The Beginner’s Guide to Michelin Restaurants
Updated: Sep 24, 2021
One of the reasons we love to travel is to experience other cultures’ cuisines. If you consider yourself a foodie, you may already be in-the-know about Michelin restaurants. It may come as a surprise, but it’s no coincidence than that Michelin Man—the mascot of the Michelin tire company—graces the cover of this famous guidebook. Travel and fine dining have been connected since at least the nineteenth century.
Indeed, after Andre and Edouard Michelin started the Michelin Tire Company in France in 1889, they were looking for a way to increase tire sales. Wanting to encourage motorists to buy cars and take to the roads, they created a handy guide with travel information ranging from maps, tips for automotive care, and recommendations for dining and accommodations.
As sales of the guide picked up steam, the Michelin brothers hired mystery diners to visit and review restaurants anonymously. Beginning in 1926, the inspectors began assigning stars to the very best fine dining establishments. Today, the guide rates more than 30,000 restaurants across the world; of these, less than 3,000 have received a coveted Michelin star, the most sought-after award in the restaurant industry. (You can find a full list of Michelin restaurants here)
So what is the Michelin rating system, and what do you need to know about dining at Michelin restaurants?
The Michelin Rating System
The Michelin guide has five distinct ratings. The lowest of these is called the Michelin plate, and it means inclusion in the guide itself, which is a high honor.
Another rating for restaurants serving quality food at value pricing is called Bib Gourmand. To qualify for this rating, restaurants must serve two courses, a glass of wine, and a dessert for less than $40 per person.
Of course, the most notable ratings are the stars. A restaurant may earn one, two, or three Michelin stars, with three stars being the highest award. According to Michelin, one star designates very good restaurants in their category; two stars means restaurants with “excellent cooking, worth a detour”; and three stars denote restaurants with “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey.” Indeed, there are just over 100 restaurants with three Michelin stars worldwide.
The criteria for anonymous judging include the quality of the products used; the mastery of flavors and cooking techniques; the visibility of the chef’s personality in the cuisine; the value and special “wow” factors of the dishes; and the restaurant’s overall consistency.
Michelin doesn’t review restaurants everywhere, but only in specific regions. For example, in the United States, it visits restaurants in five major cities: Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, DC.
Eating at Michelin Restaurants
When you consider eating at a Michelin restaurant, you may think you’re in for an intimidating experience. After all, fine dining is known for bewildering menus, unrecognizable ingredients, tiny portions, and sky high prices. But if you’re curious about food and willing to experiment, I think you’ll find Michelin dining to be a worthwhile once-in-a-lifetime experience. Here are some things to know before you go:
Tasting menus versus à la carte menus: Michelin restaurants are notorious for carefully-curated tasting menus of a handful or more courses that best highlight the restaurant’s cuisine and style. The portions are much smaller so that you can taste many different dishes for which the restaurant is famous. An à la carte menu, by contrast, offers traditionally-sized dishes, and guests make their own selections for each course. In addition, your sommelier will be happy to offer you wine, beer, cocktail, or non-alcoholic drink pairings with each of your courses to bring out each dish’s unique flavor profile.
Amuse bouche and petit fours: Whatever menu you order from, you’re likely to be greeted by several complimentary treats at the beginning and end of your meal. You may start your experience with an amuse bouche, a small taste meant to be eaten in one bite and to awaken your palette for the meal to come. You may also have a bread course followed by a traditional palette cleanser. When your server brings the bill, they may likewise deliver some petit fours to finish your meal on a sweet note. Service: Service at Michelin restaurants is renowned for being both attentive and knowledgeable. Your server will likely describe each dish to you in detail as it is delivered to your table. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, make your dietary preferences known, or request a tour of the kitchen. Additionally, the pacing of Michelin meals is intentionally relaxed. Be prepared to spend two to three hours dining. And for this reason, be sure to make reservations in advance of your visit. If the Michelin guide has you dreaming of your next trip to a three star restaurant “worth a special journey,” drop me a line today so that we can secure you a reservation and get started planning this unique, exceptional experience. The fine dining kitchens of Paris, Tuscany, and Tokyo—to name only a few—are calling your name. As always, I’m wishing you delicious culinary adventures wherever your travels may take you!