WTF — What the French?
Michelin, the powerful, often inscrutable France-based restaurant rating guide, debuted its first California edition and included San Diego for the first time. Or did it?
Of the 90 restaurants awarded stars Monday night in Huntington Beach, only one was from San Diego — the opulent and completely deserving Addison, at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar. It received one star, and executive chef William Bradley shared the single-star stage with such culinary luminaries as Michael Mina and Ludo Lefebvre. Awesome. Or was it?
From that sole star to perplexing Bib Gourmand choices and a galaxy of omissions, here’s what I think Michelin got right — and wrong.
Right: Addison gets a Michelin star. Bradley’s impeccable temple of contemporary French cuisine was the region’s only shoo-in. For 13 years, Addison has elevated not just the masterful dishes coming from its kitchen, but the very notion of what San Diego can achieve.
Wrong: Addison gets only one Michelin star. As someone who’ll be paying off Michelin-American Express debt probably for the rest of my life, I know Addison is not a one-Michelin-star restaurant. I have eaten there at least 20 times, and several of my meals are safely on my Top 10 list of the best meals of my life. It is a two-star restaurant, minimum. Yes, it’s an honor, and yes, Michelin makes you really earn it, over time. But the confounding rating also shut the door for any other San Diego restaurants to get a star. If no one is on Addison’s level — and no one is, in my opinion — how could anyone else be considered for a star? Which leads us to ...
Right: Michelin’s inaugural California guide recommends 34 great San Diego restaurants. The guidebook’s picks will send people everywhere from The Crack Shack in Little Italy to Market Restaurant + Bar in Del Mar to Las Cuatro Milpas in Barrio Logan. Some of the guide entries sound like the anonymous inspectors many have only visited the restaurants’ websites, and nearly the entire Asian food category is inexplicably absent, but the choices are a good start.
Wrong: Michelin doesn’t award stars to worthy San Diego restaurants. Wait, what? No other eateries that feature high-quality cooking and are worth a stop get a single star — which Michelin says signifies “high quality cooking, worth a stop” — in the entire county? We’re going to give Michelin the benefit of the doubt that two of the best restaurants in San Diego County — Jeune et Jolie in Carlsbad and Fort Oak in Mission Hills — were too new to be rated. But the omissions aren’t just blaring, they’re beyond baffling. No star for Born & Raised? George’s California Modern? Nine-Ten? Herb & Wood? Trust? Juniper & Ivy? Which leads us to ...
Right: Eight San Diego restaurants get Bib Gourmand designations. We love that Lola 55’s classy tacos got the chic East Village spot a nod as a “hidden gem.” And that the wood-fire-fueled Campfire was rightly recognized and that Cucina Urbana and its little sister Cucina Sorella were honored for their quintessentially California casual cooking. But where were other gems like Biga, TJ Oyster Bar and countless others? And some on the Bib list were certifiable head-scratchers.
Wrong: Juniper & Ivy, Kettner Exhange and El Jardín get Bib Gourmand designations. None of these acclaimed restaurants would be considered hidden or affordable. They’re popular and well known. You can’t get two courses and a glass of wine for $40, as a Bib Gourmand recommendation entails. More importantly, executive chefs Anthony Wells, Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins and Brian Redzikowski -- of Juniper & Ivy, El Jardín and Kettner Exhange, respectively -- are three of the most talented people cooking in San Diego today. Perhaps they’re in line for a star, when William Bradley gets his two — or even three.
In the end, San Diego is a Michelin-starred destination now, even if the first ratings for this flip-flop-wearing town were a bit of le flop.