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Local 2015 Michelin stars: Baume, Madera, Chez TJ, Village Pub

Uploaded: Oct 22, 2014
The Michelin Guide released its latest San Francisco Bay Area stars list Tuesday, yet again granting distinction to Baume in Palo Alto, Madera in Menlo Park, Chez TJ in Mountain View and The Village Pub in Woodside.

Baume, the high-end French restaurant on California Avenue that brought molecular gastronomy to Palo Alto, was one of six Bay Area restaurants to garner two stars. Its cohort includes restaurants like Coi and Quince in San Franciso and Manresa in Los Gatos.

Baume chef Bruno Chemel ? who opened the restaurant after leaving Chez TJ in 2010 ? tweeted his thanks Tuesday afternoon: "Merci pour les 2 etoiles 2015 Michelin Guide;))"

Read our 2010 review of Baume: And now for something completely different

Chemel isn't the only Michelin-starred chef who came out of Chez TJ. Joshua Skenes, former executive chef at the Villa Street restaurant, is now heading the kitchen at Saison, which nabbed an esteemed three stars this year. This is also the first time that any restaurants in San Francisco proper were granted the highest three-star distinction, which about 100 restaurants worldwide have earned.

New-American restaurant Madera (housed in the Rosewood Sand Hill hotel), French-focused Chez TJ and The Village Pub are all repeat offenders on the one-star list.

Other South Bay notables: David Kinch's Manresa (which held onto its stars despite closing after a devastating fire in July), Wakuriya, an upscale Japanese restaurant in San Mateo and All Spice in San Mateo.

Check out this InsideScoopSF post for more San Francisco details.

The culinary guide awarded stars to 40 restaurants in the Bay Area this year. Here's the full list:

Three stars
Benu, San Francisco
French Laundry (The), Yountville
Restaurant at Meadowood (The), St. Helena
Saison, San Francisco

Two stars
Acquerello, San Francisco
Atelier Crenn, San Francisco
Baumé, Palo Alto
Coi, San Francisco
Manresa, Los Gatos
Quince, San Francisco

One star
All Spice, San Mateo
Ame, San Francisco
Auberge du Soleil, Rutherford
Aziza, San Francisco
Bouchon, Yountville
Boulevard, San Francisco
Campton Place, San Francisco
Chez TJ, Mountain View
Commis, Oakland
Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant, Forestville
Gary Danko, San Francisco
Keiko à Nob Hill, San Francisco
Kusakabe, San Francisco
La Folie, San Francisco
La Toque, Napa
Luce, San Francisco
Madera, Menlo Park
Madrona Manor, Healdsburg
Maruya, San Francisco
Michael Mina, San Francisco
Plumed Horse, Saratoga
Solbar, Calistoga
Sons & Daughters, San Francisco
SPQR, San Francisco
Spruce, San Francisco
State Bird Provisions, San Francisco
Terra, St. Helena
Terrapin Creek, Bodega Bay
Village Pub (The), Woodside
Wakuriya, San Mateo

Comments

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Max Hauser, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Oct 22, 2014 at 12:27 pm

Some review sources, and even occasionally the restaurant itself, do categorize Chez TJ as "French," "French-inspired," or as here, "French-focused," and the restaurant does retain its own longtime habit of labeling different meal sizes with French terms ("Menu Gastronomique" etc.). But from some experience there over the past 20+ years as a special-occasion restaurant, I feel that "French" is a TJ label that confuses more than enlightens, for these reasons:

- The kitchen was recognizably French when TJ McCombie (1950-1994, a pupil of Simca Beck, Julia Child's collaborator) was alive. The "Menu XX" language came from then. Since 1994 and especially since 1999, the various chefs have taken it in their own directions, not classic French (Escoffier's "Guide Culinaire" canon) nor what high-end restaurants do today in France itself -- except to the extent that modern French restaurants try similar ideas to other restaurants in many other places. The sashimis, edible flowers, and foams, described in Dale Bentson's linked review and others, aren't characteristically French. Traditional French restaurant cooking (folk cooking, like coq au vin -- not foams or sashimis) is steadily available a few blocks away at the moderately-priced, 25-year-old Petit Bistro.

- Each TJ chef has brought a quite different style. Andrew Trice's or Kirk Bruderer's interests and style differed from Josh Skenes's or Chris Kostow's.

A useful industry term embracing Chez TJ in most of its recent history (and several other high-end Bay Area kitchens) is "modern international."


