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New Michelin guide sprinkles stars in Bay Area

The Bay Area has gained two Michelin-rated two-star restaurants -- and they’re not in San Francisco. In the just-released second edition of the “Michelin Guide San Francisco, Bay Area and Wine Country,” Chez TJ, the 25-year-old French restaurant in the South Bay city of Mountain View, jumped from one star to two, and the Restaurant at Meadowood resort in Napa Valley’s St. Helena received two stars right out of the gate. The French Laundry in Yountville remains the region’s only three-star restaurant.

“I didn’t get a call [Monday] morning, and I took that as a good sign,” said French Laundry chef Thomas Keller. Michelin guide director Jean-Luc Naret, who has been at the forefront of the French company’s efforts to become the world’s preeminent restaurant-ranking publication, personally calls chefs who have gained or lost a star.

Chez TJ and Meadowood join the ranks of two-star restaurants Manresa in Los Gatos, Aqua and Michael Mina in San Francisco, and Cyrus in Healdsburg.

Six newcomers to the one-star category include three San Francisco restaurants, Hiro Sone and Lissa Doumani’s Ame, Daniel Patterson’s Coi and Pascal Rigo’s Cortez, and the same number of out-of-towners: Madrona Manor in Healdsburg, Martini House in St. Helena and Richard Reddington’s Redd in Yountville. Some San Francisco restaurateurs noted that Zuni Café and Jardinière were again conspicuously missing stars. In all, Michelin awarded stars to 34 restaurants, up from 28 last year.

Who lost their stars? Japanese-influenced fusion restaurant Bushi-Tei in San Francisco and Charlie Palmer Group’s Dry Creek Kitchen in the Hotel Healdsburg. Both previously received one-star ratings.

“This doesn’t mean that these chefs aren’t talented anymore,” said Naret. “But the consistency is not there. And this does not mean that they won’t get it back.”

The attention paid to the wider Bay Area reflects the history of the Michelin guides, whose roots are in early auto touring. Three stars is defined as “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey”; two stars indicate “excellent cooking, worth a detour”; and one star is “a very good restaurant in its category.”

Chez Panisse in Berkeley, the Fifth Floor in San Francisco (which had been between chefs for several months) and Keller’s Bouchon in Yountville were among the restaurants that retained their one star.

The tiny Napa Valley town of Yountville is now home to six stars altogether.

“Napa Valley is a special place in our country,” Keller said, “one of the few places where people come with the sole purpose of eating and drinking.”

Because “people are here for the food and the wine, we have to be that much more on top of our game,” says Meadowood chef Joseph Humphrey.

Humphrey might be called this year’s upstart. The resort’s restaurant, focused on regional ingredients, reopened (after extensive post-fire renovations) at the end of July last year, too new to be included in the first edition of Michelin’s Bay Area guide. Humphrey formerly worked in San Francisco restaurants such as the Fifth Floor and One Market.

“I never expected this, to get two stars at this point,” Humphrey says. “To get an honor like this is pretty fantastic, for the whole team.”

French restaurant Chez TJ is in the Silicon Valley, about 30 minutes south of San Francisco. “It’s only 30 minutes, but it’s a world away,” said Christopher Kostow, 31, who has been executive chef since January 2006. “I know other chefs who have moved to this area,” he said. “The operating costs in San Francisco are prohibitive to doing a fine-dining restaurant. That’s the reality of it.”

Kutow received his first star nine months after he arrived at Chez TJ. He formerly was sous chef at Campton Place in San Francisco and had worked at Chez Georges in Paris and three-star restaurant Les Jardins des Sens in Montpellier, France. “Now the burden is to maintain two stars,” he says.

Michelin will release its Los Angeles guide next month; there has been much speculation about whether any Los Angeles restaurants will receive three stars.

“I would love to say that there is a three-star restaurant here in Los Angeles,” said Providence executive chef Michael Cimarusti. “I don’t know that there is. We just have to wait and see.”

-- Betty Hallock


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