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Sunday, February 5, 2012

JAPAN HAS MORE THREE STAR MICHELIN RESTAURANTS THAN FRANCE!

Today is consumed by the Super Bowl.  As I will be watching the commercials (I actually had 15 fantasy sport teams two years ago, but none today, and will return to this competition perhaps later this year) I thought I'd explore the other end of the food spectrum, my current passion.

The Michelin guide first made an appearance in 1900.  Remember, now, this is a French tire company, although it is probably known as much today for its travel guides, such as this one of Japan, and, in particular, their restaurant ratings.  The highest achievement possible is 3 stars.  At one time, France, of course, dominated.  Beginning last year, France only had 25 3-star restaurants, while Japan rose to 29, for the first time attaining #1 status.  Japan?  Yes, but another new cuisine capital exists in the region around Barcelona, Spain.  Spain?  Yes, and the best one of all, elBulli, closed for a couple of years because the chef decided to take a sabbatical.


Another epicurean standard I subscribe to is the Pellegrino list of best 50 restaurants (actually, they go up to 100).  If you read this blog, you will have experienced these eating  palaces the world over.  #1 is Noma, shown above and to the left.  I was so dressed because this steeple of excellence is located in Copenhagen and not easy to find.  

Towards the end of my meal there this busboy-type came by to serve my entre and chatted for a couple of minutes.  Nice guy, I thought.  Well, it turned out he was the chef, Rene, now known as the best chef in the world.  He has his right arm over me below:


That was two years ago and both he and his restaurant at that time were #2, to Ferran Adria and elBulli,  which will re-open in 2014 as a creativity center, or culinary think tank.

France does not make this Pellegrino list until #9 with Chateaubriand, while Spain has three of the top ten and the USA has two, Alinea (#3, Chicago) and Per Se (#10, New York).  D.O.M. of Sao Paulo is #7, and, of course, I just had to try it, and you can read about my experience, especially so because I had just flown overnight (almost 12 hours) from London and only had a chance to drop my bag off at the hotel before rushing here.  I mostly have lunches when possible, as I'm almost afraid to go out at night in foreign cities these days.  I was almost nauseous when I entered D.O.M. (stands for Dominus Optimo Maximo, home of the best and greatest), and left high and happy.  The next day I went to Mani (#74), which was similarly spectacular, with truly fine service.  Compared with San Francisco (#75, Coi) and Los Angeles (#85, The Bazaar), with only one, Sao Paulo has three and Lima, Peru has two (read about my meals at #42 Astrid Y Gason (left with Rosalia and  Leonid) and #87 Malabar).  French Laundry, in Yountville, is #56, and has 3 Michelin stars.

In April I will be in Tokyo and will attempt to dine at #12 Les Creations de Narisawa (but probably won't because they don't sit a table for one.  I guess I could find someone to join me.) and #20 Nihonryori RyuGin.  I have a reservation at their third (only three from Japan in the top 100), #90 Kitcho, but their Tokyo branch (headquarters in Kyoto) only sits by invitation, requiring my stay at the Hotel Seiyo in Ginza, which houses this restaurant.  Kitcho (right) has 3 Michelin stars, but I suspect those stars mostly apply to their Kyoto site.  In Tokyo there is another Kitcho at the Imperial Hotel, but is not as "fancy."

I stayed at this super luxury hotel Seiyo when it first opened in 1987.  I got "special" rates, which made it affordable.  Created by Seiji Tsutsumi, whose younger brother Yoshiaki, at one time the richest man in the world and recently convicted of financial improprieties, the more stable older brother was nevertheless deemed nuts for building this hotel.  It probably remains as the most extravagant place I've stayed in my life (only 77 rooms--and, truly, everyone knows your name wherever you go--a bit eerie), and I'm looking forward to seeing how it has changed in a quarter century.  During this period I was negotiating with Seiji's staff to have him bankroll a geothermal drilling operation on the slopes of Haleakala to provide the hot water for a possible competing onsen hotel next to the Makena Prince, then owned by Yoshiaki.  Just another of my bright ideas on the order of Royal Hawaiian Colored Pearls and the Blue Revolution.  Some day, one or more these will attain reality.

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