EWZ Editorial: Michelin is the Devil



So yesterday the unimaginable finally happened.  Just thinking about it gives me the chills.  I left my office for lunch and 5 minutes later I realized that I left my phone in the office!  My choices were… 1) Go back to the office to grab the phone, and 2) Continue walking and risk the unknown.  I havent walked out without the phone in a very long time, hence, “unknown”.  I once left to throw out the garbage without it, but I quickly came back unharmed.  So I decided to brave it out and risk it all.  As a result I immediately changed the food plan and opted for something quicker and nearer, convincing myself that the reason being is that its a little nippy outside (by nippy I mean my nipples were starting to erect).  Throughout the walk I kept touching my left pocket as if the phone could miraculously reappear.  No doubt someone thought I may have been groping myself.  The entire 20 minutes felt like a scene from Naked and Afraid, except much much worse.  While waiting for my sandwich, I actually had to talk to another human this time.  Did she forget her phone as well?  I even had enough time to go to the liquor store next door and discover a 2009 Barolo for under $50 before my sandwich was ready.  Two bottles of wine, $55 lighter, and meeting a cute Russian girl later, I can tell you that this phoneless 20 minutes were not so bad.  I may even try it again in a year or so.  Why Ziggy are you showering us with this nonsense in a post about Michelin.  Stay tight.  I have a transition…

Simply put Apple, Samsung, and your other favorite phone manufacture got us by the balls.  Its the constant need to be connected at all times that is like a most powerful drug.  What is the first thing you do after a flight, or a meeting.  Connect!  Sad, isnt it?  In a way after 11 years, Michelin took the restaurant scene in NYC by the balls as well.  How did they do it?  Proper PRing, fame, and doing something no one else is doing.  Dishing out stars.  Like parents dishing out stars to their two year olds after pooping in a potty.  The other day, the stars for 2016 were announced, and before that the Bib Gourmand list was announced.  The anticipation is Oscars like, and the results always result in tears, anger, tears of joy and plenty of controversy.  For the controversy, you can Google to your heart content and read about it on Grubstreet and Eater.  Instead, I will try to explain in 500 words or less why Michelin should be much less relevant in NYC than it currently is.

Lets start with the main issue.  These guys are not from here.  What would the French think when New York Time starts dishing out stars in Paris.  Or perhaps something more appropriate like Goodyear dishing those stars.  How much merit would I get if I start telling Parisians on Chowhound where they should go eat in their home town.  Exhibit A:  Michelin just awarded Hometown in Red Hook a Bib Gourmand (“exceptional good food at moderate prices”).  Fine.  But does this mean that a visitor to NYC should schlep all the way to Red Hook for  decent BBQ?  Did the inspectors ever inspect the glorious Mighty Quinn beef rib, or the brisket from Briskettown?  How well does Michelin really understand our BBQ scene?  Better than Grub Street or Eater?  Hometown has good stuff no doubt, but certainly not superior to MQ, and is perhaps the most uncomfortable BBQ joint out there with its long painful lines

Issue two:  What is up with the I shall giveth and I then shall taketh it away just like that.  Michelin is like a life-time achievement award that chefs dream about from young age.  No other achievement is as newsworthy including stars (more like grades after reviews) given by New York Times which understand the dining scene here much more.  Its that perception that results from the name that always gets us intrigued and chefs extremely proud.  You show me a chef that says Michelin is meaningless here, and I’ll show you a chef without Michelin stars.  The ones that get it proudly display theirs above everything else, including NYT stars, and even Eating With Ziggy.  Even if you were under the opinion that Michelin Stars were meaningless before, you showcase those stars out of fear that you may lose them and the new-found status.  But how much do those stars mean when the god-like inspectors simply take them away a year later.  Does that mean that Annita Lo who is one of our most celebrated chefs, cooking for a state dinner at the white house in fact tonight, forgot how to cook and is no longer star worthy.  What would that reason be anyway?  A dry snapper, overcooked chicken, or just a bad day?  Maybe a slight menu divergence or inconsistency that is not consistent enough with “Michelin Star Establishments”.  Can star restaurants have bad days?

And what exactly did Danji do to lose that star last year.  Their menu has been practically unchanged since they got the star.  I’ve been eating their signatures (wings, tofu, sliders, bibimbap) and more ever since they opened and in all my visits those items were prepared the same exact way.  Was the expectation for chef Hooni Kim to up the ante and make every item, every nightly special, and every daring move work like a charm just because he now owns a Michelin star?  That’s well above my expectations from the casual Danji.  Mercato’s menu is even more stable.  In fact in all those years I’ve been frequenting Mercato I dont believe I’ve ever seen a menu change.  Like a true trattoria, one should pay attention to the nightly specials, and I certainly wouldnt expect every nightly special to be magical.  So what exactly did Mercato and their long time chef do to be removed from the Bib Gourmand list.

