Jill Paider

The Michelin Guide hasn’t been in Los Angeles for nearly a decade. But the city’s evolving, and there are more and more excellent chefs running Michelin-level restaurants.

Andy Wang
May 29, 2018

Somni, the new L.A. tasting-menu counter Aitor Zabala and José Andrés opened in March, is a restaurant that dazzles you with avant-garde technique, creativity, and wondrous flavors in dishes like a breadless “pan con tomate y jamón” made with meringue. Somni makes you smile by presenting a whimsical caviar bump in the form of osetra resting on a beautiful wooden hand with movable fingers. Somni serves a dish of snap peas so intensely bright and flavorful that the effect is something like diving into a Chuck E. Cheese ball pit full of peas and opening your mouth. (Somni’s snap peas, served inside hollowed-out kohlrabi, are a lot more sanitary.) Somni is a restaurant that understands the power of restraint when it offers a smoked Santa Barbara spot prawn that it calls “spot prawn and that’s it.”

There are three tiers of wine pairings at Somni. There’s also a pairing that involves grape juice infused with the non-alcoholic elements of wine. Somni’s plateware and desserts, including a presentation of ice cream that resembles a snow globe, are all part of a world-class 20-course experience, presided over by two El Bulli alums who keep coming up with new ways to surprise their guests.

Jill Paider

This is a restaurant that deserves Michelin stars. The problem, of course, is that the Michelin Guide hasn’t been in L.A. for nearly a decade. Before we get into all the reasons Michelin should come back, let’s acknowledge that L.A. doesn’t really need the Michelin Guide. If anything, it’s Michelin that needs L.A. if it wants to be taken seriously as an arbiter of taste in the twenty-first century.

L.A. is doing just fine, as ever, with its stellar taco trucks and vibrant Koreatown and extraordinary cash-only San Gabriel Valley dumpling joints. It’s the best food city in America largely because it’s so diverse and packed with great restaurants that don’t care at all about fine dining. But the city’s evolving, and there are more and more excellent chefs in L.A. who are making big efforts to run Michelin-level restaurants. Zabala and Andrés recently told Food & Wine that having Michelin stars is something that matters to them. Many other L.A. chefs, including some who say they believe that Michelin will return to L.A. soon, also deserve a shot at this kind of recognition.

Here are five reasons Michelin should return to L.A.

Everybody is coming here.

More specifically, Michelin-starred chefs from New York like David Chang, Daniel Humm, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten have recently opened L.A. restaurants. Chang, especially, has made waves by serving a menu of new dishes built especially for L.A., so this is even more significant than all these chefs cooking for tourists in Las Vegas. You could argue that Michelin coming back to L.A. so fussy French people can write about New York transplants who don’t need any more acclaim would be the wrong reason. But why shouldn’t L.A. benefit in every way possible from all the culinary talent that’s alighted here?

You can’t ignore all the tasting menus.

Jordan Kahn’s Vespertine and Dave Beran’s Dialogue both opened last year with inventive tasting menus. Phillip Frankland Lee says that one reason he recently renovated Scratch Bar & Kitchen, added a cocktail lounge, and expanded his tasting menu to 20-plus courses is because he thinks Michelin will be back this year or next year and he wants to be ready. Sang Yoon just announced that he will launch a tasting menu at Lukshon on June 15.

Plus, L.A. still has the tasting menus at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago, Michael Cimarusti’s Providence, and Josiah Citrin’s Melisse, all of which received two stars in L.A.’s 2009 Michelin Guide. Plus, Puck opened tasting-menu counter The Rogue Experience last year. Curtis Stone, who told Eater in 2016 that he wants to bring the Michelin Guide back to L.A., continues to do his thing at Maude and Gwen (while simultaneously angering other L.A. chefs by making provocative statements like how he thinks L.A. has a dearth of world-class restaurants).

L.A. is also stacked with top-tier Japanese restaurants, led by Niki Nakayama’s California kaiseki at n/naka and many glorious sushi spots including Shiki Beverly Hills, where Mori Onodera (who got a 2009 Michelin star at Mori Sushi) is an omakase master.

You can’t ignore all the big openings.

L.A. is having an insane year. Beyond Chang’s Majordomo and Humm’s NoMad, here are some of the other restaurants that have opened in 2018 and feel like contenders for at least one Michelin star: Casey Lane’s Viale dei Romani and Breva, Adam Perry Lang’s APL, Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis’ Bavel, and Ludo Lefebvre’s Sherman Oaks Petit Trois.

Look, Ludo’s French and makes good food, so stars for both Petit Trois and Trois Mec seem inevitable. Viale dei Romani serves crudos and pastas that are as stunning and transporting as what you’ll find at Michael White’s lovely, two-Michelin-starred Marea in New York. Plus, Viale dei Romani has badass Frenchman Francois Renaud as its wine/beverage director, which helps its case with Michelin. Breva is an impressive Basque brasserie with cocktails from famed mixologist Dushan Zaric. Bavel and APL are pure powerhouses that were in the works for years.

