The Napa Valley renowned for its many acclaimed Robert Parker award-winning wines has also made an enormous impact over the years in the culinary arena with 6 acclaimed restaurants being the recipients of the coveted Michelin Star awards for 2018. Of the 55 star awardees in the Bay area, five superstar chefs and their teams have choreographed gastronomic sensations worthy of being presented with their own prestigious Michelin Stars!
Michelin has a 3-star point scale in which they judge and award by. Three Stars in Michelin vernacular means “exceptional cuisine, worth a special trip.” Two Stars indicates “excellent cooking; worth a detour” and One Star signifies “a very good restaurant in its own category”.
It all started at the turn of the century, when the Michelin brothers André and Edouard, decided to start a guide for car owners in France, to help promote their Michelin Tire company by sharing names and locations of petrol stations, garage and tire mechanics as well as hotels and restaurants. The first published edition of the guide produced 35,000 copies and was distributed free. As a result of the guide’s popularity, they launched internationally, first in Belgium in 1904 and in Britain in 1911.
Michelin’s notoriety grew expeditiously, and by 1920 their dining section was so popular, they began to appoint anonymous inspectors to visit hotels and restaurants to grade them. The star system was introduced in 1926, and the blue cover of the guides was changed to their symbolic deep red as it is with today’s distinguished Michelin Guides. Even today the inspectors remain duty bound and maintain the secrecy of their identity.
In 1955 Michelin guides added a second category called the “Bib Gourmand” which are also designated by Michelin’s food inspectors annually. To be included in this list, restaurants are required to serve quality cuisine with two courses and provide wine or dessert for a maximum price of $40. Bib Gourmand recipients include only restaurants offering “excellent food at a reasonable price.”
Chef – Robert Curry – Chef Curry has been executive chef at Auberge du Soleil since 2005 and has been instrumental in bringing them a dozen stars over the years 2006-2018. Curry has a passion and an inherent talent for his wine country cuisine creations on his stunning ever-changing menus with ingredients harvested daily from the restaurants organic garden. Before joining Auberge du Soleil, Curry was executive chef at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena. He began his career in Los Angeles at Wolfgang Puck’s cooking school, Ma Cuisine. He has also worked with Michel Richard and Alain Giraud of Citrus and Alain Ducasse at his 3-star Louis XV at Hotel de Paris.
What’s it all about: Restaurateur and Culinary Legacy Claude Rouas’ restaurant was founded 35 years ago as Napa Valley’s first fine dining restaurant offering Mediterranean inspired cuisines. The restaurant and hotel “Inn of the Sun” are nestled within the 33-acre olive grove that showcases the property. The views and dining experience from their hillside perch in Rutherford overlooking the majestic Napa Valley is beyond extraordinary. The restaurants inspired cuisine created by Chef Curry has been awarded 12 consecutive Michelin Stars.
What the Michelin Inspectors say: “This is one of the first restaurants to elevate the Napa Valley to greatness. For the past decade, Chef Robert Curry has been ensuring its legacy with cooking that is the very definition of California cuisine: global flavors expressed through local, seasonal, and fresh ingredients. The kitchen’s work is as impressive as the setting. Everything seems just a bit more beautiful from this extraordinary perch, overlooking the vineyards, mountains, and gardens.”
Chef – Thomas Keller – Chef Keller is one of most renowned Michelin star chefs and is the first and only American born chefs to hold multiple Michelin 3 Star ratings for a total of 7 Stars – Three at Per Se in New York, Three at The French Laundry and one at Bouchon. In the past decade, Keller has received countless culinary accolades and awards including the James Beard Foundation’s “Outstanding Chef” and “Outstanding Restaurateur” and the Culinary Institute of America’s “Chef of the Year.”
What’s it all about: Thomas Keller’s flagship restaurant has been the fine dining Napa Valley go-to for over two decades. In 1992, he discovered the old French steam laundry in Yountville taking almost 2 years converting it and finally opened its doors in 1994 to instant acclaim. The French Laundry recently celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2014, which is something that few restaurants can be applauded for. Chef Keller began his culinary career at a very young age when he worked at the Palm Beach restaurant which his mother managed. It has been a non-stop success story ever since. His impact in the culinary world has placed him as one of the most influential and decorated chefs in the world.
What the Michelin Inspectors say: “Chef Keller continues to pair incredibly classic French techniques with wildly fresh ingredients in a setting that is a perfect storm of restaurant greatness—we should all be so lucky to score a reservation here in our lifetime. Choose from two seasonal tasting menus, including a vegetarian option. Both feature products from boutique purveyors. Dinners may highlight signature oysters paired with white sturgeon caviar in a warm sabayon studded with tapioca pearls or golden striped bass with deconstructed deviled eggs.”
Chef – Christopher Kostow – Chef Kostow, one of the youngest Michelin Star Chefs, received his first honors before the age of 30. He began cooking at the Restaurant at Meadowood in 2008 and in his second year at the helm, they were awarded Two Michelin Stars. Only one year later he took the honors to the next echelon bringing the restaurant highest honor of 3 stars, making Kostow one of the youngest chefs to achieve the award. He is the second American born chef and the third youngest chef ever to receive three Michelin Stars. He has retained the accolade since.
What’s it all about: Chef Kostow’s modern American restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena has proven a positive culinary impact in Napa Valley’s epicurean mecca. This luxurious retreat presents this acclaimed inviting modern American restaurant to great applause. “We strive for seriousness, and for permanence in our cooking. Our food is what we give of ourselves. It is at once our daily efforts and their culmination.” The dining room is adorned in sophisticated barnlike rustic luxury which allures you with their subtle elegance. Kostow’s presentations are works of culinary art and are certainly worthy of their coveted Michelin 3 Stars.
