Reviewing the Reviews: The San Francisco Bay Area Michelin Guide 2010

I have to wonder if the Michelin Guide is trying to stay relevant by offering some big shake-ups this year. Maybe I’m reading into things too much, but it seems like the 2010 San Francisco guide featured quite a bit of promotions and demotions, especially within Napa wine country. michelinOf course, I’m not taking anything away from the two Napa Valley restaurants that certainly needed to receive their just desserts: Ubuntu and Etoile. Awarding these two restaurants a Michelin star should have been an easy decision, and I’m glad to see that both establishments have been properly recognized in the 2010 edition.

Since its opening in the summer of 2007, Ubuntu has been a favorite among the cooks who work here in the valley, and it really wowed a friend of mine from London, who has worked in a couple of three-Michelin-star restaurants in Europe. About the same time that Ubuntu was opening, Etoile had staged a coup d’├ętat in their kitchen, replacing a woefully misguided executive chef with one of the most talented people whom I had ever worked with during my short culinary career, chef Perry Hoffman. Based upon this change, I actually thought that Etoile would receive its Michelin star last year, as I had erroneously predicted in 2008, but it’s nice to see that the Michelin Guide has finally recognized the talent in that kitchen.

But while these two promotions are certainly warranted, the news that will have the major ripple-effect around the Napa Valley is the demotion of Bistro Jeanty and Martini House, two longtime local favorites. Of course, with the demotion of Bistro Jeanty, I immediately recalled the San Francisco Chronicle’s scathing review of the restaurant, which I felt was way off base. However, I’m wondering if this review could have had any influence on the San Francisco Michelin Guide, which was widely criticized in its 2007 debut for not reflecting local opinion. From my perspective, Bistro Jeanty has always been consistent and comfortable whenever I have dined there, so I’m puzzled regarding the basis of this criticism.

With the demotion of the Martini House, I’m wondering if the loss of its Michelin star had anything to do with its “Family Meal” program, which could have theoretically undermined the upscale nature of its regular menu. Then again, I’m not sure if this issue had any effect at all: remember, the Martini House was not awarded a star in 2007 either, long before the recession-friendly “Family Meal” was offered at the restaurant. But, earlier this year, I did overhear one prominent chef-owner (and Michelin-star recipient, for that matter) criticize the “Family Meal” program at Martini House for reasons along that very line. It’s something to consider, regardless.

Rounding out the list of changes in the 2010 guide, congratulations are in order for La Toque and Solbar, which each received one Michelin star in the new edition. La Toque had lost its star during its move from Rutherford to Napa, but now that it has regained its position, it becomes the second Michelin-star restaurant (along with Ubuntu) within Napa’s city limits. It’s quite interesting to point out that, until the debut of the 2010 Michelin Guide today, the city of Napa did not have any Michelin star restaurants. Napa will continue to gain stature within the valley as Masaharu Morimoto and Bradley Ogden open restaurants in the Riverfront next year.

2 comments to Reviewing the Reviews: The San Francisco Bay Area Michelin Guide 2010

  • George Laird

    Some really well thought out comments on this year’s Michelin list. Of all, I really commend Michelin on giving a star to Solbar. In the last year, I have to say that Solbar was one of my favorite meals. Sometimes great meals come out of the blue and its likely Solbar benefited from my lack of formed expectations. Sometimes I go to a great restaurant and expect greatness — and my expectations are only met. Solbar blew away any expectations I had and I really congratulate their talented Executive Chef for somehow differentiating his restaurant from the bevy of other premium quality restaurants in the valley.

    On the negative side, I was really sad to see Bistro Jeanty dropped. I felt that the inclusion of Jeanty was a sign that Michelin was not simply about a singular style of dining. Jeanty is a Wine Country/French bistro in its real sense. It is a favorite of both Yountville locals and the throngs of tourists. It does classic fare brilliantly. That should be honored, and honestly 3 straight years of Michelin ratings is a spectacular accomplishment for arguably Yountville’s most comfortable restaurant (along with Chef Bob Hurley’s late night bar menu). We will continue to go often.

  • thirstyreader

    Bistro Jeanty has certainly had a tough year with the critics, both on the local and international level. For me, that restaurant represents the best value on Washington Street, and I plan on revisiting them again and again myself. In fact, I may have to stop in for a cassoulet the next time we get some rain. Who knows what Michelin was thinking on that one?

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