APL Restaurant
Josh Telles

We haven’t even gotten into the high-profile L.A. restaurants that are opening in the near future, including Simone, from Jessica Largey, who was previously chef de cuisine at Michelin darling Manresa. Rustic Canyon’s Jeremy Fox, who got a Michelin star at Ubuntu, is working on what he calls his “dream restaurant.” You can expect Teresa Montaño’s Otoño to take Spanish food in L.A. to new heights. Tesse will introduce L.A. to French-Belgian chef Raphael Francois, who had two Michelin stars at Hélène Darroze at The Connaught in London. The team at Tesse includes prominent restaurateur Bill Chait, who will also be opening an L.A. restaurant with Brazilian chef Rodrigo Oliveira of Michelin-starred Esquina Mocotó.

Chait, whose previous openings include Walter and Margarita Manzke’s Michelin-caliber Republique, is also working with Chad Robertson, Elisabeth Prueitt, and Chris Bianco to open Tartine Manufactory in downtown L.A. That Tartine is in Row DTLA, a new complex that includes kaiseki/bento restaurant Hayato, which is run by Brandon Go, a chef who trained at Michelin-starred restaurants in Japan. Row DTLA isn’t far from the Arts District, the neighborhood where Simone is located and also where, Eater reports, a new restaurant from Enrique Olvera of Cosme and Pujol will open across the street from Menashe’s always buzzing Bestia.

You can’t ignore all the media attention.

L.A. is the only city in America with two restaurants (Jon Yao’s Kato and Liz Johnson’s Freedman’s) represented in Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs 2018. In his latest list of America’s best new restaurants, GQ’s Brett Martin raved about Majordomo and said that Dialogue was his favorite new restaurant of the year. And this is a year after Martin put three L.A. spots (Salazar, Side Chick, and Kato) in his ten-restaurant list. In March, Eater’s Bill Addison wrote that Majordomo is “easily the most exciting restaurant to open in the country so far in 2018.” Esquire’s Jeff Gordinier had Felix atop his latest list of America’s best new restaurants and crowned Michael Santa Monica’s Miles Thompson as Rising Star of the Year. In 2016, New York Times critic Pete Wells started his out-of-town restaurant reviews by giving Cassia three stars. Addison’s 2016 review of Shibumi came with a headline declaring that the restaurant “is the future of Japanese dining in America.”

Otoño
Courtesy of Otoño

Los Angeles Times critic Jonathan Gold, who ranked Vespertine No. 1 on his latest list of the city’s 101 best restaurants, won a James Beard Award for restaurant reviewing this year. Two of the three submitted reviews that earned him this honor were his pieces on Vespertine and Dialogue. (The third was about Noma’s pop-up in Mexico.) Gold, who also has Providence, Spago, Lukshon, Carlos Salgado’s Taco Maria, Melisse, Tony Esnault’s Spring, Trois Mec, Bryant Ng’s Cassia, Mozzaplex (Nancy Silverton’s Pizzeria Mozza, Osteria Mozza, Chi Spacca, and Mozza2Go), and Steve Samson’s Rossoblu in his latest top ten, clearly wants to make a point that L.A. has no shortage of elegant, high-end restaurants.

We’re not saying that every restaurant in the previous two paragraphs deserves a Michelin star, but we are saying that L.A. is no doubt America’s most dynamic and exciting food city in 2018. Michelin should be here to experience the energy and taste the food.

You can’t ignore the commitment and pedigree of these chefs.

How devoted are some of these L.A. chefs to their craft? Lang forged his restaurant’s razor-steel knives himself and he’s got a carefully calibrated dry-aging room where he can store more than 20,000 pounds of beef. Menashe changed his recipe for pita dozens of times and tried out hundreds of hummus preparations. Kahn calls his restaurant a spaceship.

We’re not even going to get into how many of the chefs mentioned in this piece were previously named Food & Wine Best New Chefs. (It’s a lot.) (OK, fine, we’ve got Chang, Humm, Kahn, Beran, Citrin, Menashe, Fox, Salgado, Ng, and Silverton).

But it’s especially worth pointing out the restaurant pedigrees of who’s cooking in L.A. Kahn worked at The French Laundry, Per Se, and Alinea. Beran was at Alinea before he became executive chef at Next. Ng cooked at Daniel. Shibumi’s David Schlosser cut fish at Masa and cooked at some of Kyoto’s top kaiseki restaurants. These are chefs who understand what it means to be in a Michelin-starred kitchen.

Majordomo
Andrew Bezek

The connections run deep in the Michelin-starred universe. During a pre-opening party at APL, Chang told us that Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson of New York’s new Frenchette had asked him about APL’s imminent debut. Nasr and Hanson are excited about APL because they and Lang were part of the team that opened Daniel. These Daniel alums are a tight crew.

Nasr and Hanson’s storied New York career includes running the kitchen at Keith McNally’s Michelin-starred Minetta Tavern. At Minetta Tavern, the chefs proved that what many people see as a steakhouse can be one of the most delightful and thoughtful restaurants in a great dining city. APL is giving us similar feelings.

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