Nosh

Chez Panisse loses its Michelin star

Chez Panisse, no longer a one-star Michelin restaurant. Photo: Flickr commons/Emptyhighway

Berkeley’s most famous restaurant, Chez Panisse, commonly referred to as one of the best restaurants in the country, if not the world, has lost its single Michelin star — unwelcome news for the Alice Waters-owned destination eatery which has held a star since the 2006 launch of the San Francisco Bay Area & Wine Country edition of the esteemed Michelin guide.

“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,” said Mia Morgenstern from the Chez Panisse Foundation. “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.”

Further afield in the region, Napa restaurant The Restaurant at Meadowood has gained one star to join the only other greater Bay Area restaurant with three stars: Thomas Keller’s French Laundry in Yountville.

Three local restaurants are deemed worthy of two stars — they are Coi in San Francisco, Cyrus in Healdsburg and Manresa in Los Gatos.

Update, 20.50: Berkeleysider Antoinette Baranov asks the more than valid question about what criteria Michelin uses to award, and hence to also remove, its stars. Here’s the skinny, from Michelin itself:

Establishments under “star consideration” serve cuisine that is prepared from excellent quality ingredients, display impressive technical skill, and present a balanced menu of clear flavors with a distinct personality; and it is imperative that they do so consistently. In addition to the menu and cuisine, we also scrutinize the beverage program asking ourselves if the wine, cocktail, and/or sake selection enhances the experience and moreover offers something special.

And about those stars:

One Star: A very good restaurant in its own category.
Two Stars: Excellent cooking, worth a detour.
Three Stars: Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey.One always eats extremely well here, sometimes superbly.

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  • Antoinette Baranov

    It would have been more interesting if one were to know what criteria Michelin used to take away the star. My owm opinion is that I don’t like restaurants that leave me hungry with tiny portions no matter how well prepared.

  • Andrew

    If commis gets a star and Panisse doesn’t, then Michelin people have no clue. Commis is one of the most pretentious restaurants i have eaten in 50 years of worldwide travel. Had to leave food on the plate, the wines on the flight were dreadful. And despite yelp reviews, not one of my friends will return..

  • Claremont Eater

    The loss of the star reflects reality. It is hardly qualifies as one of the best restaurants on Shattuck. It has decline in service. A diner shouldn’t have to wait an hour after his reservation time or 30 minutes between courses. And the food, while using fresh ingredients, is unoriginal.

  • Brooklyn Boy

    Chez Panisse has never been an outstanding restaurant. It is an important location and event in the history of food in America. In that respect, perhaps, Chez Panisse merited its star as a legacy restaurant, the same way that one might honor Galatoire’s or Arnaud’s in New Orleans, as benchmarks of the classic creole cuisine of the mid-nineteenth century.

    But as an actual restaurant Chez Panisse has always been very disappointing. It has often been said that the best dish is the salad, and what does that say about the mastery of the kitchen? I have always felt that Chez Panisse is easily the most overrated restaurant in America, if not the world. I have eaten better, more inventive locavore meals in Kansas City (at The American Restaurant).

    Chez Panisse may be a lot younger than Galatoire’s, but just like its grande-dame creole cousin in the Big Easy, it’s been coasting on its considerable reputation for decades.

    How can Chez Panisse claim to be an innovator when it has done so little to innovate in at least thirty years? If Chez Panisse really cares about its Michelin star (which I doubt given its preposterous 28 rating in the Zagat), it will have to work much, much harder.

    Don’t get me wrong, Alice Waters is a seminal figure in American food. She does a lot of good with her food programs. She’s just a lousy restaurateur.

  • Eric Hsu

    SFGate interviewed the Michelin head and he said Chez Panisse lacked consistency.

    http://insidescoopsf.sfgate.com/paololucchesi/2010/10/26/michelins-jean-luc-naret-discusses-chez-panisse-danville-the-future-of-michelin-in-america-book-sales-and-more/

    I’m a bit more surprised Slanted Door didn’t get a star…

  • Pingback: San Francisco Residents Shocked As Chez Panisse Overlooked For Michelin Star

  • Mathew Parker

    Michelin is written by the French, so they always have an axe to grind in other countries. There is a reason why all the Michelin rated restaurants are mostly in France- because the French are snotty ban about preserving their culture and part of that culture is French culinary DOGMA. Wine, sauces, butter and bread

  • Brooklyn Boy

    Matthew: I’m trying to understand your comment. Are you implying that the Michelin Guide for the Bay Area is mostly rating restaurants in France?

    And, as your comment might pertain to Chez Panisse, let’s not forget that the young Alice Waters was a huge francophile. She studied French literature at UC Berkeley, she named her restaurant after Honoré Panisse (a Marseillais master sailmaker) in the classic French movie trilogy of Marcel Pagnol, and–most importantly–she adapted the French principle of “la cuisine du marché” to the local ingredients of Northern California.

    As such, Alice Waters spawned an absolute revolution in food that has since swept the entire nation.

