The Case Against the Michelin Guide

Who knows why the Gobbler let the latest edition of Michelin's much-hyped, hotly debated guide to New York City restaurants (and hotels) fester, unattended, on his desk for a month? Perhaps it was the general sense of boredom, bordering on despair, which sometimes comes over the Gobbler when people begin rambling about their favorite restaurants. Perhaps it was professional envy. Or perhaps the Gobbler just had better things to do. Anyway, the other day he hesitantly picked up the glossy, ever-fattening volume ("Winner," according to this year's cover, of the "Gourmand World Cookbook Awards") and took a peek. So here, without further delay, is the Gobbler's list of random reasons why you should never, ever pay $12.95 (Strand price) for a copy of the Michelin guide.

Because it's not French enough. In the great Gallic tradition, the classic Red Guides are haughty, definitive, enjoyably full of themselves. This American volume reads like a mishmash of received wisdom from Fodor's.

Because it's way too predictable. This year's big surprise was the bestowal of two stars on Del Posto, run by the famously anti-France Mario Batali. The Gobbler likes the place well enough, but if there ever was a caricature of multi-star Michelin restaurant, Del Posto is it.

Because it's absurdly organized. Restaurants are grouped alphabetically by neighborhood, instead of by restaurant. This means the Gobbler puts the book down on page 76, when he gets to "Financial District."

Because even non-starred joints receive glowing (and generic) reviews. "Columbia students in search of southern-style cooking count on Miss Mamie's for finger licking good vittles" begins the gripping write-up of that culinary hotbed, Miss Mamie's Spoon Bread Too.

Because these write-ups appear to have been composed by garden gnomes with English as a second language. See above.

Because it's not Zagat's. Lofty opinions are fine, but what New Yorkers really want in a restaurant guide is facility and ease of use. In other words, they want the goddamn address and phone number right now.

Because even Michelin's army of restaurant "inspectors" aren't objective, no matter how hard they try. Of all the critical disciplines, restaurant reviewing is the most subjective. The quality of a meal changes not just day to day, but hour to hour.

Because they give out too few stars, not too many. The three-star system has been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the gourmet revolution. You can't tell the Gobbler only 39 restaurants in all of New York City offer "cuisine prepared to a consistently high standard," which is the guide's classic one-star definition.

Because the one-star Spotted Pig is way better than that gilded, overpriced, ludicrously uneven one-star Danube. Though it's not half as good, in the Gobbler's humble opinion, as other single-star joints like Picholine (read our recent review), Gotham, and the great Indian restaurant Dvi.

Because, in the end, who really cares about this stuff? Except maybe French chefs, and possibly Mr. Batali.