Our routine is simple: A publication announces a "best of" list, and New Yorkers gnash their teeth over its selections. We love our lists and hate them in equal measure.
Yesterday saw the release of the New York Michelin star ratings for 2011, and they threw restaurant aficionados into a tizzy. There is a Chowhound thread 37 comments strong (and counting). There is NBC Feast's calling Michelin frontman Jean-Luc Naret a "blowhard." There is Grub Street's puzzled Daniel Maurer asking Naret about the well-reviewed Locanda Verde and Colicchio & Sons, neither of which received stars.
The biggest hubbub surrounds the news that the first two-star restaurant in Brooklyn is the Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare, and that Del Posto and Eleven Madison Park—two four-star restaurants according to the New York Times—are staying at one star apiece.
International "inspectors" who prize their anonymity obsessively—as was made clear by last year's amusing New Yorker profile—determine the stars and give "Bib Gourmand" awards to less expensive eateries such as Char No. 4. Michelin's team pressed stamps in chalk on the sidewalk in front of Bib Gourmand restaurants earlier this week.
Last night, at a glittery release party attended by the likes of Drew Nieporent and Paul Liebrandt (Corton, two stars), Michael White (Marea, two stars; Alto, two stars; Convivio, one star), and Daniel Boulud (Daniel, three stars; Café Boulud; one star), we sat down with Mr. Naret for a moment to ask about Del Posto and Eleven Madison Park. He initially repeated his mantra that he "tries not to be influenced ... by any celebrity chef," but he touched on the anonymity debate that was sparked when Sam Sifton, the photographed and well-traveled New York Times critic, took over for Frank Bruni a little over a year ago.
About his own experience at Del Posto and EMP, Naret announced, "When I got there I have a different kind of food!" When asked whether he takes his critics' anonymity very seriously, he replies: "Absolutely ... when you read an article about a famous critic, he has a different experience. Maybe sometimes he was recognized, he had a different treatment and everything; our inspectors go there, eating in restaurants everywhere around the world, you have an incredible benchmark."
After our chat, Naret rose to greet the press and chefs and thanked the underground supper clubs that had provided the food. He praised them for their cuisine, cast a benevolent eye over the chefs, and noted that they might breathe easy that evening, since "the inspectors have tonight off."
But will Michelin dominate the New York restaurant hubbub for months and years to come? Do those Bib Gourmand demarcations remain pressed in the earth? Naret shrugged. "The stamp has been washed off by the rain."