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Michelin ratings have L.A. chefs starry-eyed

Times Staff Writer

Restaurateurs and chefs across Southern California were congratulating one another Friday on their Michelin ratings, even though the highly anticipated restaurant guide -- the first ever for Los Angeles -- wasn’t scheduled to be announced until Monday.

Some chefs already had figured out a way to access the list of starred restaurants on the Michelin guide website in advance of the official announcement.

No Los Angeles restaurants earned Michelin’s highly coveted three-star rating, but two-star ratings were awarded to Spago, Wolfgang Puck’s Beverly Hills flagship; Melisse, a California-French dining room in Santa Monica; and Urasawa, a rarefied 10-seat Japanese restaurant on Rodeo Drive.

The 2008 Las Vegas ratings were also accessible online. French chef Joel Robuchon received Vegas’ only three-star rating. “This morning one of our patrons called me,” he said. “He looked on the Internet site and saw all the results of the guide. There were rumors circulating, but nothing official. I’m really happily stunned.” Robuchon, who received his first three-star Michelin rating in 1981 for his eponymous Paris establishment, has renowned restaurants all over the world.

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The Michelin guide, published for more than 100 years by the French tire company, is considered the bible of European gastronomy. For many chefs, it is the ultimate accolade. In 2003, Bernard Loiseau, the chef-owner of La Cote d’Or in Burgundy, feared losing his third star and committed suicide. In recent years, though, a number of Parisian chefs have been dismissive of the guide.

With Michelin stars, however, comes enormous prestige, as well as business. “It was one of the single greatest factors in affecting our business and the demographic of our clientele,” said David Kinch, chef-owner of Manresa in Los Gatos. Last year the restaurant received two stars when the “Michelin Guide San Francisco, Bay Area & Wine Country” was published for the first time. “It changed everything. It’s been amazing. Visitors coming from all over the world. All of a sudden we became a part of the trail.”

Director Jean-Luc Naret has been at the forefront of the company’s push to become the preeminent arbiter of global dining. The annual guides cover 22 countries. The first North American guide, “Michelin Guide New York City 2006,” was published in 2005. The guide for Tokyo, Michelin’s first foray into Asia, also will be released this month.

Michelin announced in March that it would be publishing its first Los Angeles guide this month. And the local restaurant industry had been atwitter since then -- wondering when Michelin inspectors had visited their restaurants, and if anyone would receive three stars. Now all the talk is about who got how many stars.

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In the weeks before Michelin’s announcement, speculation among restaurateurs and chefs was that no Los Angeles restaurant would receive three stars. Robuchon and Guy Savoy in Las Vegas were considered contenders. Guy Savoy earned two stars.

“I had never thought Michelin would be coming to L.A.,” said Josiah Citrin, chef-owner of Melisse, whose two stars came as something of a surprise. “Of course, I am very happy about two stars. This isn’t just L.A. two stars; this is two stars across the world. Americans might not know how hard it is to have even one star and how few there are. . . . And who knows? Maybe this will raise the bar in Los Angeles.”

“I’m interested to see people’s reaction to the guide and how it’s embraced in the community,” said Lee Hefter, executive chef at Spago, which also garnered two stars. “My staff certainly is motivated to do even a better job. I think naturally we’re expected to perform at an even higher level.”

The 15 one-star restaurants include Providence, Michael Cimarusti’s highly regarded Melrose Avenue seafood restaurant; Sona, David Myers’ formal spot in West Hollywood; Water Grill, the downtown seafood house; Ortolan, Christophe Eme’s ornate French place on Beverly Boulevard; Patina, Joachim Splichal’s flagship at Walt Disney Concert Hall; Ritz-Carlton Huntington Dining Room in Pasadena; Mori Sushi in West Los Angeles; La Botte in Santa Monica; and Joe’s in Venice. Many in the food world were surprised that Providence received only one star and that Lucques, in West Hollywood, and Hatfield’s, on Beverly, were not on the list.

