Monday, November 07, 2005

Did Michelin lower the bar for New York?

Its integrity and competence under assault as never before in France, Michelin clearly needed to generate some positive headlines in New York, so it did the craven thing and judged New York on an inflated scale. To the extent Michelin's arrival stateside was cause for excitement, it was the expectation that the guide's supposedly universal standards would at last be applied to New York, ending years of dinner-table speculation about how the city's top restaurants stack up. Clearly, though, Michelin had another agenda, and in pursuing it I suspect it may have alienated that small subset of food-obsessed people with enough experience on both sides of the Atlantic to form their own comparative judgments. These gastronomes—the very people who once regarded Michelin's imprimatur as something of a royal seal—are not suddenly looking at Per Se and Le Bernardin in a new, more flattering light; they are looking at Michelin in a new and distinctly unflattering one. In showering undeserved accolades on New York, Michelin has succeeded only in devaluing its most precious asset: the prestige of those coveted three stars.