Get your radial-tire ass in gear and lay rubber out of here, Michelin Man. We’ve already got plenty of unreliable sources telling us where to eat. Zagat is bad enough, with its fake democracy, and endless reiteration of the same top-shelf places.
In Europe you had a modicum of respect: We knew, for example, that when we chose to eat in a Michelin one-star place that it was going to be excellent…and very expensive, too, but at the least it would be the experience of a lifetime. What, exactly, does one star mean here?
What would possess you to get involved in American eats? We concede you know French food and maybe some Italian food, but do you know anything about the 100-odd other cuisines we have here? How could you begin to understand Italian-American? Or Chinese? Some excellent regional Chinese restaurants have opened in the last year, every bit as upscale as many of the one-stars on your list.
How do you do your research, since you’re so obviously based in France? Long ago, a friend and food insider spoke disparagingly about the methods used by the Michelin guides. He said something to this effect: “It’s, like, one guy in a rumpled suit sitting at the bar and ordering one app, one main, and one drink, and that’s how Michelin rates restaurants. Very few places receive more attention than that.”
Can you assure me, Michelin Man, that you spend the estimated $300,000 or so per year in expenses it would take to analyze just the new places — forget about keeping up with the places that opened during the last decade, or the ethnic places that don’t fit your vaunted idea of cuisine? And, if you do it with an army of reviewers, how on earth do you coordinate their activities? Or is it like the James Beard ballot, which permits any judge to vote on places they haven’t been to? If you hope to defend yourself, Rubber Man, you’d better provide some convincing statistics. Just for starters, exactly how many of New York’s 50,000 restaurants and small cafes did you actually visit?.
Here’s an obvious but telling objection: the idea that the restaurant Rhong Tiam deserves one star is ludicrous. It’s not a bad place, and I’ve even enjoyed my three meals there, but it doesn’t even deserve to be in the top 20 Thai restaurants in town. The service is often amateurish, too. Is it possible you chose this place at random? Or read about it in Time Out and decided it was needed to “balance” the ethnic mix of restaurants? Or to give you some “street cred”? Either way, it is a choice that doesn’t ring true, especially when you compare it with a random one-star in France. Is it possible that you don’t think the food is as good here as it is in France?
Running my eye along your star list, I have many more questions. Why one star for the newly opened Corton, helmed by a notoriously unreliable chef, with no nod to WD-50 and Degustation? And, why oh why, do you so obviously hate Mario Batali? Is it because he doesn’t give a fuck about French food?
In the region of the guide condescendingly termed “Bib Gourmand”–those restaurants recommended but not starred–the random nature of the Michelin Guide becomes all the more obvious. N.Y. Noodletown, as one of only two recommendations in Manhattan Chinatown, is really dumb. Now, when Ruth Reichl pointed that place out in the 1990s, it was one of the better duck shops. But in the interim it has been far surpassed, and anyone who’s eaten in the neighborhood could easily list a dozen preferable places. Can you honestly tell me that you canvassed Chinatown, and ate at many places, before coming up with this recommendation? If you did, how many restaurants in Chinatown did you visit? Did you visit other Chinatowns–Flushing, for example? Or Sunset Park? The only other Manhattan Chinatown restaurant listed is Golden Unicorn–this, too, reads like a recommendation from the 1990s.
And what, exactly, does “Bib Gourmand” mean? That the food is childish? Barbaric? Sloppy on the plate?
Apizz is similarly problematic. At least two dozen wood-oven pizza places easily surpass it. Did you try them all? Once again, exactly how many restaurants did you visit in the course of a year to prepare this guide? This list could go on and on. Why Daisy May barbecue, but not Hill Country or Fette Sau? Both places handily outstrip it. Amy Ruth’s was never a very good soul food place, yet it makes the list. And it’s been closed for months.
I hate to say it, Michelin Man, but you haven’t done the research. Accordingly, I’m awarding your guide minus three stars.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 6, 2009