The upgrades reaffirm Northern California’s status, in the eyes of the anonymous inspectors, as the country’s fine dining capital, with eight three-star restaurants, versus New York City’s five.
Dominique Crenn, one of the country’s best chefs for some time now, can finally claim Michelin’s highest honor for her Cow Hollow tasting temple, for which she’s been overlooked year after year. Since opening in 2011, Atelier Crenn has served as one of the West Coast’s few bastions of avant-garde cuisine, sending out whimsical dishes like uni and geoduck shaped as flowers (over cloudy dry ice) ,and printing interpretive menus in the form of nature-inspired poems.
The award bears particular significance because it highlights historic gender disparities in both professional kitchens and the top tiers of international culinary guides. In the thirteen years since Michelin came to the states, Crenn is the first female head chef of a three-starred restaurant in the U.S.
The Guide’s elevation of SingleThread in Healdsburg is a stunning development for a restaurant that hasn’t even been open for two years. Chef Kyle Connaughton, who once ran The Fat Duck’s test kitchen, serves an 11-course kaiseki menu, often featuring Japanese produce grown by his partner and farmer Katina Connaughton. The restaurant is designed around the concept of omotenashi, the “spirit of selfless hospitality, anticipating needs without having to be asked.”
It can sometimes take nearly 10 years for a restaurant to rise to three-star status, as was the case with Alain Passard’s Arpège in Paris. SingleThread, however, just opened in late 2016.
Michelin has historically given more representation to female chefs than the World’s 50 Best list in its overall starred ranks. But of the 120 or so three-starred restaurants around the world, only about six are run by women: Arzak (Elena Arzak), Maison Pic (Anne-Sophie Pic), Dal Pescatore (Nadia Santini), Sant Pau (by Carme Ruscadella, described by Michelin as a “short-haired feisty Spanish-Catalan chef”), and now, Atelier Crenn. Katianna Hong, now chef at Charter Oak, ran the three Michelin-starred Meadowood as chef de cuisine under Christopher Kostow.
Like Benu, Meadowood, Manresa, and the Bay Area’s other best restaurants, Crenn and SingleThread are extraordinarily expensive. Dinner at Crenn is $335 per person, service-included, or over $1,200 for two after wine pairings and tax. A chef’s table is also offered at $450 per person.
SingleThread’s tasting, in turn, runs $275. A fully loaded dinner for two, with pairings, will cost over $1,100. The restaurant also offers allows guests to stay over in the inn for an extra $1000-$1500/night or thereabouts.
In other big news, Laurent Gras, after a nearly eight-year absence from running a professional kitchen full-time, is again running a top tier Michelin-starred restaurant. The elusive chef and cyclist, who left Chicago’s L20 right after it earned Michelin’s top honor in 2010, took over as chef at Joshua Skenes’ Saison earlier this summer. Today, the Red Guide’ deemed the restaurant worthy of remaining in the three-star club, where it has remained since 2015.
Two Star Changes
Coi, by contrast, fell to two stars, which was not entirely unexpected after chef Matthew Kirkley left to train full-time for the Bocuse d’Or, a culinary olympics of sorts that’s considered important among the chef (if not diner) community. Chef Erik Anderson, late of the Catbird Seat in Nashville, assumed head chef duties last November.
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.”
One Star Additions
Meanwhile, five new restaurants added a shiny star this year: Bar Crenn, Birdsong, Madcap, Nico, and Protegé. With the exception of Madcap, which opened late in 2017, all newcomers opened in 2018. And, all are the products of serious veterans of fine dining. Bar Crenn is, clearly, from chef Dominique Crenn (who now has four stars collectively). Birdsong is from former Saison chef de cuisine Chris Bleidorn. Madcap is the result of former Mina chef Ron Siegel. Protegé is from two French Laundry veterans, chef Anthony Secviar and Master Sommelier Dennis Kelly.
Notably absent is Eight Tables, George Chen’s lofty second floor tasting-menu-only restaurant in Chinatown. It’s one of SF’s more notable fine dining openings in past years, bringing shifan tsui, or “private chateau cuisine,” an elite style of residential dining in cities of China, to the table. In San Francisco, Mister Jiu’s remains the leader in the Chinese food genre, with one star.
Meanwhile, Adega and Terrapin Creek dropped off the list entirely.
Following is full 2019 list of starred selections for the San Francisco Bay Area and Wine Country:
Michelin 2019 Bay Area and Wine Country Starred Selections
Atelier Crenn (new)
Single Thread Farm (new)
Auberge du Soleil
Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant
Keiko a Nob Hill
The Village Pub