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Laura Stec, a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge,
on Oct 23, 2014 at 8:59 am

I'm doing some research into Michelin if anyone has any first hand insight. What does a star even mean? (beyond what anyone can google) We put so much importance on these anonymous reviewers opinions and personally, well, who cares? The original reviewers were a marketing campaign from the tire company. Who are they now and why should their tastes be so important to me? Headed to Baume next week.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Max Hauser, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Oct 23, 2014 at 11:05 am

Max Hauser is a registered user.

Laura's question is partly answered by a remarkable New Yorker article a few years ago, "Interview with M.," that goes into the rating service history, and the life of a US Michelin reviewer. They're chosen from people with professional food training, screened for ability to reverse-engineer dish ingredients and to record accurate detailed observations after the fact, without taking notes. Another good, classic source is Joseph Wechsberg's articles about visiting Michelin-rated restaurants in mid-20th-century Europe, they're among chapters in Wechsberg's anthology "Blue Trout and Black Truffles" (beloved to many serious food fans in the US for decades).

Tire company or not, Michelin's approach has real strengths, the investigators are food professionals and the standards are fairly consistent. AND -- my usual mantra on this subject -- the Michelin's real "meat" isn't the few "starred" or "Bib Gourmand" restaurants, but the book's much larger body of recommended establishments, still a small fraction of the whole region's restaurant population. If all someone ever hears about is the "star" lists etc., they don't know the Michelin at all. For example, the 2013 and 2014 Michelins noticed and recommended a good but modest family-run Shanghainese restaurant in MV, Bamboo Garden. No "stars," but many dish recommendations from reviewers sophisticated about Shanghai cuisine.

Yet the new 2015 Guide seems to've covered the peninsula weakly, compared to past years. Jamie Morrow at the peninsula Daily Post noticed this (from the book itself, not the star lists), she interviewed me about it yesterday and it should be in her weekly Post restaurant column today, Oct. 23.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by A Single Guy, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Oct 23, 2014 at 12:26 pm

A star is basically the Michelin Guide review team's way of saying that the business is a "destination restaurant," particularly for someone who is visiting and unfamiliar with the area. Michelin Guide readers generally understand that the reviews lean toward the white tablecloth, haute cuisine/fine dining experience, and trust that the reviews are consistent for that type of dining experience, regardless of region.

The crowd-sourced review sites definitely suffer from a large pool of participants who are not professionally trained food people.

The best restaurant recommendations come from people in the industry. If you're at a bar and you see a bartender from another establishment at the bar, you are in a good place (well, apart from that person's place). The Chez Panisse folks often dine at Zuni Cafe; there's a reason for that.

Even individual restaurant reviewers have their own idiosyncrasies and prejudices. The Chronicle's Michael Bauer dislikes fish, detests seafood, and has little interest in "ethnic cuisine." You wouldn't know this if you haven't been reading his reviews for a long time; someone who doesn't live in the SF Bay Area wouldn't realize that.

I personally prefer the Michelin's 3-star rating system, plus the list of recommended restaurants, effectively four rating levels.

The Chronicle gives out four stars, but also uses half-stars, effectively nine rating levels. There's more debate about validity of the difference of a restaurant that has 4 stars or 3.5 stars. However, I do appreciate the Chronicle's noise rating, that is a very helpful data point.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Max Hauser, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Oct 23, 2014 at 1:18 pm

Max Hauser is a registered user.

Thanks to the Single Guy for a great succinct overview.
More on Michelin:

Almost all use of Michelin Guides to date, including by Americans, has been in Europe -- where it's firmly established, its customs and nuances widely understood. Creating US Michelin Guides (a few years ago) was an outreach to a new market, and I wasn't surprised to read at the time that the strongest initial interest came from Europeans visiting or living in the US.

European Michelins use a rich, well-developed set of shorthand symbols for the Guide's focus: the recommended-restaurant reviews. Those symbols make up the main quick upshots people consult from day to day. "Stars" exist as almost an independent layer, to flag particular establishments the reviewers also conclude to be, literally, "excellent in its category" (*), "meriting a detour" (**), or "worth the journey" (***). Those are the stars' traditional understandings.

You might find an unstarred but up-and-coming restaurant with a large cluster of red "forks" in its symbols. That's a telltale of a hot kitchen, maybe not well established or consistent, or with weak service or décor. Such restaurants are candidates for later stars, but they're places that serious food tourists seek out when they want quality and value that's not yet on everyone's radar. I found such cues extremely helpful in France on a tight student budget in the 1970s and 80s and sometimes since.

