
devoured hundreds of meals in the city to compile the ratings.
In the final stretch, they went "as many as 10 or 12 times" to
the starred finalists, to make sure they were certain.

The inspectors "became New Yorkers" in their quest to find
the city's finest dining, he said. But they remained anonymous
and secretive as they went about their business.

"It's a great job -- but it's lonely. It's a bit like being
in the witness-protection program -- but the food is better,"
said Naret.


David Bouley, a double winner with his Danube and Bouley
restaurants, both of them getting two stars, said he was "very
happy" with his ranking but that the awards process was
difficult for the French and the Americans alike.

"The guide has had a challenge in New York City because it
is such an ethnic and controversial place to rank restaurants,"
said Bouley.

Also making comparisons difficult, New York's restaurants
possess a nightly table turnover rate that is much higher than
France, seating two or three different groups per table,
whereas in Paris "customers believe they own their table for
the night," Naret said.

That means that restaurateurs have an especially difficult
time maintaining the ambience and service Michelin requires.
But Naret said Michelin did not lower its standards for New
York, which he said "definitely is a rival to Paris" in its
restaurant culture.

Michelin has published its travel guides since 1900, when
the tiremaker decided to promote motoring by guiding Europeans
to the best restaurants. The rankings have evolved into a
coveted prize among Europe's chefs.

Of the 54 three-star restaurants worldwide, half are in
France. Paris has 10, while London has only one.

Michelin gives two-star ratings to places with "excellent
cooking, worth a detour" and one stars to 31, for "a very good
restaurant in its category."

While many of the starred rankings were French-style
eateries, Brooklyn steakhouse Peter Luger, downtown's eclectic
WD-50 and sushi innovator Nobu also won starred rankings.

That left 23,000 of the city's restaurants starless.

Tony May, owner of the San Domenico, one of the city's best
known Italian restaurants, said the rankings "are a good thing
for all of New York's restaurants" because they offer an
alternative to the newspaper food reviews and the ubiquitous
Zagat guides, which are based on popular votes.

The guide reviews 507 city restaurants and 50 hotels. The
French guide book maker said it will expand to other American
cities in the near future.