Michelin -- the actual book -- arrives
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Though it’s been some years since I’ve cared how many stars Michelin bestows in France and elsewhere, I must confess that somehow, in the last few days, I got swept up in the buzz about the publication of the first Michelin guide for L.A. There was all the commotion over the results being leaked, and who got how many stars, and I don’t know, on Friday, when Food’s assistant editor Betty Hallock found her way onto the unpublished list on the Michelin website, it suddenly seemed exciting.
Tonight, much of L.A.’s food press is celebrating the publication at a party at Les Deux, but I took home my copy of the Michelin Guide Los Angeles 2008 and skimmed it over bad pizza and a glass of red.
I was stunned at what I read. Beyond the stars and the fourchettes, there are the descriptions themselves. The Foundry’s Eric Greenspan, I find, ‘learned from El Bulli disciplines in Spain.’ (What does that mean?) At Chameau, you can ‘end your Moroccan respite with a Spanish Muscatel.’ At Water Grill, diners ‘can drop anchor’ and ‘the chef’s busy brigade creates swells of satisfaction.’ The writing makes the Zagat guide look like ‘Ulysses.’
Who could write such stuff, and where are their editors? Meanwhile, if the ‘anonymous inspectors’ who bestowed the stars had reasons for anointing some chefs and dissing others, it’s hard to understand them. Unlike in the European guides, the L.A.-edition entries read like little puff pieces, and one doesn’t have the sense that the writers know much at all about food. At Wilshire, ‘there’s no mistaking the components of diver scallops seared in clarified butter and served with creamy roasted fingerling and spicy chorizo.’ The chef there, we’re told, is Warren Schwartz. (Don’t tell Chris Blobaum!) Tre Venezie in Pasadena gets a star. Why? ‘Dishes here are not based on thick tomato sauces, olive oil and basil as they are elsewhere.’ Yup, we’re getting pretty fed up with them thick tomato sauces too.
And Asian cooking? Nope, they don’t get it.
Japanese food gets the most respect, but little understanding. Here’s an excerpt from the listing for Mori Sushi in West L.A., which gets one star: ‘This, as chef/owner Morihiro Onodera asserts, is a sushi restaurant, serving only fish and vegetables.’ At Urasawa, which gets two stars, we’re told that ‘sushi placed atop warm rice mixed with grated wasabi must be eaten within ten seconds.’ Beyond that, the only dishes mentioned are a carved turnip filled with ‘a fragrant garlic and ginger shrimp paste’ and ‘cubes of Wagyu beef cooked in smoky-sweet ponzu sauce’ that ‘fall apart on the tongue.’
Meanwhile, only four Chinese restaurants -- Empress Pavilion, Mr. Chow, Yang Chow and Yujean Kang’s -- are included. I’m sorry, but that’s just wrong in the city whose Chinese restaurants arguably rival Hong Kong’s. (Triumphal Palace, Elite and Ocean Star apparently aren’t serious enough for inclusion.)
As for Thai, Michelin includes Cholada, Saladang Song and Talesai. It’s enough to make you cry.
The book is filled with errors (Monte Alban, it tells us, is Spanish for ‘white mountain’), omissions (if you’re going to give Spago two stars, it might be worth mentioning that the chef is Lee Hefter) and weirdnesses (Bar Marmont but not Chateau Marmont).
So, ye chefs who are fretting because you didn’t get the stars you feel you deserve, relax. Once L.A.’s food lovers get their hands on the red book in question, it’s hard to imagine they’ll take it seriously.
Michelin Guide Los Angeles 2008, available in bookstores beginning Wednesday, $14.95.
-- Leslie Brenner