Victor’s almonds with avocado and caviar from the acclaimed Restaurant at Meadowood. (Photographer: Kelly Puleio)

San Francisco’s Restaurants Still Outclass New York

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

On Thursday, 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.

San Francisco’s Restaurants Still Outclass New York

For anyone keeping track of the San Francisco vs. 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-honored 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. 

San Francisco’s Restaurants Still Outclass New York

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 $335; wine pairings begin at $220. At Quince, the regular tasting menu is $275; wine pairings are an extra $250 and the eight-course white truffle menu is $595. At Saison, the menu starts at $298. By comparison, New York’s Le Bernardin offers a prix fixe menu starting at $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 percent, compared with 3 percent 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 percent 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 8 new ones, were recognized for their high-quality, reasonably priced food (specifically, $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 will go on sale Dec. 4. (An asterisk denotes a new entry; neighborhoods are designated by Michelin.)

Three Stars

San Francisco’s Restaurants Still Outclass New York
  • *Atelier Crenn, San Francisco  
  • Benu, San Francisco
  • The French Laundry, Yountville
  • Manresa, Los Gatos
  • Quince, San Francisco
  • The Restaurant at Meadowood, St. Helena
  • Saison, San Francisco
  • * Single Thread, Sonoma County 

Two Stars

  • Acquerello, San Francisco
  • Baumé, Palo Alto
  • Californios, Mission
  • *Coi, San Francisco 
  • Commis, Oakland
  • Lazy Bear, San Francisco

One Star

San Francisco’s Restaurants Still Outclass New York
  • Al’s Place, San Francisco Mission   
  • Aster, San Francisco Mission   
  • Auberge du Soleil, Rutherford
San Francisco’s Restaurants Still Outclass New York
  • *Bar Crenn, San Francisco
  • *Birdsong, San Francisco
  • Bouchon, Yountville
  • Campton Place, San Francisco
  • Chez TJ, Mountain View
  • Commonwealth, San Francisco   
  • Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant, Forestville
  • Gary Danko, San Francisco 
  • Hashiri, San Francisco
  • In Situ, San Francisco 
  • Ju-ni, San Francisco
  • Keiko à Nob Hill, San Francisco 
San Francisco’s Restaurants Still Outclass New York
  • Kenzo, Wine Country 
  • Kin Khao, San Francisco  
  • Kinjo, San Francisco
  • La Toque, Napa 
  • Lord Stanley, San Francisco    
  • Luce, San Francisco
  • *Madcap, Marin
  • Madera, Peninsula, Menlo Park 
  • Madrona Manor, Wine Country
  • Michael Mina, San Francisco
  • Mister Jiu’s, San Francisco
  • Mourad, San Francisco
  • *Nico, San Francisco
  • Octavia, San Francisco
  • Omakase, San Francisco
  • Plumed Horse, South Bay
  • The Progress, San Francisco
  • *Protégé, South Bay, Palo Alto
  • Rasa, Peninsula, Burlingame
San Francisco’s Restaurants Still Outclass New York
  • Rich Table, San Francisco 
  • Sons & Daughters, San Francisco
  • SPQR, San Francisco
  • Spruce, San Francisco
  • State Bird Provisions, San Francisco
  • Sushi Yoshizumi, Peninsula
  • The Village Pub, Peninsula
  • Wako, San Francisco
  • Wakuriya, Peninsula

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