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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.

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