As a food writer, I feel like I’m expected to cover the Michelin Guide, a longstanding publication that rates dining experiences, originating from a French tire company. And I must admit, I’ve been wrestling with why I feel this pressure, and if I do cover the guide, what degree to do so.
I’m puzzled as more and more media outlets ditch their own rating systems, but also continue to dedicate quite a bit of coverage to this particular one. In the U.S., Google searches for “Michelin Guide” outpace searches for other travel-ish and food-ish guides, so it looks like there’s at least some curiosity about it across the country, especially in California and New York.
For my part, much of my musing boils down to these questions: Is this coverage of interest to our million or so readers across our greater community? Does it serve the Peninsula? When bandwidth is limited, does this accolade warrant coverage over another? Is it more noteworthy than a restaurant simply surviving?
I haven’t settled on answers to all these questions. And I’m curious to hear what you think — as readers, as people who work in the industry, as diners — what does the Michelin Guide mean to you? Dear reader, do let me know: firstname.lastname@example.org.
In any case, I’d like to congratulate the restaurants and the teams behind them that received Michelin recognition this year, achieved in difficult circumstances that have included navigating COVID-19 safety measures, physical and mental health needs for themselves and their loved ones, staffing challenges and rising costs.
Out of more than 500 listees, the Michelin Guide included dozens of restaurants on the Peninsula and surrounding area in its 2021 California edition, the first since 2019 after it took a break in 2020.
The list includes some extraordinary local restaurants, rated with symbols, like stars and plates that denote things like whether a restaurant is “worth a stop,” how good the cooking quality is and how “comfortable” a restaurant is.
One of the newcomers to the list was Sushi Shin in Redwood City. This year, the restaurant’s second since opening, it earned one star. However, chef Jason Zhan is not new to this recognition. Zhan trained in his craft under Hideo Kuribara at Ushiwakamaru in New York, which received a Michelin star while Zhan was there.
Now at his own Michelin-starred restaurant, where Zhan gets to work at 8:30 a.m. and leaves at midnight as he prepares 20- to 22-course meals with a lean team that includes his wife, a dishwasher and a part-time assistant, Zhan says, “I don’t work just to earn a star, or to get a good review from Yelp, so it (doesn’t) really change anything to me — just still the same thing, every day.”
Zhan pauses, and laughs: “I feel, ‘Just — oh! — one star?’ Because I’ve been working 20 years,” Zhan says. “But it’s good. This is the second year, and we got one star. Hopefully we can improve, and get two stars, three stars in the future. That means to me, I work hard, and people like it, so (I’ll) have more energy to do and to create more unique dishes so people can enjoy.”
A restaurant that maintained two stars between 2011 and 2019 has been removed from the Michelin Guide at the proprietor’s request. You’ll no longer find Baumé in the guide’s proverbial pages.
“I care about my stars, it’s not that I don’t care,” Bruno Chemel says of the restaurant he runs with his wife, Christie Chemel. “But I reach a stage of my life, a stage of my business, when I need to evolve the business…I need to pay the bills, I need to have my life, because owning a two-Michelin star restaurant in COVID in Palo Alto is not easy.”
Removing the restaurant from the guide now alleviates the pressure to adhere to what’s demanded of a Michelin-starred restaurant, Chemel says.
“To me, we’re just a mom and pop restaurant. It’s just me and my wife,” Chemel says. “I’m just a cook, and I want to please my guests. That’s what’s very important to me. I feel very happy. I have no stress for guidelines I need to follow. I just follow what I want to do, and we see if it works.”
Meanwhile, Manresa returned with three stars in Los Gatos.
The Bacchus Group has added another Michelin star to its portfolio with its newest property in Atherton, Selby’s. The group’s San Francisco outpost, Spruce, also holds a Michelin star. And The Village Pub in Woodside has been recognized with a Michelin star for 12 consecutive years.
“Three restaurants, three stars…It means I have to open a fourth one now, because I’m not competitive or anything,” founding partner and president Tim Stannard says, a joke with a kernel of truth.
