This year’s 2019 Michelin Guide ratings for the Bay Area have been released.
Within the Napa Valley there are now a total of 35 Michelin-rated restaurants, including 21 L’assiette (adding Charlie Palmer Steak Napa, Compline and Redd, which closed in October), eight Bib Gourmands (up from six in 2018 by moving Ciccio up from L’assiette and adding Gran Electrica to last year’s remaining six), four one star (same list as last year), zero two-stars and the two remaining top contenders kept their three stars (The French Laundry and The Restaurant at Meadowood, which has had three stars since 2011).
Beyond the Napa Valley, this year saw two new restaurants in the Bay Area’s three-star lineup: Healdsburg’s Single Thread, owned and operated by chef Kyle Connaughton, and Dominique Crenn’s San Francisco Atelier Crenn, making her the first female head chef of a three-starred restaurant in the Bay Area.
Michelin’s Guide has played a significant role in helping illuminate some of the finest restaurants on the planet. Initially limited to France, the guide is now in 25 countries across four continents. Since 2007 the highly secretive Michelin “inspectors” have been rating Bay Area restaurants, including those in the Napa Valley.
Since that first review year, only three Napa Valley eateries have retained stars every year: Auberge du Soleil (one star) and two Thomas Keller restaurants — Bouchon (one star) and the French Laundry (three stars).
Today there are five levels of Michelin ratings: L’assiette (the plate symbol representing “simply serves good food”), Bib Gourmand (an image of the Michelin Man licking his lips and signifying “friendly establishments that serve good food at moderate prices”), one star (“high-quality cooking worth a stop”), two stars (“excellent food worth a detour”) and three stars (“exceptional cuisine worth a special journey”).
With the inclusion of Yountville’s Redd, which closed in October, coupled with the exclusion of Acacia House, All Seasons and The Charter Oak not receiving a star, while Kenzo wasn’t lifted to two stars, the Michelin 2019 results suggest the inspectors may not be as dialed into the Napa Valley food scene as they might be.
There are those who believe such ratings are more trouble than they are worth, with more and more restaurants voluntarily shedding their Michelin stars. In France, Chef Sébastien Bras of Le Suquet asked to be stripped of the three Michelin Stars he’d held since 1999 because he no longer wanted the pressure of having to retain them.
Chef Julio Biosca of Casa Julio (Fontanars dels Alforins, Spain) reportedly felt the award restricted his creativity. Andre Chiang returned the two stars he earned at Restaurant Andre (and shut the acclaimed venue down), saying that for the past 30 years of his career he’d been searching for “that unrealistic moment of perfection” that he thought he could reach through professional accolades.
Some local chefs have felt such pressure, too.
“When I received my first two stars from Michelin all I could think about was getting the third,” said Chef Douglas Keane (formerly Cyrus and now chef/owner of Two Birds One Stone). “It was a complete distraction from doing what I wanted to do, which was to cook food that inspired me and made others happy.”
On the right track
Even with this year’s controversy, it remains an honor for those working in what is often a thankless profession to be acknowledged. And entrants on this year’s list express gratitude for being provided recognition and encouragement.
Tamer Hamawi, co-owner of Gran Electrica: “We are thrilled and delighted to have received this recognition from the Michelin team — it feels amazing to know we are on the right path. We are especially pleased for chef Ignacio Beltran. He is so talented and he deserves to be recognized and rewarded for his hard work and his incredible skills in the kitchen.”
Bryant Minuche, executive chef at Ciccio: “I am very humbled. I want to thank Michelin for encouraging our community of restaurants to be the best they possibly can be and for recognizing all the great chefs and their teams on this list. We are going to keep doing what we are doing and striving to be better for our guests every day.”
The fact that the Napa Valley saw gains speaks to the quality and vision of the culinarians who call this valley home. This is very good news for those of us who live and visit here, but what it means for the chefs who have achieved these lofty goals is that although they might take a few moments to celebrate, they must keep their high standards, while at the same time figure out how to hang on to the stars next year. The training for the next Olympic medal begins again, now.
Christopher Kostow, executive chef of The Restaurant at Meadowood and co-owner The Charter Oak: “It is an honor to receive three stars from the Michelin Guide. (At both our locations) We strive to grow each day, pushing to evolve our style and approach. To have our team be rewarded for these daily efforts is very satisfying.”
Total list of 2019 Michelin-rated restaurants in the Napa Valley:
Charlie Palmer Steak Napa*
Goose & Gander
Redd* (but has closed)
Sam’s Social Club
The Charter Oak
Bib Gourmand-rated restaurants:
Cook St. Helena
Two Birds/One Stone
Auberge du Soleil
The French Laundry
The Restaurant at Meadowood
*New to the list
** Changed status in 2019