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Michelin -- the actual book -- arrives

Michelin Though it's been some years since I've cared how many stars Michelin bestows in France and elsewhere, I must confess that somehow, in the last few days, I got swept up in the buzz about the publication of the first Michelin guide for L.A. There was all the commotion over the results being leaked, and who got how many stars, and I don't know, on Friday, when Food's assistant editor Betty Hallock found her way onto the unpublished list on the Michelin website, it suddenly seemed exciting.

Tonight, much of L.A.'s food press is celebrating the publication at a party at Les Deux, but I took home my copy of the Michelin Guide Los Angeles 2008 and skimmed it over bad pizza and a glass of red.

I was stunned at what I read. Beyond the stars and the fourchettes, there are the descriptions themselves. The Foundry's Eric Greenspan, I find, "learned from El Bulli disciplines in Spain." (What does that mean?) At Chameau, you can "end your Moroccan respite with a Spanish Muscatel." At Water Grill, diners "can drop anchor" and "the chef's busy brigade creates swells of satisfaction." The writing makes the Zagat guide look like "Ulysses."

Who could write such stuff, and where are their editors? Meanwhile, if the "anonymous inspectors" who bestowed the stars had reasons for anointing some chefs and dissing others, it's hard to understand them. Unlike in the European guides, the L.A.-edition entries read like little puff pieces, and one doesn't have the sense that the writers know much at all about food. At Wilshire, "there's no mistaking the components of diver scallops seared in clarified butter and served with creamy roasted fingerling and spicy chorizo." The chef there, we're told, is Warren Schwartz. (Don't tell Chris Blobaum!) Tre Venezie in Pasadena gets a star. Why? "Dishes here are not based on thick tomato sauces, olive oil and basil as they are elsewhere." Yup, we're getting pretty fed up with them thick tomato sauces too.

And Asian cooking? Nope, they don't get it.

Japanese food gets the most respect, but little understanding. Here's an excerpt from the listing for Mori Sushi in West L.A., which gets one star: "This, as chef/owner Morihiro Onodera asserts, is a sushi restaurant, serving only fish and vegetables." At Urasawa, which gets two stars, we're told that "sushi placed atop warm rice mixed with grated wasabi must be eaten within ten seconds." Beyond that, the only dishes mentioned are a carved turnip filled with "a fragrant garlic and ginger shrimp paste" and "cubes of Wagyu beef cooked in smoky-sweet ponzu sauce" that "fall apart on the tongue."

Meanwhile, only four Chinese restaurants -- Empress Pavilion, Mr. Chow, Yang Chow and Yujean Kang's -- are included. I'm sorry, but that's just wrong in the city whose Chinese restaurants arguably rival Hong Kong's. (Triumphal Palace, Elite and Ocean Star apparently aren't serious enough for inclusion.)

As for Thai, Michelin includes Cholada, Saladang Song and Talesai. It's enough to make you cry.

The book is filled with errors (Monte Alban, it tells us, is Spanish for "white mountain"), omissions (if you're going to give Spago two stars, it might be worth mentioning that the chef is Lee Hefter) and weirdnesses (Bar Marmont but not Chateau Marmont).

So, ye chefs who are fretting because you didn't get the stars you feel you deserve, relax. Once L.A.'s food lovers get their hands on the red book in question, it's hard to imagine they'll take it seriously.

Michelin Guide Los Angeles 2008, available in bookstores beginning Wednesday, $14.95.

-- Leslie Brenner

Comments () | Archives (7)

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My impression from this defensive and peevish review is that Leslie Brenner is mainly concerned about her job security as a paid foodie. Sure, the editors made some errors, and their writing is sometimes a bit over the top, however given how people here conspire to game the Zagat Guide system, I'll take venerable old Michelin's inspectors' opinions first. This is cultural provincialism at its worst.

I agree with Ms. Brenner.
She being a native of LA, and I being an LA native I've traveled extensively through LA County and the surrounding areas and know that there are many great restaurants that are not on the Westside.
She hit the nail right on the head when she talks about Asian, particularly Chinese cuisine. The San Gabriel Valley is a hotbed for both the most authentic and the more fashionable fusion take on asian cuisines. For crying out loud Monterey Park is our Chinatown, and they went to it's ugly little sibling in downtown?

There are few so passionate as the recently converted.

Based on the mistakes you've shown, it looks like the Michelin guide needs a little "starring" or rather "de-starring" of its own. When will the guide actually tailor itself toward each city and understand how its diners actually eat?

A poncey French guide is ill-equipped to properly rate what cuisines Los Angeles does best, i.e., Latino and Asian. The Micheline guide for Los Angeles sounds like an expensive joke.

The tragic lack of love for Asian food in a city that does it so well reeks of culinary snobbery perpetrated by an organization that is, let's face it, unabashedly Euro-centric. How many French restaurants did they cover, and how many are there actually in LA? Do their reviewers understand the differences between different regional cuisines in China, Korea, and Japan, and did they sample the wide array of L.A. restaurants that are exemplary in these different styles?

Furthermore, how can you be alive in the year 2007, in any American or European city, and not grasp the concept of sushi? I'm not impressed.

Personally I am putting my $14.95 toward a fish tank so I can watch my sushi swim around and maybe throw in some veggies to keep it company.
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