Michelin on the Hudson

Special to The Times

New York’s one drawback as a restaurant city has long been what Joni Mitchell called the craziness that comes from too much choice. Since the dominant guidebook, the Zagat Survey, is really more of a gazetteer, anyone setting out to eat had no serious way to narrow the more than 17,000 options spread out over five boroughs.

Help may be on the way in November, when the Michelin Red Guide finally branches out to the United States with a New York City edition. Unlike Zagat, it promises to cull the mediocre to bad restaurants and hand out stars for quality in rating about 550 establishments. Even jaded Manhattanites are looking forward to reading which restaurants in Staten Island might be “worth a special journey,” to use Michelin’s famous accolade.

Rumors are flying about which restaurants (and hotels) will be honored, but Michelin is naming no names. Publications director Jean-Luc Naret says only that a core group of five experienced inspectors were selected to winnow a list of 1,200 restaurants from sources including public records.

One problem the new arbiter in town may face is that restaurants can change in a New York minute. Michelin already publishes a Green Guide to the city for tourists, and the current edition includes at least two restaurants that have closed. A more revealing problem for inspectors working anonymously, Naret says, is that “too many New York restaurants have cameras.”