    I’m not saying one has to agree with Michelin’s take on Chez Panisse (most of the inspectors, by the way, are American for the Bay Area guide), but certainly the issue is not one of French haughtiness toward Chez Panisse, since the restaurant was solidly founded on French principles.

  • Andrew

    I still like Chez Panisse. I don’t see it as star material, but it is comfortable and often very good, though it has had its ups and downs.

    It would be difficult for CP to change and innovate because then it would not be CP. It represents a philosophy of food, and to be different is to not be CP. And Alice Waters’ name and reputation are so intertwined with CP, and she also represents that philosophy.

  • Brooklyn Boy

    Andrew: One aspect of the Chez Panisse approach that contributes to the inconsistency is the lack of a set menu. As a consequence, there are essentially no house specialties, nothing the kitchen can become famous for. It’s as much an issue for the patrons as it is for the kitchen staff, as the constant rotation of dishes never allows enough time or practice to get it right.

    As far as your comment about CP not being able to innovate because it would be a departure from Alice Waters’s signature philosophy, I’m afraid I could not disagree more. First, the very premise of CP is the concept of innovation, of revolutionizing American food, of changing the menu constantly, etc. What’s happened, though, at CP, is that while they’re constantly changing their food, they have not truly innovated at all in three decades. Quite ironic, really, the innovators frozen in time.

    As far as I’m concerned, they frankly just don’t work hard enough to be truly outstanding. And, in a sense, just like other tired restaurants that get by on their reputation (the former Tavern on the Green in NYC, or even something as ludicrous as Musso & Frank Grill in L.A.) CP can get by wonderfully just on its status as the high temple of California Cuisine.

    I have read numerous comments from patrons vehemently defending the blandness and tastelessness of the food as “part and parcel” of the Alice Waters philosophy. That is, of course, utter nonsense.

    People dine there, spend a few hundred dollars for some salad and a bland piece of chicken with a drab sauce, and extol its virtues to no end.

    Chez Panisse not any better because it doesn’t need to be…

  • lifelongberkelyan

    Right on Brooklyn Boy! As I’ve said before:

    “While Alice Waters hardly invented locavorism or farmers markets, her zeal, timing and shrewd self promotion have helped popularize them to a new generation.

    She does, however, deserve much credit for steering American culinary theory and practice away from how food tastes and towards what it stands for.

    As the mother of ‘epionics’, she’s supplied the vocabulary for exploiting the marketing potential of food as “cause”. It’s through her influence that the words sustainable, artisanal, organic, etc. now universally convey ethical superiority, altruism and other value added product benefits untapped by traditional food marketing.

    This explains the lack of significant success among traditional evaluators like yourselves (and those employed by the Michelin Guide) who consider restaurant dining a sensory experience rather than a political one.

    Ms. Waters most lasting legacy will likely be the moral sheen conferred on her adherents which has removed societal stigma(s) formerly attached to duck plucking and boiling the hair off pigs. As a result, many expensively educated and unskilled liberal arts graduates now see a brighter future in food.

    The service staff:

    The good ones are those banking on hopes that the tedium of waiting tables, tending bar or peeling vegetables will be offset by the resume entry and the doors it opens elsewhere (notable examples in alphabetical order: Bertolli. Mazzera and Miller). Those who don’t leave deal with the grind by setting their own standards for service. Absent much informed patronage, they get away with it.

    The ambiance:

    If it feels like you’re sitting in an old parlor, it’s because you are. That would be its usual location in houses of the period. And how fitting a setting that is for a family pageant portraying honest happy peasants (think Marie Antoinette’s rustic village at Versailles) in revolt against tyrannical agribusiness. A farce fought nightly in two seatings, the scenery reassembled daily before opening. Tickets available on one months notice. $$$

  • wanderer

    There are always people on the web who enjoy shooting at anything well-regarded, thus the carping about Chez Panisse. I don’t go there a lot, but when I’ve gone it’s always been a top dining experience.

    But it’s not about fancy sauces and preparations and furnishings. That’s what some of the commentors seem to want, and that’s what Michelin seems to want. That’s clear from the restaurants that Michelin favors–heavily tilted towards Wine Country resorts–they need to be Fancy. Chez Panisse is not about Fancy.

    In the broader scheme of things it’s pretty irrelevant. I don’t think Chez Panisse is going to lack for customers. And I don’t think too many Bay Area diners are going to base their dining decisions on Michelin–maybe a few upper crust tourists well. Michelin is pulling out of Los Angeles altogether, I wish they’d done the Bay Area that favor.

  • 07Negative

    I agree Chez Panisse is over rated but does hold a important role in food. How the hell Meadowood got 3 stars is beyond me. I ate there once. Everything I had was fried. The wine was the best part of my experience there. My date threw up her dinner. I’ve been frequenting Bouchon for many years and it has never skipped a beat. I really don’t get this rating system personally. Is it perhaps another way to be a snob?