So while the Bacchus Group has seen plenty of stars, this year’s holds special meaning. Selby’s opened in 2019, but then closed when COVID-19 shelter-in-place ordinances were announced in March of 2020. After briefly reopening to offer takeout and delivery, they closed again in October. They remained completely shuttered nearly a year, and just reopened last month.
Selby’s team, all together when they heard the news about their Michelin recognition, popped a magnum of champagne, and shed tears.
“It is for us like the Oscars, the World Series, the NBA finals and the Super Bowl all wrapped up into one,” Stannard says. “It means a lot to us, just from a business perspective. And more than that it just feels great — especially after the last 18 months — to see the hard work that everyone undertook … be recognized.”
Michelin Guide rating system
Michelin restaurant recognition is awarded according to a rating system that includes icons and accompanying descriptions. I’m trying to wrap my head around what they all mean.
The descriptions leave me wondering: What exactly is “comfortable”? Is there really such a thing as a “simple restaurant”? Is “quite comfortable” more comfortable than “comfortable”? What is the “traditional style”? What’s the “top class”? (I don’t know!)
This is how Michelin breaks down some of their ratings:
Represented by a star icon
- One: High quality cooking, worth a stop
- Two: Excellent cooking, worth a detour
- Three: Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey
COMFORT AND QUALITY
Represented by a fork and spoon icon
- One: Quite comfortable (according to one Michelin Guide article; it’s described as “simple restaurant” according to some of their restaurant listings)
- Two: Comfortable
- Three: Very comfortable
- Four: Top class comfort
- Five: Luxury in the traditional style
MICHELIN BIB GOURMAND
Represented by an icon of Bibendum, the formal name of the “Michelin Man”
- Good quality, good value cooking
Represented by an icon featuring a plate, fork and knife
- Fresh ingredients, carefully prepared: A good meal
Peninsula Michelin Guide restaurants
Without further ado, here’s the complete list of local restaurants included in the 2021 Michelin Guide:
- Selby’s: 1 Michelin star; 3 comfort and quality
- Shalizaar: Michelin Plate; 2 comfort and quality
- Rasa: 1 Michelin star; 2 comfort and quality
- New England Lobster Eatery: Michelin Plate; 1 comfort and quality
Half Moon Bay
- Pasta Moon: Michelin Plate; 2 comfort and quality
- Aurum: Michelin Plate; 2 comfort and quality
- Flea Street Cafe: Michelin Plate; 2 comfort and quality
- Madera: 1 Michelin star; 2 comfort and quality
- Camper: Michelin Plate; 2 comfort and quality
- Tasty Place: Michelin Plate; 1 comfort and quality
- Wonderful: Michelin Plate; 1 comfort and quality
- Hong Kong Flower Lounge: Michelin plate; 2 comfort and quality
- Chez TJ: 1 Michelin star; 3 comfort and quality
- Doppio Zero Pizza Napoletana: Michelin plate; 1 comfort and quality
- Bird Dog: Michelin Plate; 3 comfort and quality
- Ettan: Michelin Plate; 2 comfort and quality
- Evvia: Michelin Plate; 2 comfort and quality
- iTalico: Michelin Bib Gourmand; 2 comfort and quality
- Protégé: 1 Michelin star; 2 comfort and quality
- Tamarine: Michelin Plate; 1 comfort and quality
- Vina Enoteca: Michelin Plate; 2 comfort and quality
- Zola: Michelin Plate; 2 comfort and quality
- La Viga Seafood & Cocina: Michelin plate; 1 comfort and quality
- Sushi Shin: 1 Michelin star; 2 comfort and quality
- Warung Siska: Michelin Plate; 1 comfort and quality
- Gintei: Michelin Plate; 2 comfort and quality
- Saffron: Michelin Plate; 2 comfort and quality
- All Spice: Michelin Plate; 2 comfort and quality
- Pausa: Michelin Bib Gourmand; 2 comfort and quality
- Sushi Yoshizumi: 1 Michelin star; 2 comfort and quality
- Wakuriya: 1 Michelin star; 2 comfort and quality
- Village Pub: 1 Michelin star; 3 comfort and quality