San Diego, the eighth-largest city in the country and the second-largest in California, now boasts a very particular type of modern culinary accolade: a Michelin star. Just one, alas. The world’s oldest restaurant guide released its inaugural all-California edition this evening, and a single San Diego restaurant made the starred selections. In contrast, Los Angeles and Orange County now have 25 starred eateries and the San Francisco Bay Area boasts 16 starred restaurants.
Among the 27 new additions at the one star level was William Bradley’s Addison at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar, a local restaurant that seems tailor-made for Michelin standards. As one of the San Diego’s most expensive restaurants and the city’s hands-down most formal, fine dining destination, it was widely-rumored that Addison could bring home two or even three stars. Executive chef/director Bradley is a San Diego native and a four-time James Beard Award nominee who counts Thomas Keller among his industry mentors (Keller was among a star-studded group of guest chefs who cooked at Addison last fall); he’s supported in the kitchen by chef de cuisine Stefani De Palma.
When asked about the win, Bradley said, “We are just honored as a restaurant and a city to be included in such a prestigious guide and look forward to the future.
Evaluated by anonymous Michelin inspectors, the restaurants are anointed according to a rating system that awards one star to a “very good restaurant in its category,” two stars to restaurants “worthy of a detour,” and a coveted three stars to dining destinations worth a “special journey.”
Last week, Michelin gave Bib Gourmand status to eight San Diego eateries, each selected for their ‘good quality, good value cooking’.
So now that we can finally move on from the Michelin rumors and speculation and start second-guessing, will this even move the needle in San Diego? Was the guide worth its $600,000 price tag?
There has been a notable influx of chefs with Michelin pedigrees who’ve set their sights on San Diego, from the recently-arrived Italian chefs behind Il Dandy to Vegas superstar Akira Back and Bay Area celeb Michael Mina. Candice Eley, director of communications for the San Diego Tourism Authority, says that the international community is starting to take note of our local dining landscape and thinks this will raise San Diego’s profile and culinary appeal, sharing, “There’s an unmistakable enthusiasm for San Diego’s culinary scene right now, and this recognition for Michelin will hopefully inspire even more people to visit – and maybe even inspire more chefs to consider San Diego for their next venue.”
But Tom Penn, who runs local consulting firm Real Restaurant Solutions, Inc., thinks that San Diego’s core issues can’t be solved by a single nod from Michelin. Penn posited, “Ultra-refined food, beverages, and service have consistently been under-supported. We say that we want better restaurants, but when we do not patronize these types of establishments with enough frequency and vigor, they can’t stay in business let alone thrive. Blame the weather, the surf culture or the prevailing chill attitude, but whatever the reason, it seems that San Diegans and the tourists that visit are willing to forego service for lower prices, choose quantity over quality, and prioritize design or view over the gastronomic experience upon which the Michelin star concept was founded.”
Jason McLeod, executive chef and partner of CH Projects, who was head chef at RIA in Chicago when it won two Michelin stars in 2011, thinks we need to look at the big picture. McLeod said, “By year three if we see a steady growth of Michelin-recognized restaurants here, we will start to see an impact and hopefully this will translate to more recognition from other important industry leaders such as the James Beard Awards.” If anything, he thinks it will result in a better engaged restaurant industry and dining public, saying, “This is an incredible honor for chefs and not everyone will agree with the list but that is what makes it so important, at least the conversations will start and we will have bigger goals to reach here in San Diego.”
Following is the full list of San Diego Michelin-starred restaurants from the debut all-California guide