Wednesday, November 2, 2005

NEW YORK - The red-jacketed Michelin guidebook, considered a bible for food connoisseurs in Europe, has revealed its rankings of New York restaurants — and may have some chefs seeing stars.

The much-anticipated listings in “Michelin Guide New York City 2006” had food lovers guessing for months about which eateries would merit the debut guide’s highest rank of three stars.

Four high-end Manhattan restaurants with well-established reputations for excellence — Alain Ducasse, Jean-Georges, Le Bernardin and Per Se — received all three coveted stars, the guide announced Tuesday.

Other gastronomic gurus are bound to be less than pleased with their new status. Four respected Manhattan restaurants earned just two stars: Bouley, Daniel, Danube and Masa.

That could be a perceived slight, considering that both Masa and Daniel landed the highest, four-star, ranking from the New York Times. The widely read Zagat Survey also put Daniel and Bouley in its highest category with Per Se and Le Bernardin.

Renowned chef Daniel Boulud shrugs off Michelin’s calculations. “The public doesn’t need Michelin to tell them where I belong,” he says. “I’m not going to change anything.”

All of the top picks, local critics say, were likely choices given Michelin’s proclivity to elevate only the most elite restaurants. All of these kitchens practice versions of very expensive and modern French cooking, says GQ magazine food critic Alan Richman.

“We were all afraid that Michelin would bring French Michelin standards to New York,” Mr. Richman explains. “It’s exactly what they did. That doesn’t make it wrong or bad. It just makes it so predictable.”

Michelin gave one star to an additional 31 restaurants, among them Nobu, Gramercy Tavern, Aureole and Vong. The Zagat guide, which ranks restaurants largely on diner feedback, has placed both Nobu and Gramercy Tavern at the top of recent lists.

Two eateries in Brooklyn were on Michelin’s one-star list: the famed Peter Luger Steak House and Saul, a local favorite that opened in 1999 in the borough’s Boerum Hill neighborhood.

The guide, $16.95, hits stores tomorrow.

A three-star Michelin rating indicates “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey,” while two stars means “excellent cooking, worth a detour.” One star is given to “a very good restaurant in its category.”

Food critic John Mariani, who publishes an influential industry newsletter, says a third star puts an incredible amount of pressure and stress on chefs.

Many people believe Chef Bernard Loiseau, 52, committed suicide two years ago in France after rumors circulated that Michelin would yank one of his three stars.

Mr. Ducasse, though, clearly was not crying in his cassoulet after receiving his trio of stars. “It’s a great pleasure for me and my team,” Mr. Ducasse says. “It was a surprise. A good surprise.”

Michelin’s New York guide also lists 468 restaurants with no star, a listing that is considered an honor by itself, connoting a quality restaurant worth trying.

Michelin puts out 12 guides covering 20 countries.

Michelin inspectors are notoriously stingy about admitting new members to its exclusive club, with just 50 three-star restaurants in all of France and only three in the United Kingdom.

Jean-Luc Naret, director of the Michelin Guide, says he spoke with New York chefs Tuesday and didn’t encounter any hard feelings — at least not yet. “Maybe they will come later on,” he says.

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