Since it began holding New York’s dining darlings to its red-cover standards 5 years ago, the Michelin Guide’s annual fall release of its gustatory awards have been greeted with a mix of glee, anxiety, pish-posh, and pride. After all, it’s not always easy to take criticism (remember Jeffrey Chodorow’s monumentally embarrassing full-page ad taking then-New York Times food critic Frank Bruni to the mat for a bad review? Oof!), even when it’s constructive.
But love it or hate it, Michelin stars mean something in the world. A lot of something, actually. Since two road-tripping French brothers put out the first volume in their home country in 1900, it’s become a gold standard in the culinary world, with its famous surreptitious inspectors in 22 countries the world ‘round searching for the starry best there is on the plate.
But what about the non-star restaurants? The good, dependable spots that serve great, honest work-a-day, simple (and, sometimes, not even so simple) meals at a decent price.
Where do they fit in? We got that question answered when we caught up with the dashing (and remarkably trim) Jean-Luc Naret, Michelin Guide Director, at Bar Pleiades at the Surrey, his favorite hotel as of late, when he was in New York this week (announcements for San Francisco and Chicago are to follow). Naret won’t be revealing the 2011 Michelin Star restaurants until October 6th, but he was in town announce New York’s 21 new Bib Gourmand additions to Michelin’s menu of dining picks.
What’s the Bibs?
As Naret put it, “They are the inspectors’ favorites. The places where they go with their family and friends. The real hidden gems.” Which, as it turns out, are plentiful: There are 1,965 Bib Gourmand restaurants worldwide, and 2,000 starred restaurants, so while you might not have the cash or the patience to wait for a res at Quince in San Francisco or Per Se in NYC, sweet little spots like Prune fill the Bib bill. To qualify as a Bib, a restaurant must offer two courses and a glass of wine or dessert for $40 or less. And it has to be good…really good. You can identify the Bib’s by the cute little lip-smacking Michelin Man logo.
Here’s what Naret had to say:
AZ: So the Bibs have always been part of the Michelin Guide?
JLN: It was introduced in 1997. There are 95 Bib Gourmands in New York, and we want people to find them. Usually, they disappear [in the book] because of the starred restaurants, but it’s a very important part of the book in France. There are 500 Bibs there. I’m hoping to go to one or two in NY today—I want to go to HanGawi or DBGB.
AZ: Are the criteria for Bib Gourmand’s and starred Michelin restaurants different?
JLN: The training for our inspectors and the criteria for rating is the same. Our inspectors eat in all restaurants, good or bad, but only the ones who offer good cuisine are in the book. Inspectors try to put themselves in the position of the reader. We want to make sure that they trust our judgment.
AZ: How many inspectors are there in North America?
JLN: we have 10 inspectors in 3 cities. They each dine out two or more times a day and eat between 400 and 600 meals a year, for which they have write reports. The average report takes about an hour to an hour and a half to write. For a restaurant like Per Se, it can take up to 3 hours.
AZ: Do they judge lunch and dinner equally?
JLN: Yes. Absolutely. And they will try to have both. But what’s great is at lunch one restaurant might qualify as a Bib Gourmand, and at dinner for a star rating.
AZ: What’s your favorite place to eat in NYC?
JLN: I rarely go more than twice to any restaurant, except some of the 3-stars. There are so many. Plus, I travel a week a month to Asia, North America, etc. I have a lot of favorites.
AZ: Last meal?
JLN: With my wife and in our home. She’s a great chef.
And who are New York’s brand, spankin’ new 21 Bib additions? Feast your eyes:
1. Al Bustan; 2. Andy’s Seafood Bar & Grill; 3. Asia de Cuba; 4. Bahari estiatorio; 5. Bohemian; 6. Diner; 7. El Paso Taqueria; 8. Fatty ‘Cue; 9. HanGawl; 10. Hecho en Dumbo; 11. Hunan House; 12. Little Pepper; 13. Mapo Tufo; 14. Mercato; 15. M & T Restaurant; 16. Northern Spy Food Co.; 17. OBAO; 18. Paulie Gee’s; 19. Robataya; 20. Tanoreen; 21. Tori Shin