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Yet Another Take on the Michelin Guide

Hello Enthusiasts –

As you have likely heard, Michelin just released their newest Guide, which reinstated the practice of rating Los Angeles restaurants, as well as adding additional cities throughout the State meaning that, for the first time, there’s a “California” Michelin Guide. All this is thanks to a grant from Visit California, which gives you a sense for who this is aimed for. (Hint: not us locals).

For those who don’t remember, Michelin rated Los Angeles restaurants from 2008-2010 and then stopped, with their then editor infamously snooting “The people in Los Angeles are not real foodies. They are not too interested in eating well but just in who goes to which restaurant and where they sit.” (San Francisco restaurants have been continuously reviewed. Why? Because … San Francisco seems to be the only California city that Europeans and East Coasters can understand. Because it seems like something they’re used to. You know – Pretension. Insularity. Condescension. But I digress.)

There has been no shortage of coverage of this in the food press, from the Los Angeles Times to the New York Times to, unsurprisingly, a whole ton of coverage in Eater. So, what does your humble Enthusiast have to offer beyond all that? Well, I’ve always referred to this blog as “my little vanity project”, so vanity requires that I say SOMEthing, right?

And I’ll admit: my views have changed on this. Because at first, my eyes could not have rolled any harder into the back of my head when I saw the list. So predictable. Such obvious omissions. (No Bestia?? No Bavel?? Majordomo doesn’t get a star? Please.) And look – no offense against Taco Maria, which I’m sure is great, but THE ONLY MEXICAN RESTAURANT IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA TO GET A STAR IS IN ORANGE COUNTY?? I mean, come on.

I’m happy for the two star recipients and think they are mostly deserving. I think some one stars deserved better, especially 3rd Street Promenade’s Dialogue, which is as good as any restaurant around. And I’m actually OK with the lack of 3 star places in LA because LA doesn’t really *do* that kind of fine dining. A Michelin 3 star is a certain “thing” – French Laundry. Alain Ducasse. Quince. LA just doesn’t have any of those “things”, and isn’t trying to. We can argue that Michelin should expand their criteria, but they are what they are and they’ve been what they’ve been for over 100 years. I actually don’t really want – or at least expect – them to change. (though, it should be noted that, according to Eater, they’ve awarded stars to ramen shops in Tokyo and street stalls in Bangkok, so the jury’s still out on that.)

But. My first instinct was “if you’re going to come to Los Angeles, then do it right.” Understand that we eat differently. We don’t really distinguish between “fine dining” and “fast casual.” We are all children of Jonathan Gold, the one who taught us that greatness can be found in a dingy mini mall and that great food shouldn’t be the provenance of the rich. Then here comes Michelin, somehow thinking it provides validation. That, especially when our publication of record doesn’t use stars (which, for the record, I don’t think they should), we somehow “now” have a list of the truly great restaurants in Los Angeles. It rode the line between condescending and offensive – which, either way, isn’t a good line to be on.

But then. I looked at the longer list. And it kind of hit me: this guide isn’t trying to tell people how to eat in their own cities. Nor should it. When you live somewhere, you like what you like – you don’t need outsiders telling you where to eat or what’s good. But when you’re *visiting* a city, it helps to have a head start (remember? This whole thing happened because Visit California funded it). Because I found myself looking at restaurants in other cities and thinking “huh? A one star place in Sacramento. I should hit that up next time I’m there.” There were two star places in Northern California and San Diego I’d never heard of. There was even a three star place I wasn’t familiar with. And I found myself wanting to go to all of them.

So then I thought “well, hell. LA is a damn confusing place.” And, unless you know a well informed local, imagine trying to figure out where to go. And even well informed locals can’t know EVERYWHERE. And, while there are certainly some glaring omissions that I hope get rectified, and some of the places deserve higher, I don’t think any of the places on there now are UNdeserving. And the restaurant business is hard enough, so anything that helps drive traffic to deserving places should be welcome.

So … final answer? I welcome it. Yes, I want them to improve it. I don’t think it should be anywhere near the definitive list of “places worthwhile to eat” – in any of the cities. And, *especially* in LA, you have to go well beyond what’s in that guide to understand ‘eating in LA.’ But … there’s arguably no better or bigger platform for recognition and probably no more recognized “seal of approval”. And, for the restaurants who attain it, it’s certainly prestigious and, one would hope, helpful to the bottom line, given how often even the best restaurants end up having to close.

And, for anybody visiting Los Angeles who doesn’t know where to start, they certainly could do worse.

PS – That being said, anybody visiting Los Angeles and not knowing where to start should also surf any of the last few Thursday LA Times Food sections. Two reviews a week every week? THAT is the beginning of the definitive guide to Los Angeles…