What Does Michelin Have Against Ethnic and Outer-Borough Restaurants, Anyway?

By

The new Michelin guide was met with the usual assortment of sneers yesterday. Our commenter Kothario pointed out a disturbing dearth of Latin and non-Japanese Asian restaurants, and now the Voice’s Robert Sietsema, an expert in ethnic cuisine if ever there was one, speaks up. Like the Feedbag, he’s appalled by the inclusion of Rhong-Tiam (easily the biggest head-scratcher this year).

It's not a bad place, and I've even enjoyed my three meals there, but it doesn't even deserve to be in the top 20 Thai restaurants in town. The service is often amateurish, too. Is it possible you chose this place at random? Or read about it in Time Out and decided it was needed to “balance” the ethnic mix of restaurants? Or to give you some “street cred”?

Sietsema is also disturbed to see that a perennial Chinatown favorite got a star was recommended in the “bib gourmand” category:

N.Y. Noodletown, as one of only two recommendations in Manhattan Chinatown, is really dumb. Now, when Ruth Reichl pointed that place out in the 1990s, it was one of the better duck shops. But in the interim it has been far surpassed, and anyone who's eaten in the neighborhood could easily list a dozen preferable places. Can you honestly tell me that you canvassed Chinatown, and ate at many places, before coming up with this recommendation?

We’re thinking no, they didn’t bother with places like Yuen Yuen, where there are no English menus. In fact, we’ve noted a similar bias in these lists before. (Heck, we even take issue with Fork in the Road’s list of ten best Chinese restaurants, since we find the touristy Peking Duck House stiff and overpriced.) The recently published Clean Plates guide praised only a few Asian and Latin restaurants, and its authors couldn’t really say why. Is it possible they, like the Michelin man, were simply overwhelmed and intimidated by the hundreds of restaurants in New York’s Chinatown, with their sprawling menus and language barriers?

Or is Michelin just above starring these restaurants, just like it seems to be above outer-borough restaurants? Only 4 out of 55 starred restaurants are outside of Manhattan, and all of them are in Brooklyn. And one of those is Peter Luger. Aren’t they hip to the New Brooklyn Cuisine? And if Rhong-Tiam is worthy of a star, then why not Sripraphai? And why does the tired Jackson Diner rank as one of the few Indian picks but not, say, one of the great Sri Lankan restaurants in Staten Island? Isn’t this guide about motoring, anyway? To be fair, Michelin did feature plenty of Brooklyn restaurants on its “bib gourmand” list (and even a few Queens ones, too!), but it’s the stars that count. And picks like Rhong-Tiam lower the bar, forcing us to ask, Well if those places made it, why not one of a thousand other great cheap ethnic spots?

Then again, every time you think Michelin is being staid and predictable in the interest of singling out safe bets for its tourist readers, it throws you for a loop — like failing to star Momofuku Ssäm even though it’s the toast of the town. There’s just no telling. But hey, if this list weren’t somewhat random and perplexing, we wouldn’t be talking about it.