The 2016 San Francisco Michelin Guide stars are out, and it begs the question: Is the Bay Area overtaking New York as the country's premier destination for high-end gastronomy? Case in point: David Kinch's vegetable-focused Manresa has become the region's latest restaurant to earn Michelin's highest honor of three stars. This accolade comes just a year after the guide's famously anonymous inspectors elevated the Chinese-inflected Benu and the Japanese-influenced Saison to that same rarefied club. By contrast, not a single New York restaurant has received a promotion to the three star category since 2011.
New York currently has six restaurants with three stars. The Bay Area has five. Inspectors award worthy venues with either one star ("a very good restaurant in its category"), two stars ("excellent cuisine, worth a detour"), or three stars ("exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey").
Among the other big winners were Oakland's Commis and the Cal-Indian Campton Place – both were elevated to two stars – as well as Aster and Lazy Bear, both the recipients of a single star. Here are some further observations about this year's selections, followed by the full list.
- The Importance of Manresa: David Kinch's Los Gatos venue, founded in 2002, reopened late last year after a devastating fire shuttered the restaurant for six months. Kinch espoused a vegetable-heavy style of cuisine, with meat and fished used more as seasonings rather than the star of the plate, long before all the cool kids picked up on that style and started charging top dollar for tweezer-plated salads. Think of Manresa as a West Coast analogue to Blue Hill at Stone Barns, or an American answer to L'Arpege, with much of the restaurant's bounty a product of its exclusive relationship with Love Apple Farms.
- The Bay Area Boom: "Right now the Bay Area is the most exciting place in America to go wild on fine dining," Eater's Bill Addison wrote in a recent roundup of the region's most expensive haunts. "If there is any spot on earth for a food obsessive to go on a bender — blow the bonus check, deplete the trust fund, ruin the credit score — this is it."
- The East Bay Outlier: Commis, which charges $119 for a tasting menu, is the only Oakland restaurant with two Michelin stars.
- The Atelier Crenn Problem: There are currently zero three Michelin-starred restaurants in the U.S. run by a female head chef. Dominique Crenn's eponymous venue, widely considered to be a viable candidate for the three star club, was kept at two-stars for yet another year. Crenn was upgraded to 3.5 stars by the San Francisco Chronicle in a review last year.
- On Gratuities: Manresa is the Bar Area's only three Michelin-starred establishment that strictly abides by a traditional tipping system. Benu and Saison employ a service charge, while The French Laundry and Meadowood's $500 chef's table employ service-included policies. California does not have a tip credit, which means waiters make the full minimum before tips, a reality that has prompted an increasing number of West Coast restaurants to do away with gratuities so they can pay their entire staffs, cooks included, more equitable salaries.
- On Pricing: The Bay Area does not have a single three Michelin-starred restaurant serving a set menu under $200. Manresa is $210. Benu is $248. The French Laundry is $295 (service-included). Saison is $398. And Meadowood is $225-$500. New York, by contrast has two venues in this rarefied category serving dinner under $200: Jean-Georges, where a four-course meal is $138, and Le Bernardin, which charges $140 for a set menu, or $170 for a short tasting menu.
- The Petit Crenn Snub? Dominique Crenn's two-month old service-include venue was left off the starred selections. The Hayes Valley restaurant, which serves a 5-course menu for $72, received 3.5 stars from the Chronicle earlier this week.
- The Magreb Underdog: Chef Mourad Lahlou's namesake restaurant becomes the city's second Moroccan institution to hold a Michelin star; the other is Lahlou's Aziza. Mourad features a la carte selections as well as a $120 tasting. Is it the country's most expensive North African restaurant?
- The Rare Mexican Star: Californios' Val M. Cantu now ranks with Topolobampo's Rick Bayless and Casa Enrique's Cosme Aguilar as one of the country's handful of chefs to run a Michelin-starred Mexican restaurant. The venue charges $97 for a tasting of twelve or so courses.
- Michelin's Thai Craze: Kin Khao in Union Square, removed from the cheaper Bib Gourmand selections, was upgraded to the starred list. Michelin has been on a Thai kick lately, awarding stars to Uncle Boons, Pok Pok, and Somtum Der in New York as well.
- Japanese Additions: Michelin is notoriously stingy when it comes to awarding sushi venues with its coveted stars, but this year, there are three entrants to that category: Wako, Omakase, and Sushi Yoshozumi. The last of the three, Yoshozumi, is known for emphasizing local, sustainable fish for a very price: the tasting is just $85.
- Other New One-Starred Selections: All Spice, Al's Place, Commonwealth, Lord Stanley, the Southern Indian themed-Rasa, and Nico.
- French Laundry
- Restaurant at Meadowood
- Atelier Crenn
- Campton Place
- All Spice
- Al's Place
- Auberge du Soleil
- Chez TJ
- Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant
- Gary Danko
- Keiko à Nob Hill
- Kin Khao
- La Toque
- Lazy Bear
- Lord Stanley
- Madrona Manor
- Michael Mina
- Plumed Horse
- Sons & Daughters
- State Bird Provisions
- Sushi Yoshizumi
- Terrapin Creek
- The Village Pub