And what qualifies as a Michelin Star establishment anyway.  Something tells me even the inspectors are still confused about that.  “Exceptional good food at moderate prices” – that is a recipe for a Bib Gourmand inclusion.  Ok, we get that.  To be more specific, the magic number is $40.  As in you can have a solid two course meal for $40.  Was that their bill when they awarded the tag to Ssam Bar?  Highly doubt that.  I cant walk out of Ssam Bar without paying around double that.  Untitled at the new Whitney?  No way I’m walking out of there with under $150 for two.  Somtum Der?  Yes, that’s more like it.  But wait a minute, Somtum Der is no longer on the list.  Instead they were just awarded a STAR!  Which means they moved up from “Exceptional good food at moderate prices” to “A very good restaurant in its category”.  I like Somtum Der just like the next guy, but Michelin Star it is not.  Its that perception of Michelin I mentioned earlier that gets people excited, and part of that perception is the standards one expects from a Michelin Star establishment.  Somtum Der doesnt even have a little bench for your man purse!  How can we send Michelin experience seekers to a Somtum Der over something like Annisa.  Somtum Der replaced similarly priced Zabb Elee in the star column which is another strange move.  Since ZE stardom is so short lived, that begs the question, how long can Somtum Der keep its star.  Both would be solid choices as Bib Gourmands instead.  Michelin simply put is having trouble keeping up with the NY pace and the magnitude of our diversity.  Eating in NY is much different than Europe

There are good names on those lists no doubt.  But I would never send someone to a Baci & Abbracci over Mercato or Bar Pitti, or Osteria Morini.  And where’s Maialino and Marta.  Someone quick tell the line at Mission Chinese Food and Totto Ramen that they are not Michelined.  And when was the last time the inspectors crossed the bridge to Staten Island for long time Bibs Enoteca Maria and Vida, or try something new like the many great Sri Lankans the island has to offer.  Where are the great recent year additions of Contra, Cosme, and Estela.  Is the list better than a list die hard local hounds can put together on Chowhound?  I highly doubt it.  But to Mr and Mrs average visitor, that’s the NY food bible, written by a visitor.  And as long as its called Michelin, this devil is here to stay to {possibly} stir you wrong.

Categories: New York City | Tags: , , , | 9 Comments

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9 thoughts on “EWZ Editorial: Michelin is the Devil

  1. WeQueen

    Is it just me, Ziggy? But I really have a hard time envisioning a Michelin star restaurant without crisp table clothes and fine china and crystal and the servers with at least a neat shirt and tie. Some of these places, while the food tastes good, feels like dining in a fast food joint. Maybe it’s just me. But I digest better in proportion to the ambiance.

  2. Tanya

    Well said, Ziggy. Bravo. I’m no expert on NYC food but I totally agree that maybe French inspectors are not the best people to rate American food. They have a different outlook, taste and expectation when it comes to food and ambience. Perhaps it really is time for a “Goodyear” guide for American food.
    I sort of agree with WeQueen but some of the best places I’ve eaten in NYC, like Momofuku Ko do not have white tablecloths and fine china yet deserve their stars. The world is much younger and modern these days. White tablecloths are not necessary any more for an establishment to be classed as good imo.

    • WeQueen

      Hello Tanya, not to argue as we are all entitled to our opinions, but Michelin has a certain standard, or should have, or did have, a certain standard that includes everything in the presentation. The plating, the linens, the china, the crystal, the servers, the room. Which is what you pay for. Must have different standards in the “old” world vs the “new” world. So for this, am rather of the “old”.
      A different rating system in Europe as opposed to the US?
      Off to Tokyo in 6 weeks, let’s see how they do it there.

      • Tanya

        Hi WeQueen, yes there are standards and should be. I’m not arguing. The world is changing though and the “new” food world seems to be much more casual, and not necessarily worse than the “old” food world imo. I think it’s happening everywhere in all aspects of life.
        I hope you enjoy Tokyo. That will be a big culture difference compared to NYC and Europe.

      • WeQueen

        “Arguing” was the wrong, more a difference of opinion. Japan is an entirely different world from NYC. Paris, Rome. A great learning experience.

  3. Randall Forbes

    I can’t resist asking: Do you also take Oscars, Emmys, Grammys and presidential primary debates seriously?

    There is a reason rail against the system, because it has consequences. But Michelin stars don’t mean anything when it comes to eating well. They wouldn’t be more meaningful or correct if they gave them to your favorite restaurants (and I hope you wouldn’t feel “vindicated” if they did.) Besides, they destroy as many good restaurants as they keep afloat bad ones. But the answer isn’t to lobby for “better” choices. They aren’t listening to you anyway — deliberately.

  4. Randall Forbes

    I don’t know if you will ever see this comment, because it is an older post, but I’ve been haunted for days by the photo that tops that post, and the man in the picture. Not the one with what appears to be the exploding head, but the man on the left , looking directly into your camera, not exactly pleased to be in the photograph.

    Is that Jason Miller, editor, food writer, cook and Judy Miller’s husband (still, I think)–?


    • Funny you mentioned it Rendall, the man does look familiar to me too. He looks like a celebrity. I assume you mean Jason Epstein. It might very well be, but I dont think its him. He’s wearing different glasses than the usual frame he wears in every picture. But you never know

      And yes, I see every comment, regardless of the post it posted on. Sometimes however, I forget to reply if I dont do it right away

  5. Randall Forbes

    Sorry — right! Epstein. He didn’t take his wife’s name! (Didn’t Jason Miller act in The Exorcist or something?) I noticed the difference in horn-rims too. Probably a lot of men age just this way — but the guy in your photo looks well-tended. Even a bit buffed. Had he lived, Phillip Seymour Hoffman could have played him. Or both of them!

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