Thoughts on Florida's first Michelin Guide restaurants

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Michelin group

Thoughts on Florida’s first Michelin-rated restaurants:

Thursday’s event at the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes Orlando wasn’t really an awards ceremony; Michelin prefers to call it a revelation, wherein it reveals the names of the restaurants that will be included in the upcoming guide. In this case it was to announce the charter members of the inaugural Florida edition, which included only restaurants from Miami, Tampa and Orlando. How did Orlando make the cut? You can thank some local hospitality heavy hitters for lobbying for its inclusion.

The word revelation works here, too, for its main definition: A surprising and previously unknown fact, especially one presented in a dramatic way. (More on the presentation in a moment.)

The surprising and previously unknown bits had to do with some of the restaurants that were omitted – and some that were included. I found myself saying “really?” quite a bit last night.

The tallies for each city were:

Miami: 35 recommended restaurants, 19 Bib Gourmands, 11 Starred. Total 65

Orlando: 23 recommended restaurants, 7 Bib Gourmands, 4 Starred. Total 34

Tampa: 16 recommended restaurants, 3 Bib Gourmands. Total 19

It isn’t surprising that Miami had the bulk of restaurants. What was startling was that Tampa had so few, and no starred restaurants among them.

(For a list of all the local winners and an explanation of the three designations, see this article. To see all the Florida restaurants, visit the Michelin Guide website.)

The Michelin Guide focuses primarily on food rather than overall experience, which can explain why some restaurants that might be considered quick-serve operations were mentioned.

The Bib Gourmands are selected based on the ability to have two courses and a glass of wine or dessert for $49. That’s pretty difficult to do these days, even if you choose the lowest-priced menu items, which might mean you’re not getting a restaurant’s signature offerings.

Michelin arrival

I have no issue with the four local restaurants that received stars; they all offer excellent food. But I think they could have been joined by some others. Perhaps Four Flamingos: A Richard Blais Florida Kitchen and Bacán were both too new to warrant more than a plate recommendation, but they both served some of the best food I’ve had recently. The inclusion of some others have me wondering whether the inspectors left any of the restaurants that were visited off the list. (I won’t mention them here, I don’t want to cloud their day in the sun, but you can read my reviews of some of them to know they would not have made my list.)

And let’s consider some that were indeed left off the list. We can only assume the inspector didn’t make it to Soco to sample Greg Richie’s cuisine. Or Emmanuel Clement’s at Russell’s on Lake Ivanhoe. Chatham’s Place? Rocco’s Italian Grille? Enzo’s on the Lake? Christner’s? Tornatore’s? Tabla? Mynt? Viet-Nomz? Antonio’s La Fiamma? Hinckley’s Fancy Meats? Delaney’s Tavern? Bull & Bear? Stasio’s? Any of the Good Salt Restaurant Group?

What about Jaleo by José Andrés? If L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, which has eight locations, including the one in Miami that received two stars, more than any other Florida restaurant, could make the list the reason can’t be because Jaleo has multiple locations. (Seriously, L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon wouldn’t qualify for one of our Foodster Awards for Independent Restaurants because they are limited to restaurants with three or fewer locations.) And the inspector didn’t avoid Disney Springs – Morimoto Asia was on the Plate Recommendation list. Was a stop at Wine Bar George out of the question?

There are over four thousand restaurants in Central Florida, so the inspector couldn’t possibly have visited them all. I’ve been doing this for 34 years and I haven’t gotten to them all, either. But I’m shaking my head right alongside a lot of you on some of the choices that were made.

Michelin crowd

As for the Revelation itself, it was a clunky and drawn out presentation. It took place in a large, temporary structure assembled on the Ritz’s DaVinci Lawn. It was air conditioned but only barely.

There were several food and beverage stations set up around the perimeter and members of the hotel’s staff also walked about with trays of hors d’oeuvres. When it was time for the presentation to begin, someone announced for everyone to “please take your seats.” I estimated between two and three hundred people and I counted about 50 actual seats.

The restaurants were named by Gwendal Poullennec, Michelin’s central-castingly handsome French international director. For those receiving stars, each chef made his or her way (there were precious few women among the winners) and everyone waited while they slipped on a Michelin branded (and sponsor logo’d) chef’s jacket. Lots of long pauses.

Tesar Michelin

But it was nice to see the genuine ebullience of the winners. John Tesar of Knife & Spoon was especially giddy and told me that, at 64, this was a highlight of his culinary career.

And it was well deserved. I hope to see some more of his Central Florida colleagues standing next to him next time.

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