What the Michelin Inspectors say: “Everything here exudes California-style wealth and comfort, from those cottages dotting the Napa hills to the front lounge’s stone fireplace and shelves lined with Chef Kostow’s debut cookbook. Beyond this, the dining room is a sophisticated barn of sorts, decked in polished stone tables, wood columns, and rural splendor. This all makes for an elegant backdrop for romantic evenings or family celebrations, as long as everyone is willing to splurge. Servers are impeccable, professional, and know how to keep their guests happy and at ease. The cooking never ceases to better itself through innovation and purity.”
Chef – Thomas Keller – Bouchon is one of 3 restaurants that Keller operates in the Napa Valley. A fourth will be opening in Yountville in late summer early fall and will be high-end Mexican style cuisine right at the fork in the center of town. Keller has undoubtedly put his stake in the ground in Yountville and his stake in the international culinary arena. There are now many outposts of Bouchon, including in New York, Las Vegas, Beverly Hills and Miami opening this summer.
What’s it all about: Keller’s, second Yountville restaurant Bouchon, debuted in 1998 and then 5 years later followed with the opening of the adjacent ever popular Bouchon Bakery. Thomas Keller’s more relaxed French bistro features a seasonal menu, a raw bar, and bakery next door. Just steps down the street from his acclaimed French Laundry, Keller’s lively French Bistro is the mirror of a Parisian bistro. The crowd is always lively in this vibrant, festive atmosphere and the bar is always full. The menu is full of the classics of timeless French food and is about as close to France as you will get in Napa. There are so many options on the menu that you will want to try it all. Oysters, Fois Gras, French Onion Soup, Steak Frites. Don’t miss out on the desserts though. The Chocolate Bouchon and Crème Brulee are worth the visit alone.
What the Michelin Inspectors say: “A theatrical crowd uplifts the space with conviviality, and every lavish banquette or stool at the bustling bar is full. Always. Thanks to the house bakery next door, the bread here is ace, so grab an extra hunk of the supremely fresh and crusty pain d’epi to slather with butter. The menu lists well-executed classics, including a rosy foie gras torchon with seasonal orange preserves and golden-brown toasted brioche. And thanks to the attentive staff, you may even get a second slice.”
Chef – Ken Frank – While he was a chef at La Guillotine Restaurant at the age of 21 he received his first of many national acclaims in 1977. Chef Ken opened the first La Toque at the age of 23 in 1979 along the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. Nineteen years later with a calling to the Napa Valley, he opened the incarnated La Toque in Rutherford with great success before moving to his current location in Napa at the Westin Verasa in 2008. He likes to call himself a French Chef in a California body. La Toque received their first Michelin Star the very first year Michelin did a Bay Area Guide. Ken voiced that the Michelin Guide is the only book that counts in the restaurant business and the only one that is internationally known. “Getting a star is such a prestigious flag to fly.”
What’s it all about: The restaurant is a showcase for Chef Frank’s modern French cuisine and his passion for wine. La Toque has been awarded a Michelin Star every year they have been in wine country. In addition to that, they have also been bestowed one of Wine Spectators greatest honors – The Grand Award for their wine list and service excellence and is one of only 91 restaurants in the world to receive this award. Ken Frank takes a serious and thoughtful approach to all of his menu creations and when it comes to Fois Gras and Truffles, he a leader at the helm in that arena. One of the most impressive characteristics about Ken, he is entirely self-taught, and he began his culinary career as a dishwasher in France where his taste for a profession as a chef was ignited.
What Michelin says: “You’ll want to tip your own toque in appreciation after a meal at this downtown fine-dining palace in the Westin Verasa Napa, which blends a serious approach to cuisine and service that has just enough cheek to keep things lively. La Toque may display an oversized inflatable chef’s hat hanging above its walkway, but the interior is the soul of modern sophistication, with leather-topped tables, a fireplace, and an extensive wine list—proffered on an iPad.”
Chefs – A team of superstars coming in from Japan – Their chefs are comprised of six extremely talented men and women from Japan, who have traveled to the US just to work at Kenzo Napa. These gifted chefs are carefully selected by owners Kenzo and Natsuko Tsujimoto. “Since establishing Kenzo Estate, Kenzo and I dreamt of sharing the unique beauty of Japanese food with visitors to the Napa Valley. To receive Michelin recognitions after just one year of operation was a testament to the amazing team who worked so hard to bring our vision to life, and to the guests from around the world who truly embraced our interpretation of authentic Japanese cuisine and tradition.”
What’s it all about: Kenzo Estate owners Kenzo and Natsuko Tsujimoto’s elegant Japanese restaurant using ingredients flown in daily from Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market along with rotating award-winning celebrity chefs from Japan.
What the Michelin Inspectors say: “Though Kenzo offers a handful of tables, the best seats are at the spacious counter, where diners can chat with the chefs and see their sushi made firsthand. Two menus are offered under the guidance of acclaimed chef Eiji Onoyama: one exclusively spotlights elegant kaiseki dishes like sea urchin chawanmushi and poached blue shrimp with asparagus, while the other also integrates a dozen pieces of nigiri, sourced directly from Tokyo’s famed Tsukiji Fish Market.”
There are 55 Restaurants with Michelin Stars in the San Francisco Bay Area. If you would like to learn more about these award-winning eateries or read more food-related articles from around the world visit guide.michelin.com/us/san-francisco