In the US, Michelin symbol language isn't widely recognized (yet). The US Guides greatly simplified the symbols, and (inevitably?) added a breezy, pseudo-knowing US journalistic style ("the modern Google office building next door may symbolize the current trajectory of Mountain View, but Chez TJ, housed in a quaint, historic bungalow, remains delightfully analog" -- from the new 2015 Guide). While the star awards get press in other countries too, in the US they are virtually all that many people hear about the Michelin, which I consider unfortunate since it carries much more info inside.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by A Single Guy, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Oct 23, 2014 at 2:51 pm

Michelin has generally retained their long-standing preference for conservative "cuisine traditionelle" (haute cuisine) whereas Gault-Millau (another French restaurant review team) embraced "nouvelle cuisine." Gault-Millau has focused their efforts on French and German-speaking European countries and has no presence in the USA, but I bring it up because restaurant and travel guides often adhere to a certain personality or philosophy.

This is even more pronounced in general tourism guides. Like their Red Guides (restaurant & hotels), Michelin Green Guides are notedly conservative. They're not Lonely Planet, they won't tell you which Class V rapids to paddle or where the best bungee jumping on New Zealand's South Island is.

The Michelin Guides should be respected for what they represent and their consistent philosophy over time. They don't work for cataloging every type of dining experience ("the carnitas tacos at this gas station mini mart are superb"), but they do a very good job for a pretty specific type.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Max Hauser, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Oct 23, 2014 at 3:17 pm

Max Hauser is a registered user.

There's more argument for a consistent Michelin style in Europe, though Gault and Millau (who pretty much _coined_ the phrase "nouvelle cuisine") are much less the upstarts today than in the 1970s. Leading French kitchens have long since moved past _Guide Culinaire_ repertoire and except for a few well-known traditionalistic restaurants (one of which popularized the _fork_ in Europe centuries ago, for example), high-end cooking has become notably international in style, in France as elsewhere. Also, I spent time with the editor of one of the German-language Gault-Millau editions (author of a fascinating history, ignored in the US, of fast food). His Gault-Millau magazine is essentially independent, paying a fee to the French Gault-Millau to license the name.

But Elena's topic is the SF-area Michelin. I buy and peruse it each year, all nine editions (through 2015) are on hand. I've noticed some bias among the US editors and Bay Area reviewers toward European restaurant styles, but less than some people casually assert who know the Guide only through the "star" lists they see online. I already cited the insightful 2013-2014 reviews of Bamboo Garden as a local example, there are others (none of which you'd know about from "star" lists). The main thing that stands out in the 2015 Guide is surprising neglect of middle Peninsula, compared to prior years, ironically at a time when more is happening here in worthy restaurants.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by A Single Guy, a resident of Mountain View,
on Oct 23, 2014 at 4:22 pm

The Michelin star ratings are great for people who aren't familiar with the area or don't dine out much. The full guide is much more useful for people who dine out a lot, or are looking for some suggestions beyond the typical white tablecloth experience.

Personally, my restaurant dining frequency has dropped dramatically over the past decade so seeing the abbreviated list of Michelin star recipients on a website is quite sufficient for my needs.

Money isn't an issue since my restaurant visits are so infrequent, but the Bib Gourmand list is quite interesting, since value is a strong factor in selection.

If Max says the 2015 edition is lacking in mid-Peninsula coverage, that's a shame for us, but maybe the Oakland readers are happier that more attention is being put on their neighborhoods (having not read the 2015 guide, I don't actually know if this is true). You can't please everyone all the time, that's for sure.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by was a single guy, a resident of Midtown,
on Oct 23, 2014 at 8:02 pm

Playboy had a wonderful article years ago where the reporter followed a Michelin reviewer around the continent, I vaguely recall it mainly being in France. It was in the late '70's, and a fascinating insight into how the Michelin restaurant review process works.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Laura Stec, a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge,
on Oct 25, 2014 at 12:20 pm

Thanks for this info everyone. As always - it's what you have come to value and / or how one is trained in the industry. Thank god we are changing and French is no longer the haute of haute cuisine. Personally a lot of these starred restaurants haven't "done it" for me and I found the value/experience not worth the $$. Every review good and bad with a grain of salt to the reviewer.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Max Hauser, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Oct 26, 2014 at 11:57 am

"Thank god we are changing and French is no longer the haute of haute cuisine."

It hasn't particularly been so in the Bay Area's restaurant scene since about the 1970s, and the same trend (away from the "Guide Culinaire" repertoire as the standard of high dining) was also evident nationwide over those same decades, from mainstream food writing over the years.

On the other hand, down-to-earth French folk cooking and "cuisine bourgeoise" -- dishes like coq au vin, many of them not even mentioned in Escoffier's "Guide Culinaire" -- have never lost popularity, nor were they very common in the Bay Area in my memory. Here's a good example review, a dozen years ago this week, in this same publication, for an unpretentious moderately-priced neighborhood French bistro (real French people included) that still specializes today in such earthy fare: Web Link



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