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05.01.2006

Thoughts On The Chronicle's Top Restaurants

While I was away in Argentina a couple of weeks ago, the San Francisco Chronicle came out with their annual list of top 100 restaurants in the Bay Area. This list is always contentious (as are most lists of this type) but in particular I always find a lot to argue about with the Chronicle's picks, and this year is no different. One reason this year IS different, however, is that it is the last year in which the Chronicle will have THE authoritative voice on Bay Area restaurants. Discounting Zagat, the Chronicle has never had much competition when it comes to pronouncing what's best in the area. No longer. In October of this year, San Francisco will have its very own version of the Michelin Guide. Michael Bauer is about to get the same referendum as Frank Bruni, and I don't expect the results to be much different.

This year's annual list from the Chronicle has a few changes when compared to last year's, when it comes to the best restaurants (those with 3.5 stars or greater). There are three notable differences:

1. The addition of the newly opened Cyrus and Redd to the list
2. The mysterious disappearance of Campton Place (dropped after the departure of beloved Daniel Humm) and Aqua (now off the top 100 list completely -- did it lose a chef too while I wasn't looking??)
3. The addition of the Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton

Here's my running commentary on the top tables:

FOUR STARS:

Chez Panisse -- Great but not phenomenal in the same way that others are. Definitely belongs in the top group, but I think it should be in the three and a half category.

Fleur de Lys -- Always a mystery to me why this restaurant stays in the top, but admittedly I haven't been in years, so it's time for a return trip.

French Laundry -- Duh.

La Folie -- I wholeheartedly agree.

Manresa -- Ditto.

Dining Room at The Ritz Carlton -- Haven't been but clearly need to go and see what the fuss is about.

THREE AND A HALF STARS:

Acquarello -- Haven't been in ages but think it probably deserves to be here.
Cyrus -- Grudgingly, but only just. Really only their appetizers warrant 3.5 stars.
Dry Creek Kitchen -- Never been, but that won't keep me from making the snarky comment that I think this is one of those restaurants that is on the list for more nostalgic reasons.
Farallon -- Ditto the above.
Farmhouse Inn and Restaurant -- What !?!? I have no idea what this restaurant is doing here. It is nowhere the caliber of these other restaurants. Quaint, yes. Good food, yes. Anywhere close to fantastic? No way.
Gary Danko -- Perennial favorite and deserving.
Jardiniere -- Very strong restaurant, still deserving.
Michael Mina -- Clearly belongs here.
Redd -- Haven't been. Heard good things.
Terra -- Ditto.
Zuni Cafe -- Good food, but not so much better than a lot of three stars that it belongs here.

Check out the full list here.

Now, as for the betting pool on the Michelin stars? Here are my predictions:

THREE
French Laundry
Manresa
Gary Danko
La Folie
And maybe the Ritz based on what I've heard.

TWO
Chez Panisse
Fleur de Lys
Acquarello
Michael Mina
Le Papillon
Cyrus

and a few more wildcards that will raise eyebrows and/or result in outrage.

ONE

If the New York guide is any indication, the one stars will be all over the map.

Comments (11)

EnergyGuru wrote:
05.02.06 at 5:55 AM

Get yourself to the Dining Room! It's really an awesome experience. The service was a little over the top for my tastes but the food was incredible.

I agree completely that Zuni and Fleur de Lys should fall out. I like Farallon but wouldn't put it in the same class as Gary Danko or Michael Mina.

sam wrote:
05.02.06 at 6:22 AM

I recently had my first Gary Danko experience. It was ok, but if that is indicitive of Michelin three star dining exeprience then I think I am going to give up on fine dining before I have really even started. it certainly didn't wow me in any way, shape or form.

Alder wrote:
05.02.06 at 9:15 AM

Sam,

I know what you mean. For me Gary Danko isn't in the same league as French Laundry or Manresa, but I think it will get three stars anyway.

Pim wrote:
05.03.06 at 1:25 PM

If Gary Danko gets three star I'll dance naked around the Ferry Building on a Saturday morning. Heh.

You are so far off my dear friend. Gary Danko is a one star at best, in quality of ingredients, execution, *and* style.

If the Bay Area gets more than one three-star restaurant I'd be super surprised. Gobsmacked, actually. There might be two, at most. I'm willing to put a bet on one but the others....nyah.

The rest of the Chron's **** would probably be no higher than two Michelin stars. That I'm willing to bet.

The one star level is a wild-card. No guessing on that one at all. I mean, the Spotted Pig! Need I say more?

cheers,
Pim

Jean-Louis wrote:
05.03.06 at 5:32 PM

Interesting that San Francisco is now graduating to Michelin guide status. I may be biased towards the French and Italian elite restaurants on their home ground (never discount nostalgia), but I do not see ANY restaurant in the Bay area as three stars worthy.Certainly not the French Laudry, ne vous en deplaise, where the waitstaff is so impressed by themselves and the hype, in that order (Michelin could probably not get a single inspector in there anyhow, let alone several). And forget about La Folie. Redd, Gary Danko, Mina may get one star. And a few others, perhaps including Cyrus (yes! Michelin does not rate just the food, but the service, the decor and what have you). But no more. We shall see what happens, come October.
Cheers!

Alder wrote:
05.03.06 at 6:31 PM

Pim dear,

Now that is an amusing thought.

You are certainly more of an authority than I, so I don't challenge your assertions.

And Jean Louis, I bow to your more formidable experience as well.

I have to wonder though, if the guide could get away with awarding one or even no restaurant in a metro area like San Francisco three stars? I guess if NY only got 4 three star restaurants and we've got only about 60% as many restaurants as them then it seems reasonable to expect that we might only get one or two. But none? That seems pretty unlikely to me.

Joanne wrote:
05.04.06 at 6:57 AM

We were at a wine dinner at the Farmhouse Inn a week or so ago and were very impressed with the food - we have to go back soon for a real dinner soon!

While we were there someone mentioned that the Michelin reviewer had already been in - I guess they aren't anonymous. I would think that would change the value of the review? Guess we'll have to wait and see. We had a nice meal at Redd recently and it's certainly aiming for the 1-2 star category.

I would say the French Laundry is the closest thing to a 3 star we have.

winemaker wrote:
05.04.06 at 8:30 PM

Quick note about Redd - not particularly wine friendly. From the $25 corkage to the strictly enforced two bottle limit, we didn't have a great experience last time we went. Wait staff wasn't particularly friendly, food was good, but not inspiring. There are several other places in Napa & Yountville that do better - if your aim is to try a new restaurant up here, try n.v.

Ruth wrote:
05.07.06 at 10:58 AM

Well, Alder. I guess we will just have to experience a few 3-star Michelin restaurants to gain some credibility :-)

Scott Tracy wrote:
05.15.06 at 9:24 AM

I am not sure that any restaurant in the city will get three stars.
French Laundry and Manresa may well steal the show.
I wonder how well the Slanted Door will do. 2 starts 1 or none.
How French will things need to be for the judges.
I am offering a prize on my blog for the best guesses.
http://web.mac.com/scottnapa/iWeb/Site/Blog/C1D413A0-3382-474F-99D0-BC32C092FABA.html

Anonymous wrote:
05.09.08 at 5:57 PM

I agree with you completely on farmhouse. Do try the dining room at the ritz, its to die for!

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