Who Has the Most Great Restaurants? France Can't Catch Up
It isn't the surprise it was supposed to be when the Guide Michelin announced its new restaurant ratings for 2013 (the actual guide goes on sale March 1) this Monday, February 18: Michelin had leaked some of the results to the French magazine and website Le Point five days earlier. We all knew, then, that France had retained the same 26 three-star restaurants it had in the 2012 guide. More to the point, we also learned that Michelin had anointed a new three-star restaurant — La Vague d'Or (The Golden Wave), the dining room at the Résidence de la Pinède, a beachfront luxury hotel in Saint-Tropez. Unfortunately, Japan still outpaces France in the Michelin sweepstakes, with 31 three-stars — understandably a blow to French gastronomic pride.
La Vague d'Ors young chef (he's 35), Arnaud Donckele, apprenticed at such temples of haute cuisine as Michel Guérard in Eugénie-les-Bains and Alain Ducasse's Louis XV in Monte Carlo and Plaza Athénée in Paris, all with long-held three stars of their own, before coming here eight years ago. Among his creations are sorbet of black Crimean tomatoes, truffled foie gras pasta with mountain parmigiano and violet artichokes, roast turbot with six citrus fruits and wild arugula, saddle of rabbit with caramelized shallots and girolles in chestnut honey, and a "sensual compromise of extreme dark chocolate with raspberries." (Don't rush off to Saint-Tropez just yet, by the way; the restaurant reopens for the season only in mid-April.)
In addition to the new three-star, five new establishments have received a two-star rating: Auberge du Pont d'Acigné in Noyal-sur-Vilaine (Brittany), La Marine in Noirmoutier (an island off the Loire coast), La Table du Kilimandjaro in the Alpine ski resort of Courchevel, William Frachot in Dijon, and Yoann Conte (successor to Marc Veyrat) in Veyrier-du-Lac. Some 39 restaurants entered the Michelin pantheon with one star each (there are now 487 places so rated in France), while three restaurants were demoted from two to one star (the best-known being the once prominent Le Saint-James in Bordeaux).
Another food-related website has reported the "bad news" that the legendary Alain Chapel in Mionnay and L'Espadon in Paris had lost their respective two-star ratings in this year's Guide Michelin. This shouldn't have been news of any kind. Chapel has been slowly sliding downhill since the much-loved man himself died in 1990, and early last year his family announced that they were closing the place permanently. And L'Espadon goes starless because it is the formal dining room of the Hôtel Ritz, which itself shuttered last summer for a two-year renovation.