The Napa Valley has retained its status as the only place in the U.S. besides New York City with restaurants that have earned the vaunted three-star rating from Michelin Guides.
The 2012 Michelin Guide to the “San Francisco, Bay Area & Wine Country,” released Wednesday, once again gave three stars to the French Laundry in Yountville and the Restaurant at Meadowood resort in St. Helena, making them two of nine U.S. restaurants to earn Michelin’s highest rank. It’s given to restaurants described as “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey.”
Thomas Keller remains the king of stars in the valley. He’s garnered three stars for the French Laundry and one star for his Bouchon restaurant in Yountville since Michelin first published the Bay Area guide in 2007. He also has a three star ranking for his Per Se restaurant in New York City, according the New York edition released Oct. 5.
Keller was en route from Paris and could not be reached for comment. But on receiving the news he tweeted, “Congratulations to our team at the French Laundry. ‘Trois Macarons’ from the Michelin Guide. We are proud and will strive to uphold the standards.”
An additional message tweeted “Bravo!” to colleagues who received the Michelin rankings.
The Restaurant at Meadowood resort in St. Helena also got three stars for the second year in a row. “I think there’s more stress in keeping the stars than getting them in the first place,” says chef Christopher Kostow.
“Expectations increase, from the guests, from the staff, from myself. It’s stressful, but then I’m a worrier. However, we never allow anything to dictate how we cook and what we cook.”
All this excellence does come with a price for those who want to make the journey to experience it. A nine-course chefs’ tasting or vegetarian menu at the French Laundry costs $270, plus wine, while at Meadowood, a nine-course tasting menu is $225, plus $205 for wine pairings. Meadowood also offers a four-course tasting menu for $125 and $105 for wine pairings.
Michelin publishes three U.S. guides to San Francisco, New York City, and Chicago. In 2011, Michelin gave three stars to nine U.S. restaurants. So far, the new 2012 guides have given out three-star ratings to seven restaurants in New York and two to Napa.
A Michelin spokeswoman said she anticipates that number will increase when the Chicago guide is released in November.
Although San Francisco has yet to claim a three-star ranking, two more city restaurants got two stars as establishments offering “excellent cuisine, worth a detour.”
Benu and Saison from San Francisco, along with Palo Alto’s Baume, were new to the two-star list this year, bringing the Bay Area’s total to six restaurants. The others, which retained their two stars from previous year, are Cyrus in Healdsburg, Coi in San Francisco, and Manresa in Los Gatos. Napa Valley has no two-star restaurants.
In addition, 39 restaurants earned a single star with five new entries in that category although no new additions from the Napa Valley. The valley’s one-star restaurants — “a very good restaurant in its category” — are Auberge du Soleil, Bouchon, Redd, Étoile, Solbar, Terra, La Toque, and Ubuntu, although the latter restaurant has announced plans to close indefinitely in November.
“The Michelin star is special because it’s the universal standard,” says chef Brandon Sharp of Solbar, the restaurant at Calistoga’s Solage resort.
“A star is a star whether you’re cooking in Lyons, London or Calistoga. Our incredible team is thrilled to be receiving this award for a third year in a row.”
Michelin also designated 77 “Bib Gourmands” where diners can find a quality meal of “two courses and a glass of wine or dessert for $40 or less (excluding tax and gratuity).”
New to the list in Napa Valley is Fish Story, which opened on the Napa Riverfront in 2009. Other Bib Gourmands in the valley include C Casa, Oenotri, Bistro Jeanty, Bottega, Cook St. Helena, and BarbersQ.
A new symbol created for the 2012 edition indicates restaurants serving breakfast, which includes 40 establishments. There is also a list of 113 “Under $25” category.
Internationally, 27 Michelin guides cover 23 countries and three continents, and feature more than 45,000 addresses. The selections are made by anonymous inspectors employed by Michelin. These inspectors, “pay all their bills in full,” a Michelin press release notes.