Benu and Saison in San Francisco have risen from two to three stars in the 2015 guide to San Francisco Bay Area & Wine Country, making them the only restaurants in the city to achieve Michelin’s top accolade. They join Thomas Keller’s world-famous French Laundry and the Restaurant at Meadowood, both in Napa Valley, in California’s three-star echelons.
Benu, which opened in 2010, is run by chef Corey Lee, a Keller alumnus, who was praised by Michelin for his “incredibly precise culinary technique”. His cooking combines classic French techniques with American and Asian, particularly Korean, flavours. Stand out dishes include his 1000-year-old quail’s egg (pictured) with potage and ginger, while his tasting menus showcase ingredients such as eel, sea cucumber, sweet shrimps and mock shark fin.
Fellow new three-star Saison’s success story has seen the restaurant grow from a weekly pop-up at the back of a café in the Mission District to one of the USA’s most celebrated restaurants, which was named the One to Watch on this year’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Chef Joshua Skenes offers thrilling tasting menus of exquisite and meticulously sourced ingredients with a nod to both French and Japanese cuisines and a “mastery of the northern California culinary philosophy”.
Meanwhile Italian restaurant Acquerello was the only new addition to the two-star list, making its chef, Suzette Gresham (pictured), San Francisco’s second female chef with two stars after Dominique Crenn at Atelier Crenn. Michelin commended Gresham’s cooking for its “refined and elegant dishes of superb Italian cuisine with a unique contemporary touch”.
There were two new entrants in the one-star category: Kusakabe and Maruya, which are San Francisco’s first and only Michelin-starred starred sushi restaurants.
Interestingly chef David Kinch retained his two Michelin stars at Manresa, despite being forced to close his restaurant after a devastating fire in July. Manresa is set to reopen towards the end of the year. Chez Panisse, Alice Waters’ famous restaurant in Berkeley has still not regained the star it lost in the 2011 Michelin guide.
Northern California now has four three-Michelin-starred restaurants – the same as the UK – as well as six two-star and 30 one-star establishments. The 2015 San Francisco Bay Area & Wine Country guide lists a total of 474 restaurants featuring 46 different cuisines.
Commenting on the results, Michael Ellis, international director of the Michelin Guides, said: “With two new three-star restaurants recognised, this 2015 edition reflects Northern California’s remarkable gastronomic energy. The San Francisco Bay area is among the most exciting culinary scenes in the world. Californian chefs are mixing their exacting cooking techniques with superb local ingredients and culinary influences from all parts of the globe. The result is a rich, dynamic and unique dining scene.”
NO STARS IN LOS ANGELES
Los Angeles, meanwhile, remains off Michelin’s radar after it famously axed its guide after just two years in 2009, with former director Jean-Luc Naret claiming that there was no real appreciation of food in the city.
It’s sad to see that Michelin’s lack of recognition of LA’s thriving food scene continues despite many of its chefs and restaurants – including Nancy Silverton, Alma, and Bestia – having won national plaudits.
A number of LA chefs have expressed dismay at Michelin’s absence, including
Josiah Citrin, whose restaurant Mélisse in Santa Monica, held two stars in the LA guide. He said: “I wish Michelin would come back; I don’t understand why they left. We had more one- and two-star restaurants than Chicago. Instead of just doing the Bay Area, they should do a California guide – it would make sense.”
Curtis Stone (pictured), chef proprietor of Maude in Beverly Hills, added that it’s “a real shame” that the guide is no longer in LA. “Michelin is brilliant in its consistency, which is why they have the credibility that a lot of the other guides lack,” he said.
“A lot of young chefs spend their lives revolving around that guide. For me working at the Oak Room when it had three stars was the pinnacle of my life at the time. Maybe we chefs get too caught up in it so perhaps it’s a good thing not to have the pressure of having Michelin here. But I’d really love it if they came back.”
Here’s the full list of starred restaurants in San Francisco Bay Area & Wine County for 2015:
The French Laundry
The Restaurant at Meadowood
Auberge du Soleil
Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant
Keiko à Nob Hill
Sons & Daughters
State Bird Provisions
The Village Pub
This article was first published by The Staff Canteen as part of my monthly series on LA-related food stories.