“I’m glad to be on the list at all,” said Cimarusti. “If I wasn’t there, I’d be upset. Now I have something to shoot for. Onward and upward.”

According to the guide, one star “indicates a very good restaurant in its category, a good place to stop on your journey.” Two stars denote “excellent cuisine, worth a detour, with specialties and wine of first-class quality.” And three stars reward “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey, where diners eat extremely well, often superbly. The wine list features generally outstanding vintages, and the surroundings and service are part of this unique experience, which is priced accordingly.”

“I’m the most delighted; we’re really proud,” said La Botte owner Stefano DeLorenzo. “I grew up in Italy, admiring Michelin-starred restaurants. This is completely different from Zagat. Zagat is a survey; the Michelin guide sends out professional inspectors.”

According to Michelin’s Naret, five West Coast inspectors cover Los Angeles and Las Vegas. “We really try to appreciate what Los Angeles and its diversity have to offer,” Naret said.

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Christian Delhaye, worldwide head of maps and guides for Michelin, said Los Angeles and Las Vegas were impressive for “the great quality of the restaurants there and the great diversity of what we found there.”

“The Michelin selection is not a French selection of French restaurants,” Delhaye said. “Michelin is doing a selection of all the best restaurants -- whatever the style, whatever the origin.”

When the guide was first released for the Bay Area, there had been some criticism that inspectors were biased toward French cuisine.

“You could see in our guide that there is a balanced selection,” Naret said. “We cover all kinds of food. The French Laundry would have received three stars whether it was called the French Laundry or the Spanish Laundry.”

Naret is scheduled to call L.A. and Las Vegas chefs who earned a star or stars Monday morning in advance of the planned official announcement at noon. The “Michelin Guide Los Angeles 2008" will be on sale at bookstores Wednesday.

Leaks surrounding Michelin’s announcements have become something of a tradition, though they’re not always accurate: Last year in Paris, it was expected that Helene Darroze would receive three stars, but when the official results were announced, her eponymous restaurant received two. In 2005, a bookstore in Corsica put the Michelin guides on display a week ahead of schedule and a local newspaper published an article on the three-star changes.

This time around, the leak was traced to Michelin’s own website, where, by changing a few characters in the Web address, anyone was able to pull up lists of the starred restaurants in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Delhaye confirmed Friday that the list was official. “It was a mistake” that it was available on the website, he said. “It was only up for a short time.” The Web page is no longer viewable on the Michelin site, but the rankings are outlined here in an accompanying list.

So how did the Los Angeles leak come about? Did some clever gastronome figure out the side-door entry to the list of starred restaurants, or were restaurateurs tipped off by someone in the know? The restaurateurs aren’t talking -- much. One L.A.-area restaurant owner who did not want to be identified said he was tipped off in an e-mail from a friend.

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betty.hallock@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Michelin ratings

2008 Michelin starred restaurants:

One star: “A very good restaurant in its category”

Two stars: “Excellent cooking and worth a detour”

Three stars: “Exceptional cuisine and worth the journey”

Los Angeles

One-star restaurants

Asanebo, Studio City

Cut, Beverly Hills

Joe’s, Venice

La Botte, Santa Monica

Matsuhisa, Beverly Hills

Mori Sushi, West Los Angeles

Ortolan, Los Angeles

Patina, Los Angeles

Providence, Los Angeles

Ritz-Carlton Huntington Dining Room, Pasadena

Saddle Peak Lodge, Calabasas

Sona, West Hollywood

Trattoria Tre Venezie, Pasadena

Valentino, Santa Monica

Water Grill, Los Angeles

Two-star restaurants

Melisse, Santa Monica

Spago, Beverly Hills

Urasawa, Beverly Hills

Las Vegas

One-star restaurants

Alize

Andre’s

Aureole

Bradley Ogden

DB Brasserie

L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon

Le Cirque

Mesa Grill

Michael Mina

Mix

Nobu

Wing Lei

Two-star restaurants

Alex

Guy Savoy

Picasso

Three-star restaurants

Joel Robuchon


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