The news dangling from the release today of this year's Michelin Guide for San Francisco is even flimsier than usual. Chris Kostow's Meadowood joins French Laundry in three-star territory. But the real news, if you even casually stick your head in the echo chamber of the local food press, is the burn on Alice: Berkeley's Chez Panisse ― the downstairs restaurant ― has been stripped of its single star.
Last night Inside Scoop published a statement by the restaurant that Alice built (and where she has no official role in the day-to-day):
When Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse almost 40 years ago, she intended to create a place where people could come together with friends and family to eat a delicious, thoughtfully prepared meal in beautiful surroundings. To this day, that is the restaurant's highest priority. Although Ms. Waters respects the traditions upon which the Michelin Guide bases its awards, she acknowledges that they aren't the same traditions upon which Chez Panisse has built its reputation and success over the years.And this morning, food site the Feast Los Angeles posted a video defense of the Panisse snub by Michelin's Jean-Luc Naret.
Is it overreacting to see interest over Michelin's de-starring as part of last year's Waters-hating narrative ― it peaked in spring 2009, when Alice was reported to turn nasty in Thomas Keller's Per Se when the staff failed to recognize her. The report was false, but it felt right, especially since it was set in New York ― the anti-Berkeley, and in the house of Keller, whose restaurants have risen, in the nation's reckoning, as Waters' has sunk. Nannying, sanctimonious, elitist: The ding on Waters is that she's every English teacher who ever had it in for you, the ones who graded you down for forgetting to double-space, or for being minutes late for class ― the kind of hatred Gingrich Republicans had for Hillary in the Travelgate '90s. So watching Chez Panisse suffer its latest humiliation: Well, it's not without a certain delicious schadenfreude.
Except that it isn't. It's not even humiliation, unless you don't really know Chez Panisse or the movement it grew, or you just viscerally don't like Waters. The Chez Panisse statement ― gracious, even as it's defensive ― gently tweaks Michelin for being Michelin: Its inspectors' love of gestures with the theatrical scale of New York or Paris. Chez Panisse is a place that makes small gestures ― has always made small gestures ― even if they looked bigger once, decades ago, from the perspective of Manhattan.
Seriously: How often do you consult the S.F. Michelin Guide before making reservations?