In January 2016, Daniel Patterson, one of the country’s top culinarians, passed the reins of his two Michelin-starred Coi to Matthew Kirkley, a Baltimore-born chef who honed his skills at Chicago’s L20. Less than two years later, the Red Guide’s anonymous inspectors have elevated the seafood-centric Coi to its highest accolade of three stars. It’s just one of over 100 restaurants worldwide to hold that honor.
The upgrade also (temporarily) makes the larger Bay Area the country’s fine dining capital in the eyes of Michelin, with seven three-starred restaurants, compared to six in New York (whose 2018 guide drops Monday) and three in Chicago (whose guide was released last week).
The more striking narrative, however, is that yet another male chef has been elevated to the top ranks of the world’s oldest and most recognized restaurant guide, while yet another chef who happens to be a woman, Dominique Crenn, has been passed over.
Dominique’s flagship, Atelier Crenn, opened in 2011 and earned two stars by 2013. With the exception of Baumé, all of her two star compatriots that year –– Benu, Saison, Manresa, and now Coi –– have since been elevated to three stars. And Quince, which held a single star that year, was promoted to three last November. All are run by men.
Crenn, who has been lauded by Eater critics, as well as SF Chronicle’s Michael Bauer, for her modernist approach to cooking, has become one of the country’s more recognizable chefs in recent years. She’s appeared on a New York Life commercial that airs during Sunday football games; she’s blasted the World’s 50 Best List for gender inequality; she’s been a supportive voice in the wildfire relief effort, asking diners to contribute $50 or more while booking at her restaurant. And within her restaurant, she’s upgraded the dining experience with a small remodel, and added a chef’s table in the kitchen — a common move for those angling to increase their star count.
“We can’t invent what we find. It has to be based upon what our inspectors experienced,” Michelin Guide director Michael Ellis told Eater via phone, adding that his team made a number of visits to Crenn. “She’s doing a lot of things. She’s very busy. Nothing would make us happier to award that third star…she’s an inspiration for a lot of chefs,” Ellis said.
Michelin has long maintained its stars are solely a product of the food on the plate. In the twelve years since Michelin arrived in the states, it has not found a single female chef worthy of its highest award.
Two restaurants joined the two star club this year: Single Thread, the Sonoma County tasting menu spot where Eater’s Bill Addison had a notably unfortunate service experience, and Californios, Val M. Cantu’s modern Mexican spot in the Mission, where the 16-course menu runs just over $200 after tax and service.
Four restaurants earned a single star: Corey Lee’s In Situ, Rich Table –– not surprising given it dropped off the cheaper Bib Gourmand list –– as well as two high-end sushi spots, Kenzo in Napa and Kinjo in Russian Hill.
Though stars are meaningful benchmarks for a variety of reasons, restaurants in the Bay Area have been occupied with the vast and ongoing recovery effort following the fires in Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, and Lake County. Michelin’s choice to postpone its release of the guide was wise, as was the decision to bring it back just two weeks later as fires reached high levels of containment — the region needs tourists to return, and fast. Though only a handful of stars shine up North, the Bib Gourmands (Michelin’s starless acknowledgement of excellence) include many more North Bay restaurants like SHED in Healdsburg, Oenotri in Napa, and Monti’s in Santa Rosa.
Three stars, in Michelin parlance, means “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey;” two stars means “excellent cooking, worth a detour,” while one star indicates “high quality cooking, worth a stop.”
Here are some more observations from this year’s selections, followed by the full list:
- Californios is the first restaurant serving Mexican cuisine to earn two stars in the North America guides, Ellis said. Michelin does not have a guide for Mexico.
- Of 55 all Michelin stars awarded in the Bay Area, eleven of those restaurants have a woman at the helm, or as co-owner/partner: Atelier Crenn, Acquarello, Rich Table, Commonwealth, Lord Stanley, Kin Khao, The Progress/State Bird, Octavia, KEIKO a Nob Hill, SPQR, and Single Thread.
- On why San Francisco’s star count is at an all-time high: “It confirms, as any observer would say, there is a lot of great cooking going on in the bay area. You have incredible products from the area and beyond, an open international city, a vibrant and affluent audience in the Bay Area that is interested in trying new things,” said Ellis. “We’re really excited by what we see.”
- Dominique Crenn’s neo-bistrot style Petit Crenn, which serves a five-course dinner for $95, service-included, was not deemed worthy of a star for yet another year.
- San Francisco’s fine-dining scene continues to grow in size, and scope of cuisine; next year’s contenders could include the Chinese tasting menu from Eight Tables by George Chen.
- The Bay Area’s three Michelin-starred bunch, as always, is an expensive group of restaurants. Coi runs $250; Saison is $398, and Meadowood is $275-$500. All three restaurants impose a 20 percent service charge on top of that.
Michelin 2018 Bay Area and Wine Country Starred Selections
The French Laundry
The Restaurant at Meadowood
Single Thread (new)
Auberge du Soleil
Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant
In Situ (new)
Keiko a Nob Hill
Rich Table (new)
Sons & Daughters
State Bird Provisions
The Village Pub