Michelin stars and consistency

Michelin--are they consistent?

As many of you know, I cling to my Michelin guide like it’s my bible and I genuinely trust and have had good experiences with their recommendations. During my recent travels in Europe, though, specifically in France, I started wondering something. Do Michelin stars awarded in America, in New York for example, actually represent the same quality and consistency of experience, ingredients, creativity, and overall satisfaction with equivalently-starred restaurants in France?

My limited experience tells me the answer is no. I’ve eaten at many one-star restaurants in New York (Gramercy Tavern, Café Gray, Vong, and WD-50 to name a few), and I’ve also eaten at a few one-star restaurants in France, most recently in Bordeaux. The experiences haven’t even been close: while the food itself can perhaps be comparable in quality (with the exception of Vong, probably the worst Michelin experience I’ve ever had), nothing else comes close. The culinary imagination is lacking, the service isn’t as impeccable, and, more importantly, my experiences in America weren’t nearly as memorable as those in Europe.

I’ve also had the fortune of eating at Daniel, a two star restaurant in New York and the flagship operation of Daniel Boulud, as well as two two-star restaurants in France: one named Chateau Cordeillan Bages in Bordeaux (to be discussed soon here) and another called Chateau Les Crayeres in Reims, Champagne. At Daniel I was startled by the gorgeous dining room, the impeccable service, and the general lack of pretension. The food was delicious and expertly prepared, but if I was forced to make a direct comparison, Daniel wouldn’t hold a candle (or its two stars) to those restaurants in Europe. The menu at Daniel was uninspired, the dish presentation was less-than-creative, and the overall dining experience was simply not pleasurable.

When one spends a lot of money in a restaurant, I think it’s fair to expect a certain minimum standard of pleasure, and I had hoped that that is what the Michelin stars denoted. I’m not sure this is true. I believe that for each region, say within New York, it is likely that a three-star restaurant genuinely does promise a superior experience to a two-star and similarly for two- and one-star restaurants. However, across regions, the consistency seems to get lost and US-restaurants are held to different, lower standards than European, or at least French restaurants.

Does anyone else have any experience with this? Is this “finding” due to my limited experience and lack of exposure to other regions in Europe? Or does the explanation behind this inconsistency simply lie in the differences between food cultures, as described in my last entry? Please leave a comment if you have any opinions – I’d love to hear them.

Mark posted this on June 15, 2008 and is filed under Musings.

One response to “Michelin stars and consistency” so far, care to add your two cents?

  1. You are exactly right in my view. I have eaten pretty widely (see my website) in Michelin starred places, nad consisently find that the places in France especially are of a higher standard than those elsewhere. In terms oi the US my (American) foodie friend Josh calls the US Michelin bias the “American Affirmative Action Program”, since he reckons that they basically add one star to any American restaurant to compare it to a place in France (i.e. a one star in France is effectively the level of a 2 star in the US, etc). I have just come back from a weekend in Brittany and had two stunning meals, one at a 2 star and one at a 3 star. Even the 2 star meal was better than any restaurant I have tried in the US (or the UK for that matter).

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