San Francisco’s restaurants still outclass New York

The Bay Area dominates the Michelin 3-star category. Let the cross-continent sniping begin

by Kate Krader

San Francisco has been fighting to be the top fine dining city in the country. And it keeps winning.

Last week, Michelin put its weight behind the West Coast again. The storied guide awarded three stars to eight restaurants; two were upgraded, including Single Thread, the exquisite farm-focused, Asian-accented restaurant and inn from chef Kyle Connaughton, which is barely two years old.

That’s an almost unheard of accolade for such a youngster — Michelin usually takes years to upgrade, or downgrade, any venue. Atelier Crenn, from the visionary chef Dominique Crenn, also emerged thrice victorious.

For anyone keeping track of the San Francisco versus New York restaurant battle, the Big Apple is falling further behind. New York has just five Michelin three-star dining rooms.

That trend accelerated last year, when New York lost a three-star restaurant, Jean Georges, and San Francisco gained one, Coi, the time-honoured modernist spot in North Beach.

One reason San Francisco has such momentum is the relative freshness of their top places: In 2007, San Francisco had just one Michelin three-star restaurant, the French Laundry. Few of the other destinations were even open yet. By contrast, New York’s youngest three-star, Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, opened in 2009.

Michelin’s international director Gwendal Poullennec believes San Francisco’s star power will keep rising.

“The quality of local product that chefs are working with is incredible. There has been a consistent rise in quality, the trend is quite positive. That has manifested in eight three-star restaurants.”

The news wasn’t rosy for all Bay Area restaurants, however: Coi fell back to two stars. And one of San Francisco’s long-standing and beloved spots, the one star Terra, closed earlier this year.

Be forewarned, though: Those Bay Area three-star meals do not come cheap. The establishments in the top realm offer only set menus.

Atelier Crenn’s is US$335 (RM1,400); wine pairings begin at US$220. At Quince, the regular tasting menu is US$275; wine pairings are an extra US$250 and the eight-course white truffle menu is US$595. At Saison, the menu starts at US$298. By comparison, New York’s Le Bernardin offers a prix fixe menu starting at US$160.

San Francisco does have a cash-packed audience for these high end restaurants — in October, Bloomberg reported that wages grew more in the tech hub than anywhere else in the country (3.9%, compared to 3% for poor old New York City.)

There are now 57 restaurants in the Bay Area with Michelin stars. Last year, that number was 55. Five new places were awarded one star this year, including the new wine-focused Bar Crenn. (For those looking for a big winner on the list, her name is Crenn.)

Another new entry is Protégé, with an elegant, caviar-laden menu from French Laundry alums, located in Palo Alto.

Poullennec notes this is a trend among new Michelin-starred spots: They’re being run by veterans of three star places, meaning they have a clear path into the firmament.

Poullennec hesitates to start a Michelin food fight between New York and San Francisco, however.

He notes the breadth of the Bay Area region, which encompasses wine country and Silicon Valley, is much bigger than New York.

While there’s been buzz about an impending restaurant apocalypse in pricey coastal cities, at least one Bay Area player calls it an overblown concern.

Michael Tusk, chef-owner of the Italian dining room Quince, cited his wife’s recent experience as a supporting anecdote.

“Lindsay recently met with a local health inspector, who told her that the department experienced a 35% increase in applications for restaurant openings in 2018. This data supports my sense that the San Francisco restaurant scene is continuing to experience expansion.”

Still, for those on a budget, Michelin recently announced the Bay Area’s Bib Gourmand list — 68 places, including eight new ones, were recognised for their high-quality, reasonably priced food (specifically, US$40 for two courses plus wine or dessert). Whether all the places meet that criteria, especially in a city like the Bay Area, is another story.

Here are this year’s Michelin winners. The 2019 San Francisco guide went on sale beginning Dec 4. An asterisk denotes a new entry; neighbourhoods are designated by Michelin.

‘Black Cod with Summer Vegetables from the Farm’ by the 3-star Single thread

The ultra stylish Bar Crenn

Inside the high-powered winery Kenzo sits the eponymous Japanese restaurant