Of Mice and Michelin
Note: Due to the length of this post, I've divided it into two parts. See if you can guess the mystery restaurant I'm going to review...
Ever since the Michelin Guide laid the smacketh down on San Francisco's candy ass, the once self-congratulatory high of Frisco's foodie establishment has plummeted into a low blood sugar depression that no locally-grown, eco-friendly ingredient or nostalgic, grill-marked trip back to 1980 can cure.
Hit especially hard were the Franco-San Franciscan chefs who, perhaps being away from L'Hexagone too long, thought they shat truffles and turned Frisco tap into Châteauneuf-du-Pape; no doubt led to believe so by eager and fawning Provençals - scratch that - provincials. Unlike other Bay Area chefs and foodies, whose predictably lame excuse went something like "they just don't understand our cuisine", the chefs and owners of the local French restaurants had no xenophobia card to fall back on.
As it turns out, San Francisco, not all that glitters is gold.
A long time ago, a wise, old, mentor of mine once warned me of "the curse of beauty". In a nutshell, it's a warning that easily and overly adored things can ruin the person or thing being adored. It was also a warning in the classic "be careful of what you wish for, or you just might get it" sense, since beauty so often rides with vanity, self-importance, jealousy, and ultimately self-destruction.
As with restaurants (and people) in San Francisco, a thing of beauty comes to know itself rather quickly. Charles Phan seems like a nice guy and is definitely an American success story if there ever was one. His Vietnamese-influenced restaurant, the Slanted Door, has been consistently good ever since it opened in a little storefront on Valencia Street.
Now, unfortunately, it knows itself a little too much, and its prices reflect that. Maybe the researchers for Michelin, who were both American and French, just weren't dazzled by the dishes they could've had at half the price at the less-hyped, unsexy, and virtually unknown Tay Giang?
Granted Phan and other Bay Area chefs, whose restaurants are continuously praised as being the best in Northern California, are now saying they could care less whether they were awarded a Michelin star, the truth is, I suspect, that they all knelt beside their bed each night, folded their hands, blessed mommy and daddy, and prayed like hell they would get the restaurant equivalent of a fully blinged-out grill from Michelin.
However, the tastiest bite of sour grapes in this not-very-important episode has been from the local paper of record, The San Francisco Chronicle. Not only was their resident know-it-all practically apoplectic at hearing the results but, in the tradition of any true backwater rag, a smear campaign was immediately launched to sully the reputation of the messenger. Indeed, never pick a food fight with folks who buy ink by the barrel.
A word to the Chron: don't hate the playa. Hate the game.
For one thing, your guy would be better off if he learned and practiced a little humility. As it stands, his panties are so twisted by that little "French tire company" that he's lashed out at the first innocent bystander to ever have the displeasure of serving him a starter of crab cakes. It would've been adequate to mildly critique the herb-encrusted rack of lamb, but did he have to go and tear those appetizers a new asshole?
I know hearing this burns like holy water, Michael, but Frank Bruni never would have stooped so low as to nitpick technicalities with a 106 year old, prestigious publication and then take out his hostilities on a poor little defenseless restaurant in Tiburon.
This whole Michelin thing has reminded me how, despite the passing of time, San Francisco (and many San Franciscans - transplants especially) still maintains its dream of being something more than it is or ever will be. Imperial San Francisco – annexing Napa Valley so that you could have at least 1 Michelin three-star restaurant to call your own, 56 miles from your city limits.
Imperial San Francisco – obsequiously hanging around, then jumping into the spotlight once San Mateo and Santa Clara County (aka Silicon Valley) gets a smattering of attention. San Francisco, you will never be the Paris of the West everyone hoped you'd be. You are not the only City.
I understand this small town yearning well, but a little advice, Frisco: learn to love who you are, not what you wish you were. You will never be New York, London, or Paris. And though you scorn LA, give it a rest. Comparing yourself to others only creates jealousy.
Instead, take pride in what you do have.
Take pride that every year, for one week, young and impressionable servicemen and women come to your shores and see not the den of iniquity they've been warned about, but a place of beauty, depth, history, and occasionally kindness.
And sometimes crazy people.
Take pride in your children, in your streets, in your buildings, and in your neighborhoods where, despite poor taste in paint, homes like this can and do exist.
And take pride, that down the street from this home, in the Outer Richmond, is a similarly painted restaurant that will never see the well-worn heel of a Michelin reviewer nor your sole Daily's Golden Boy, but nevertheless adds much genuine character and life to this little 7x7 square mile city; more so than a restaurant in Yountville ever could.
I'm talking about the _________________ restaurant.
To be continued....